From February 2nd, we've decided to make the Advertising Boards at our stores a free service to all our retail customers. It provides us all with some great opportunities – but some restrictions will always apply... For as long as most of our customers at our Ashton store can remember, we've offered our visitors the chance to advertise horses for sale on a dedicated board around the till area, for a few quid a week. Over time, the idea grew until it included horseboxes for sale, puppies, lost pets, livery available and a wide variety of other things. We proudly used to boast that "3,000 people pass this spot every week" and for a time, advertising became one of the most profitable things we sold. The earliest picture I can find of the old board at Ashton is this one, taken, I think, around the late 1990s. In truth, it probably wasn't the original board – it too had grown to accommodate the increasing popularity of the service. By 2009, our Ashton store may have been in an entirely different building but the 'Equine Sales' and 'Other Sales' boards were still very much a fixture, as they would be at our subsequent stores at Cannock, Basingstoke and Cardiff. In truth, the heyday of the boards as an advertising medium had already passed, by then. The adoption of the internet and then social media gave everyone their own audience. Why pay for exposure when you can find or even create your own for free? The thing is, we were still making enough money from the service to feel that removing the charges would seem like a loss. We had to re-think what the point of the boards had become. In the (good) old days, we were well-placed to charge for these ads because there was little or no alternative to the more expensive option of using a local equestrian newspaper or magazine. It seemed that this was something we could sell that was in demand, no different to a tin of hoof oil. Now, with the increased availability of the very products we sell, also because of the pesky internet, we decided that we're as much in the business of providing the shopping experience as the act of actually selling the products themselves. We needed to ensure that a visit to a Robinsons store was as much of a special occasion as it always was. We decided that instead of allowing the ad boards to dwindle and die, we should actually be broadening them and, in doing so, placing ourselves right at the heart of the local equestrian community. Owning a horse is often a complicated and even confusing business. There is a whole industry of support services from equine dentists to horse transporters. Horses and ponies will always be bought and sold and, unfortunately, dogs will always be at risk of going missing. There's no need, these days, for us to be making money out of our customers' attempts to talk to each other – we should be encouraging it as much as we can. "There's no such thing as a free lunch", I can (almost) hear you say, with endearing British cynicism. Yes, it's not entirely a 'free-for-all', but it pretty much is for anyone with a reasonably 'normal' (in the horsey sense) thing to advertise. Obviously, we do have to draw a line somewhere and whatever rules we have would benefit everyone by being as simple as possible. We are, after all, still a commercial entity so we will have to restrict the offer to exclude anything deemed to be 'in direct competition with our local offering'. That means that second-hand saddles, I'm afraid, are not items we wish to have advertised in store. Feed merchants are welcome to advertise at stores where feed is not present (Cannock, Cardiff and Leeds) but are politely discouraged from applying where it forms part of the instore range (Ashton and Basingstoke). There's also an over-riding restriction that it is 'deemed to be beneficial and suitable to our customers'. This is similar to our Facebook Wall policy. Generally, we allow anything we're happy is relevant and of interest to our audience but we have to have the right to remove something that's not really of specific interest to our audience such as - I don't know - a random funeral director or something. Even then, we might allow it if a horse-drawn option was part of the proposition. Obviously, anything that infringes the four main criteria of common advertising standards (that the message is 'legal, decent, honest and truthful') will be refused or removed. 'Please note: The Store Manager's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into (etc. etc.)' but the real point here is that if you have an out-grown 12h 2" to retire to pastures new or if you're a young farrier with a diary to fill, you're just the kind of person who we're hoping will fill our boards and add to the 'theatre' of our customers' store visits. Finally, we're very keen to make a big effort to establish partnerships with local venues, yards and arenas. Like us, there's a whole schedule of planned events to publicise every month and we feel that the simplest option is that we advertise as vigorously as we can to the customers we all have, on behalf of each other. Did you know that this week (28th January 2015), we're offering 20% off the RRP of all our Leisure Jackets? If you didn't, would it have helped if there was a poster to that effect at your local equestrian centre? Equally, we can help your local riding school by putting up material to advertise their next fundraising event. In the end, the idea that we have to pay each other to do all of this cross-promotion seems a little, well, 'last century' – doesn't it? If you'd like to advertise your horse, pony, product or service, please contact the store you'd like to use and they'll provide you with the form required to be displayed on the boards and full terms and conditions.