In today’s post we need to deal with a tedious, but important part of any agritourism venture. It’s that part of your business that will cause you problems from day one and your guests will notice as soon as they arrive. It’s that area of your business that makes no money in itself, but allows for you to be very successful! It can be your greatest asset or the source of your downfall. Sounds serious right? It is your parking lot.
One of the greatest stress factors for any guest begins when they arrive and attempt to enter your venue. You have heard it said that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Your parking area is very much your first impression. People expect it to be quick and painless because they are there to enjoy your venue and not spend time in their cars. This area is so important that we’ll probably talk about it for at least a couple weeks. Hopefully it will save you a lot of headaches and will be a highlight of your business and your reputation.
Let’s start at square one for those of you who are at square one. If you’re already well established, maybe this will help you to rethink how you handle your traffic.
If you’re just in the planning stages, let me start by saying that it is important to look beyond day one. If we are shortsighted, we tend to build things to get by and we fail to dream big. If we lay out our parking areas for today’s expected crowd, we may be in trouble for next year’s crowd. I’m not saying you have to lay out a parking area for 1000 cars in your first year, but you will need to have future parking areas in mind your first year. If you develop and build on the land that could be potential parking areas, you may be stuck when you need more parking. So the layout of your parking lot is just as important as the layout of your maze, your petting zoo, your concessions and everything else you offer. So on your initial design and the sketch you have made of your venue, make sure something is labeled “future parking”.
It goes without saying, make sure your parking areas are as level as possible and essentially dry and solid. If you lease the property for your venue, this may require a discussion with the property owner. They will be familiar with the “wet spots” and other pitfalls to avoid. Of course they will also be the ones who will determine where they want cars parked or not parked. If you are not the land owner, this discussion needs to happen early on when you are making a determination on whether or not the property is suitable for your vision and your goals. Remember if they can’t park, they can’t come.
There are a lot of variables in the location of our agritourism businesses. Some are located on main four lane roads and some are tucked away in rural backcountry. The flow of traffic getting to you will be greatly affected by these variables as well as the flow of traffic as they enter your property. Let me suggest a few things about your flow:
Plan to have an entrance and an exit
Of course this is not always possible, but it often does improve traffic flow. We found at one of our locations, that although it would have helped, it was not feasible financially. The farm was a well established family business but it quickly took on new traffic issues as numbers increased. We wanted to reroute the cars to a second driveway, but there would be bigger expensive expectations from the township if we messed with the current layout. The current two lane dirt driveway was grandfathered in, but any changes would require new regulations including pavement, curbs and signage. Since we were not the land owners at this venue, it didn’t make sense for us to invest the thousands required. We used the parking areas as they had been, but would have made changes in other circumstances.
Make it clear where your guests should be going
We’ll talk about staffing your parking areas another day, but ropes, signs and hay bales go a long way to create a visual guide for your guests. I realize that most of us do not have pavement or lines painted, but there are ways to make it easier to navigate in the most primitive settings. As a matter of fact, we are not necessarily trying to create a theme park environment. Hay bales and rope in a field are part of your larger goal to create an experience. But simple and rural does not mean unorganized and unprofessional. Make it clear and relieve the stress!
Don’t forget about buses and other large vehicles
You will need plenty of room in your parking lot for a bus to maneuver and park safely. Be sure to factor in an area for this to take place not only for your field trips on slow weekdays, but you will likely have times where your weekend groups show up in a bus or other large vehicle.
Some of us are required by our local laws and statutes to have a certain number of handicap parking spaces. Even if you are not required, we suggest that you do indeed provide that for your guests that need to park close.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to parking. We’ll pick it up again next time and talk about some more of parking lot pitfalls!