Russ and Becky woke up that Saturday morning with one thing on their mind. It was Fall in the northeast and it was time to enjoy all that Fall had to offer. They lived in Manhattan and Fall was evident, but the experiences that go with it were missing. They had planned this day for a long time. They were headed out of the city, into the country, to a little place called Countryside Farm. They wanted to pick a pumpkin, go on a hayride and experience a corn maze for the very first time.
Their two kids were even more excited. They were up by six, dressed and waiting downstairs by the time their parents’ alarm had even gone off. For them, every part of today was new. They had never picked a pumpkin, never been on a hayride and had never really been on a farm. They were about to make some very important memories and experience things they had only heard about from friends or read about in books.
The trip was exciting and unbearable at the same time. Two and a half hours of driving was an eternity, but more so because it prolonged the wait. After about an hour, the adventure began to take shape. Russ and Becky smiled as they watched their children take notice of the world around them. Phones and electronics were off limits so that their day would be distraction free. So, the creation right outside their windows was hard to miss.
Traffic became light and less chaotic. Buildings were replaced by large, towering and colorful trees. It was the peak of the season for color, so they came at the perfect time. The usual crowds of people were nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was the occasional person out mowing their lawn or tending to the garden. Deer were still in the fields and seemed to outnumber the people. This strange, beautiful world was so foreign, yet so familiar. Russ and Becky wondered if they would ever be able to get their kids back to the city.
Their destination was only a few exits away and the Simmons family had already built some lasting memories. When they exited the highway, the large welcoming sign was hard to miss. “Countryside Farm 3 Miles” was easy to make out. A large smiling farmer figure pointed the right direction to go. For the next couple turns the friendly farmer continued to point the way until they could finally see a large red barn off in the distance. They timed their drive to arrive just after opening and cars were already in the parking lot. As they turned into the entrance, the kids cheered. The long-anticipated day had arrived. The expectation level was high because in many ways, they had already lived this day in their minds. What they noticed first surprised them and would set the tone for the rest of their day.
Ok, I’m going to leave you hanging at this point and will give you a week to think about the possible endings to this story. There could be many for sure, but it is important for us as agritourism veterans to consider the various scenarios. What do your guests see and experience when they arrive at your site? What do they expect for their time with you? What has been their journey like to even get there? What have they invested in time, money and planning to spend a day with you? All things to consider.
Good business owners always look at their business from the perspective of their guests. We spend so much time setting up and planning that we sometimes get hardened to the flaws and defensive if someone were to ever suggest a possible improvement. There is a saying that says to “never look a gift horse in the mouth”. It means that if someone ever gives you a gift of a horse, don’t look at its teeth to see how old it is, just be grateful for the gift! Now if we were giving away our agritourism experience to people we could probably just expect them to be grateful. But we’re not. We’re charging people for the opportunity to experience what we’ve created. So, we can expect people to be checking in the mouth, looking at the feet and taking it for a ride!
Here’s a practical suggestion. I would recommend a random survey to be taken by a random guest. Maybe four times a weekend or so. Have a form ready and a clipboard and pick someone who would probably experience most of the activities your venue has to offer. Maybe a family with young kids. Ask them if they would be willing to take a survey in exchange for a reward of your choosing. A t-shirt, one admission ticket, a voucher for the concession stand, etc. Depending on your attendance, you could do this once or several times each weekend. I will give you some sample questions in the next blog.
So how does the story end? I’m still deciding how to finish mine, but how you finish yours’ will determine your longevity. Look around you. Your guests have arrived. How is it going for them overall? Walk a mile in their shoes!