As the Simmons family pulled into the parking lot they weren’t sure where to go next. A couple cars blocked the driveway where the drivers had left them to just “run into” the farm market. A young child ran out between the parked cars and the car ahead of them narrowly avoided a serious mishap. The actual parking lot was hard to navigate with long grass and no real clear parking spaces. But they parked near where other cars had congregated and headed for the entrance…or so they thought.
The next several minutes were a mix of taking in the new sights and sounds and trying to find the actual farm. Fortunately, there was enough newness that the kids were distracted while Russ and Becky did their best to find their way in. After several minutes of futility, they entered the farm store and asked a cashier. “Oh, it’s right through that door,” she said as she pointed to the rear entrance. “It’s funny how many people ask me that!”
The “entrance” to the venue was a door that emptied out the back of the store. From there they followed a path to a small shed like building where guests would check in. They were greeted by a teenager in a tie dye shirt and ripped jeans. “How many?” she asked without looking up. Russ looked at his wife and said “four”. She looked away from her phone long enough to push the buttons on the cash register, take their money and hand them their change. “Don’t we get a ticket or something?” Russ asked. “No need.” she said. “We know who you are.”
As the expectation level of the Simmons family was extremely high, so was the disappointment so far. They continued on their way only to find that the petting farm had 1 rabbit and 1 duck. They seemed to be happy together, but the area was just a small fenced in square grassy area with not much for them to do. The kids were begging to touch them, but there was no one nearby to ask. “Maybe later.” their mom said with not much optimism in her voice. The youngest one threw a handful of grass over the fence and walked on.
The hayride area was wedged in between the haybale maze and the outhouses in a well- traveled spot. It looked like the hayride driver had to navigate around guests on a regular basis. The main hayride road went through several of the farm’s attractions, so parents were often telling their kids to “look both ways”. The ride was your typical hayride except for the interaction with the driver. He didn’t speak a word to the 8 guests onboard until Russ Simmons spoke up as they headed back to the farm. “Doesn’t this ride take us to the pumpkin patch?” he inquired. “Don’t have a pumpkin patch.” was the reply. Now the kids also looked disappointed and the oldest spoke up. “Then where do we get our pumpkins?” he asked sadly. “You can buy one in the store.” The answer was short and to the point. Their carefully planned and highly anticipated memory making day was turning into a nightmare.
They finished the ride in silence and left the hayride with a sense of defeat. Hoping to salvage the day with an adventure inside a real corn maze, Russ and Becky used their excited voice to urge their children on. Again, they asked for directions to the corn maze since there was no corn in sight. Again, they asked another guest since there was no staff in sight. They made the long journey to the maze and as they crested the hill, they quickly discovered that this year’s crop was not very good. Before they even entered the maze, they could easily see the other guests inside the maze as they dwarfed the size of the corn. They walked in what they believed was the entrance and began their trek. It wasn’t long before they realized that they weren’t on a real path, but a shortcut that someone had created by trampling the corn between the rows. One such “path” led them to the outside of the maze somewhere on the outskirts of the farm. And there they stood.
It was a total of two hours before the Simmons children had enough. Their parents had also lost hope of salvaging their special day. They walked to the car and drove away unnoticed.
I know, I chose the sad ending. Let’s just say that the Simmons family drove back toward New York and 30 minutes later saw a billboard for another agritourism venue. One that took great care to make the experience the best one possible. They stopped. In fact, the Simmons family had such a great time, they booked a hotel and spent Sunday there too. They went home with pumpkins, t shirts and many great memories of their day!
There is no substitute for professionalism in your business. It is quickly evident if you consider agritourism as a business or a hobby depending on your level of investment. Your total investment of time and dedication and not simply money.
So, let me finish with some questions to ask your guests in a survey to make sure you are really in touch with how you are doing:
How do you learn about our farm/venue?
Were you able to find it ok?
What were your first impressions?
Was our venue easy to navigate? Was the signage helpful to find your way around?
Was our staff friendly and helpful? Is there anyone you would like to mention?
How was the appearance and cleanliness? Was there anything that distracted from it?
Was there any aspect that did not meet your expectations?
Would you recommend us to a friend?
Of course, there are many more but I hope this helps. If you're finding time to read this in the middle of all the busyness, it’s not too late to evaluate. Hope you’re holding up!