The Off-Season Checklist


I know you probably don’t want to think about this right now, but at least keep it on the back burner until after the new year. Christmas is a great time to think about lists and checking them twice! It is also a good time of year to begin to evaluate your agritourism season and make the necessary improvements for next year. I’m sure some of you are still very busy right up until the end of the year so no time yet to take a breather.

In many aspects of business and development there is the phase that has commonly been called “the debrief”. Usually it is used to make a thorough evaluation of the process to determine if the goals were achieved and the mission was accomplished. It can be done at a variety of different levels but should always be done: 1. right after the exercise is completed and 2. with those directly involved and those in decision making positions. For the agritourism owner, this should be done with you and with your managers at a minimum. A smaller, shorter debrief is also good to do with all your employees to get their feedback and wrap up your season. This is an important part of training and developing your staff. It also establishes a sense of ownership.

So, since we are talking about lists, I am going to create a list as well. This will not be the only list you should use but will be one designed to get you thinking. I will list as many general and specific topics as possible to help you come up with your own list. There are hundreds of possible things to evaluate, but hopefully this will help you narrow it down. This is crucial as a business to provide the best experience you possibly can for your guests.

  • Evaluate each aspect of your venue and determine what areas worked well and which ones need to go. One by one evaluate every part of your venue and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Was it popular?

  2. Was it profitable?

  3. Was it safe?

  4. Was it easy to use/understand?

  5. Is there a better way to do it?

Some of these questions won’t apply to every aspect (like parking) but are good to ask just the same. Some of these questions do pertain to things such as parking and check in and will provide some interesting input as you evaluate.

  • Evaluate your equipment and the physical parts of your business. What things need to be repaired or replaced? Or maybe what things need to be upgraded to provide a better experience for you and/or your guests. Let me list some things to get you thinking:

  1. Cash registers

  2. Cooking equipment

  3. Corn cannon

  4. Sling shots

  5. Parking lot

  6. Fences

  7. Signage

  8. Buildings

  9. Haunted Equipment/Animatronics

  10. Maze Netting

  11. Maze Helps and Maps

  12. Venue Maps

  13. Playground Equipment

  14. Hay Wagons

  15. And so on!

We all know this entails so many different things and we could fill a few pages. Let me suggest a practical solution to make this easier when it comes time to debrief. During your season keep a notebook that details those things that need to be fixed, replaced or upgraded. It will be difficult to remember everything that you thought of when your season was in full swing. When it’s all over it will be harder to recall.

  • Evaluate your staff from the top down and determine if they were an asset or a liability! This may result in not asking them back, adjusting their duties to better match their abilities or promoting them to a higher level of responsibility. For those staff you would like to return, it is a good idea to send them a follow up letter and let them know that you appreciated their work and hope they will return next season. For those you are promoting, I would recommend several meetings in the off-season to begin to prepare them for a bigger role. Bring them in on some of the decision making and preparation to develop some of those leadership qualities.

  • Evaluate your budget based on your results. As we all know, we need to be specific what areas will receive more money and which ones will stay the same for the next year. All your changes and improvements will be determined by the availability of funds. And funds, will be determined by the success of the previous season! If you are in the northeast U.S., you know what it looks like to have a wet agritourism season. This year it has affected planting, growing, walking, mowing, and even attendance. Apples and pumpkins suffered for some and corn mazes were a mess. So much so that some of us are evaluating our future. So, budgeting is crucial and budgeting for a bad season because of weather is also a wise thing to do. Look at your books and determine the bottom line. From there, determine how you will invest for next year.

  • Evaluate your marketing methods and whether they were successful and how they will change. Again, the type of marketing you do will be determined by funds. As you know it can be extremely expensive to do certain things, but it can also pay off in the long run. We always invested in an aerial photo of our maze. But we also invested heavily in the design and theme of our maze. We often had to work with organizations such as the NFL, NASCAR and Hollywood to use some of the designs we used. It created added work and costs, but also usually provided us with some huge publicity around the world. There are many ways to market, that span a variety of budgets. Perhaps it’s time to consider some corporate sponsorships?

  • Evaluate your purpose and how your venue meets that purpose. Sometimes that means fine-tuning your direction. Maybe paying someone for a consult that can look at your business in an objective way and see things you may be missing?

Bottom line, we all need to begin this process before we start to prepare for next season. And that starts sooner than you think!


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