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The Word Is Out!
"Agritourism" Is Now In the Dictionary

By Jane Eckert

Times change, as we all know, and so do the words that describe the world we live in. To keep up, dictionaries have to update too, and recently, the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate R Dictionary, 11th Edition, announced their 2006 new words.

Added this year will be less than one hundred new words, and only two of the words are in the “business” category.

Agritourism: noun, the practice of touring agricultural areas to see farms and often to participate in farm activities.

Big-box: noun, of, relating to, or being a large chain store having a box like structure.

Isn’t it interesting that these are the two business words selected? First of all, it tells me that we have created an industry – one that has gained in recognition. Agritourism is not only on our lips but has become an accepted term for the public.

I know many of us several years ago were still saying “wouldn’t be nice to come up with a better word to describe what we offer and do at many of our farms.”

I guess we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Agritourism has become recognized beyond agricultural circles and people are now using the word in everyday communications. It’s in the dictionary!

But let’s think a moment about the fact that we are going into the dictionary the very same year as the big-box store. There couldn’t be a much bigger contrast than between the ways we do business—as agritourism operators—versus the way the big-box stores operate. Let’s compare.

Big-box stores offer a big selection. They go deep in every product category that they offer, meaning that many times you have ten or more choices for a single item—10 kinds of jellies, 10 kinds of sprinklers, and a dozen brands of paper towels.

On the other hand, at our farm markets, we might not offer ten choices of peach preserves—but we make a special effort to offer the best peach preserves that we can find! The difference: while going deep in a product category offering a broad selection is key to big-box store, our key is to offer the best product available.

Big-box stores are open morning, noon and night – seven days a week because that is what their customers expect. Whether it’s the early construction workers going to Lowe’s at 6 AM, or the do-it-yourselfer handyman rushing up for one more pipe fitting at 9 PM, we all pretty well count on the fact that they’ll be open.

As an agritourism operator we don’t need to be open those hours to satisfy our customers. Because people want to come to our fields and often pick the products themselves, we can pretty well service our customers in daylight hours. While we often open early in the summer to beat the heat, agritourism operations don’t need to be keeping big-box hours. And that’s a good thing, because as we all know, we need time to rest and to spend with our families.

Big-box stores often want to compete with each other on special prices and they love to put these prices in their advertisements to get us to come and shop the store that weekend. However, as agritourism farms, we are all learning that what we offer is not as price sensitive as it used to be! As we expand our activities and our entertainment, we realize that we are offering a unique experience, a family get-away and one not necessarily meant for a quick trip. We no longer put prices in our advertisements because that’s not why our customers love to shop with us. They are coming for the freshness and flavor, the chance to get outdoors, and the time to talk with a friendly farmer and learn more about where their food comes from.

Big-box stores have a big problem keeping employees that care and know how to serve the customer. Frequently, it takes a customer a while to even find an employee to help you, and once you find one, he often just points to the other end of the store and says “I think you’ll find that in aisle 23.” This is certainly not always the case, but customer service makes a difference, and frankly, I shop Lowe’s over Home Depot just because I have found their service to be noticeably better in my local stores.

On the farm, customer service is truly an area where an agritourism operator should shine. The customers know our names; they know our kid’s names and even when they go away to college. The relationship that we are able to build with our customers truly makes a unique shopping experience, and a big contrast to the big-box stores.

I’m not saying that I’m totally opposed to those big-box stores. We all probably frequent a big-box store or two every month. But isn’t nice to know that there is still room in our world for the small-farm store. And, thanks to agritourism, we’re both still growing. Now we know for sure that the word is out, and we’re even in the dictionary!

(If you’d like to see the rest of the words added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, visit http://m-w.com/info/new_words.htm).

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (www.eckertagrimarketing.com), a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of www.RuralBounty.com, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.