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"I want the family farm - the backbone of our country's heritage - to thrive and survive for future generations."

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We are in the Business of “Creating Memories”

By Jane Eckert

Recently, I was reminded about the importance of “memories” when I opened an envelope from Shutterfly® with photo enlargements from a recent vacation. Just underneath the tear off strip to enter the package were the words: “Memories Inside – Do Not Bend.” Wearing my marketer’s hat, I had to pause and reread the line several times.   You see, Shutterfly® knew what they were delivering to me….memories.

Agritourism operators now understand that we are in the business of creating memories for our customers and their families that will last a lifetime.  Looking at a few websites, I see Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm, Wheatland, CA proclaims they are in the business of “Harvesting Memories since 1973,” and Lewis Farm Market in New Era, MI announces they are “Growing Fruit, Fun and Memories.”  Many, many others similar accept this responsibility.

Frankly, that is a pretty awesome responsibility for us and one that deserves more attention—creating a good memory should not be left to chance. We also need to keep in mind that memories provided by a good farm experience are not all the same for each person.  One person may remember an amazing zipline over the corn maze, while another immediately thinks of the beautiful smile of her three year old sitting in the middle of the pumpkins.

While I grew up working and living on the farm (6th generation), I left for college and went into corporate marketing for several years, and then returned home to work with my family.  The first two years when I returned to our farm business, in 1988 and 1989, I really wanted to learn more about our customers. I decided to take the time to just walk in the orchard and talk with the families, couples, and individuals that crossed my path.  My process wasn’t anything structured, but it proved to be the best time to strike up a conversation. The customers were largely enthusiastic and eager to share their thoughts while out picking apples on a beautiful fall afternoon or bobbing along on the wagon to the pumpkin patch.

 It was through these one-on-one discussions that I truly developed my knowledge of our customers and learned about the memories they were making on each and every visit.  And from that knowledge, I learned what our farm could do to make the memories even more special.

I know that today, many of you rely on social media and the comments on your Facebook or Twitter pages to learn what customers think about you and your attractions.  However, I challenge you to get a significant dose of customer feedback the old fashioned way – go out and just talk to your customers—do so on a regular and frequent basis. I am not talking about just saying hello and nodding to your guests. I encourage you to engage yourself in conversations with people you don’t recognize. They may be newcomers, or they may have been your guests for years, and you didn’t even know it.  You may be surprised as you learn what is important to them and what is not.

Here is how I would go about meeting my guests, and I hope these ideas will help you develop your own comfortable style.

Remember, everyone wants to meet the boss! You don’t have to be a “people person.”  Just be yourself, and let them know you are interested in learning whether your guests are enjoying their visit.

  1. Introduce yourself, offer a firm handshake and tell them you are glad they came today to the farm. A friendly welcome lets them know they are guests on your farm.  Make sure you meet everyone in the group – even the little ones and especially the grandparents and say their names.

  2. Here is one of the most important points in this article:  make sure your visitors feel that they are guests on your family farm, and as the host, you want them to have a great visit.  This is so much different from treating your visitors as customers to your business!  Would you rather be treated like a customer, or a welcomed guest?

  3. What makes coming to our farms so special for many people is that they have the opportunity to meet the farmer, the marketer, and the owner of all this neat farm equipment. You are the guy that can actually drive that tractor?  Wow!  How do you plant all those trees?  And you and your family do all this work?  For most folks, they don’t have a clue as to what you do as a farmer and what your day may be like.  Most people work in an office cubicle or a service niche, and what may seem like just a way of life to you, is a magically world that they want to hear about. 

    Disney World is sure a great place for a day or two, but I don’t think anyone ever came back home and claimed to have met a “Disney.”  Personally meeting the host is another memorable experience!

  4. Once you’ve established yourself as their host, ask what they like to do on the farm.  Not just what they saw, but what they felt and thought.  Did you like visiting the animals?  How was the wagon ride out to the pumpkin patch?  This sort of question will likely get responses ranging from “I loved petting the goats” to “it was too smelly and gross.”  The variety of answers will help you know how to make the visit even better for your guests.

  5. Ask them, do you have any questions? Does anyone in your family have a farm?  Kids may want to know how the combine works, or what the goats eat in the winter.  Ask if they tried your food, fed the ducks, visited the beehive, etc.  Encourage them to explore the farm and if they have chance, let you know how their day went.

  6. Of course, you want to thank them for coming.  We appreciate the privilege of having them as our guests.

For me and my family, we find that being the hosts for our guests changes our whole day, and helps us keep a smile on our face no matter what the day brings.  If a guest isn’t happy, we know that’s a memory too, and we’ll do what we can to erase the negative by providing a positive resolution.  If you are still “selling pumpkins to customers,” turn it around and help your guests find the perfect pumpkin—and the perfect memories.  Before you know it, they’ll be back again next year to make new memories, and you’ll remember why you love being a farmer!

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.