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Time to Evaluate the Fall Season

By Jane Eckert

Now that the fall season is over, it’s the perfect time to evaluate your operation.  What worked?  What didn’t work?   What can you improve?  What can be added?

Don’t procrastinate until summer of 2013 to be thinking about improvements to your operation.  Do it now, while the season is still fresh in your mind and in your employees.

Key questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Your Attractions

It’s important to have activities that meet the age ranges of the children that you want to attract to your farm.  Not all farms want teen agers and then again some do. Be sure that you and your family know and agree upon the target demographics of the family audience that you want to attract and then develop activities for them specifically.

What are your three most popular attractions for kids or for a family? 
How can you make them better? 
Do you need to change the space to accommodate everyone?
If you are providing shows, are the times correct or do more shows need to be added?  Did we have the right person as the showman?
Do you offer activities to meet all age levels?  If not, what else can be added?
What attraction or activity always seems to have a long line? 
What is the next attraction you’d like to add in 2013?

1. Admission vs Pay to Play

Farms today are generally charging an admission to their farm or play area or have decided to use the pay to play model.  It may be time for you to evaluate your system to see if it’s still working or time for a change.

Admission
Do you feel that you are charging enough for all of your activities?
Are people complaining about your admission price or do you have very few complaints?
Do you have a sign at the admission booth that clearly shows what people are paying for?
Were the lines too long at the front gate where people pay the admission fee? 
Do you need to move or expand your pay booth?

Pay-to-Play
Often times this system is used because there is not an easy way to create a gated or entry system therefore forcing you to charge by activity. Many farms still prefer this system but should be evaluated every year to see if circumstances have changed.  An admission system is definitely easier for the customer to pay just once and to know what the day will cost the family.

Are your prices competitive for the activities you offer?
Do people complain about your pricing?
Do you feel that you have effective control of the cash and payment system?
Are you still having to create “free” areas to keep your customers happy?

2. Food Concessions

This is becoming a bigger topic at all of our winter farm meetings as to what food items farms are offering and what they are charging.  Those farms that are able to monitor a per customer average food sale for the day tell me that $5.00 per person is now a minimum of what you can expect if you are offering the right food choices, and some farms now exceed $7.00 per person.

Are there long lines at your concession stands? 
Do you have multiple food stands (not just in one place)?
What additional high value/low cost items can be added?
What are slow moving food items that you could replace?
What equipment do you need to purchase to offer these new products?

3. Pumpkin & Fall Season Products

The sales of pumpkins and fall harvest products (bundled corn stalks, straw bales, Indian corn with bows, squash, gourds, painted pumpkins, mums etc.) can all add significant revenue to your operations. 

Are your fall season product displays “showy” and “inviting” for purchase?
Do you make it easy for the customer to purchase them? 
Do you provide wagons/wheelbarrows for customers to purchase more of these products?
Are these products for sale near the exit?
Do you know your average fall season product sale per customer?

4. Your Employees

The best guest experience and frequent reason people return to your farm is because of how they were treated by your employees. Since employee payroll is an “expense” of the fall season and not a “profit” item, we often neglect the most important category to help us grow our business.

Did you have enough applicants to interview?
Were the applicants of the quality of people that you want to hire?
How can your training program be improved?
Do you need to offer more perks or incentives to your returning and new employees?

Remember, now is the best time to evaluate your fall season and start making plans for next year.  Look at the answers that you gave to these questions and begin a dialogue on how to improve them. It can mean more revenue for 2013!

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.