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Growing Farm Revenues by Hosting Group Events

By Jane Eckert

More and more farm enterprises are now hosting group events on their farm or ranch, so I recently conducted a survey to my e-mail database to see what we could learn from this cross-section of the U.S. and Canada. Over seventy producers took the time to complete this questionnaire, and their responses offer some interesting insights into why this can be a good new enterprise for you to consider and to grow.

First of all, you may wonder why you should even take on another new enterprise and something more to do. Here are three good reasons.

  1. Group events are pre-booked, so you know exactly how many people are coming, and you have a say in what day and time they are coming.
  2. Because you know the number of people coming and the time of their event, you can efficiently schedule your employees and purchase just the right quantities of food to avoid waste.
  3. Guaranteed income – even on rainy days. Yes, that’s right. On group business, you can ask for a deposit up front and a guaranteed count. That way you’ll be paid for the party – rain or shine.

So assuming that you want to begin or advance in the group event business, who should you be contacting with your marketing? According to my survey, the majority of group business currently provided by our respondents are to local picnic groups-which may include both corporations and civic and social groups (71%), birthday parties (65%), and weddings (28%).

Setting Fees
You can charge for the rental of your space in either of two ways. Those responding to my survey said that about a third offer space on a flat charge, while the remainder rent their farm or ranch space on a per-person basis, or perhaps a combination of both a minimum for the space and then so many dollars more per person. If you choose this option of pricing, be sure you are charging a competitive rate for your area. How do you know that? Just call around to places that host birthday parties and find out what they charge, or call the city parks and other options the corporate groups may be considering to see what the going rate is in your area.

The next choice for you to make as you enter the group business is whether or not you want to just offer the space or also offer the food with the event. For many farmer’s, it’s about half have the guests bring their own food – 53.5% of the responders don’t include the food in their pricing. However the remaining 46.5% take the extra effort and include food in their package. From my own experiences, there is money to be made in the food service and I would recommend that if you can’t do it now, you should gear up to eventually include food services.

Food Services
Being able to offer the food services with your group events qualifies you for what the hospitality business calls a “turn-key provider,” in other words, the customer needs to make only the one contact with you to have everything needed for the event. Whether your customer is a mom, planning a birthday party; the corporate committee planning their annual picnic; or the mother of the bride, planning the wedding, the reception, or the recovery party after the wedding, you’ve greatly simplified their work.

While there certainly are people willing to bring their own food, you’ll find that the trend today is that if you can provide the catering, you have made it much easier for the event planner, and have put more dollars to your bottom line. When you become a full service “turn key” provider, set your price based on your marketplace. You may be surprised what groups are willing to pay for you to do all the work – set-up, cooking, activities and clean-up. Don’t undercharge here-money is to be made by being an accommodating host site.

Do I have a Space?
You may be wondering what kind of space is needed. Don’t fret if you don’t have a building to host these groups! According to my survey, 58% of the respondees offer events outdoors with no covering. While that truly makes it a “rain or shine event,” it doesn’t seem to stop farms from selling the event or hosting it. Other options reflected in the survey include enclosed buildings or barns, open pavilions, and large group tents which they either own or rent. Many of respondents indicated that they may use both outdoor areas, and enclosed areas, sometimes hosting multiple events at the same time.

So I’ve not said anything that should be holding you back. Now, how about a little more motivation? Of the 70 respondents, 52% said their gross revenue from group events exceeded $10,000. Of those, 25% said the realized more than $30,000 from events, with 10% reporting a gross income in excess of $50,000 from their event activities.

Are you ready to host group events? And once you start, never forget that every person coming to the event is a future prospect. This is your most effective marketing. That spouse might go back Monday morning and tell her company about the great place she found for a corporate picnic. Another individual may be planning a reunion. Each person has the potential to be your next birthday party, hayride group, or wedding party. Do your best, and treat everyone as your guest. Every satisfied attendee represents business growth for your farm or ranch.

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.