11 Steps to Successful Farm Marketing
With a little forethought, you can create successful marketing plan for your farm that will expand your customer base and increase your profits.
Creating appealing displays of your farm product at festivals and farmers’ markets is one step to successful marketing.
Agritourism, breeding stock, fiber, yarn, fresh or prepared food, farm-related services—the list of potential income streams for your farm is only limited by your interest, time and imagination. Your farm marketing plan starts with a simple list of all of the products and services you currently offer or want to offer in the future. A successful plan can help expand your customer base and lead to additional revenue.
1. Identify your farm’s market.
If asked the question, “Who are you marketing your farm product to?” your first instinct might be to say “Anyone who will buy.” But if you put some thought into it you’ll realize the answer is much more complex. Do women or men buy more frequently from you? Are your customers young, middle-aged or retired? Do they belong to a certain ethnic group? Do your buyers tend to be of a certain income level? Do they live in a particular area or are they geographically dispersed?
If your farm already has customers, think of your best ones. Who are they and how would you describe them? If you’re just starting out and don’t have customers yet, observe your potential competitors and their customer base. By knowing who your customers or prospects are, you can increase the likelihood they will buy from you by tailoring your marketing message to their needs and desires.
Keep in mind that your target demographic might be different for the different products and services you offer. If you have a sheep farm, for instance, your breeding stock buyers may be local 4-Hers, while buyers of your organic, pasture-raised lamb might be located in a large city a few hours away, and the middle-aged female hand spinners who buy your fleeces might be spread all across the country.
2. Set your farm apart.
It’s important for any business to establish its unique selling proposition, or USP. A USP is the answer to the question, “Why should someone do business with me instead of my competition?” What unique benefits does your farm offer? Freshness, quality, personal service, rarity … these can all be part of your USP.
A good USP is a clear, simple and concise statement of the benefits you offer. Along with your product line and target demographic, your USP becomes your North Star, always guiding you even when things seem foggy and the future uncertain.
Spend some time creating your USP and write it down in a prominent spot, be it in the gardening shed, barn or office. Your USP should be kept front and center as a constant reminder of your farm’s purpose and direction.
Now that you’ve established what you’re selling, whom you’re selling it to and what makes it different, you’re ready to get down to the nitty-gritty aspects of implementing a marketing plan. Most marketing plans incorporate a variety of components. Among those you will need to consider include a logo, tagline, website, association membership, advertising, events, customer service, timing and budget.
3. Create a farm logo.
Your farm’s logo can be something as simple as your farm name in a distinctive font, or it can be more intricate and include illustrated elements that pertain to your product or farm name. A logo should project a business image based on your goals and objectives, and elicit a general feeling for your brand. For example, if you have a wildflower farm that caters to a female clientele, you may want your logo to evoke romance, using soft, natural colors (grass green, sunflower yellow, sky blue or pastels) and a more feminine font to achieve this. However, if your farm raises Percheron horses, strength and majesty represented in darker, bold colors (browns, reds, bright blue, purple, black) and a more masculine font might be more appropriate.
While you can create a farm logo on your computer that is suitable for desktop printing, if you plan on expanding your marketing efforts into packaging, professionally printed materials and signage, you might want to enlist the help of a professional graphic designer. Sign makers, embroiderers and commercial printers all have specific requirements for file format and quality that is difficult to achieve with most home or small-business software. A graphic designer can help you achieve a more polished look and will be able to provide you with the specific file formats you’ll need later on.
If you decide to have your logo professionally designed, finding the right designer is important. Do they know your business or businesses similar to yours? Do they have a style you find appealing? If you want illustrated elements in your logo, can they design these for you or are they limited to using readily available clip art?
The designer should provide you with a few versions of your logo including a high-resolution file for print use (300 dpi), a low-resolution file for web use (72 dpi) and some type of vector file format for embroidery use.
4. Write a tagline.
Ideally, your tagline should be tailored so closely to your brand that competitors can’t substitute their names in it. John Deere’s “Nothing runs like a Deere” is an excellent example of a tagline that communicates both brand and benefit.
When Gretta MacIntyre, who markets llamas, White Dorper sheep and colored Angora goats from her Firethorn Farm in western Pennsylvania, was looking for the right tagline she knew it needed to include something about her farm’s superior customer service. The winner? “Expect the Best!”
“We try very hard to do a good job with our animals,” MacIntyre explains. “That includes nutrition, veterinary care, genetics, record keeping … the whole picture. We also do a lot of customer support. We work hard so people can expect the best.”
Start your tagline brainstorming process by noticing those you see every day on TV, in magazine ads and on the radio. Think about what you want your farm brand to communicate with its tagline. Start putting ideas on paper. Don’t worry about how silly some of the ideas might seem at first, just get them on paper and the right choice will emerge.
5. Launch a website.
There’s no denying it—today’s farmer needs to be technologically savvy, and for most of us, an effective farm marketing plan includes having a website. A website is cost effective and reaches a wide number of customers. Whether you use your site as a static farm brochure to get your name out or actually sell products online, a website can help take your marketing to the next level without a huge investment.
The cost effectiveness is part of what drew Wayne Jarvis to create a website for Sixth Day Farm, his family’s diversified hobby farm in Holley, N.Y.
“We wanted a website to advertise our farm and all of the things we do here, and the Internet is such a potentially ‘big bang for the buck’ that when we had an opportunity to get a high-quality professional site at such a low price it was too good to pass up,” Jarvis says.
For Jarvis, a simple brochure-type site that introduces prospects to the farm and its animals, without getting into specifics about what is available for sale at any given time, has been enough to generate a good response.
“We have gotten many customers from our site already and if we had more animals to sell I would make a real sales list page, but we can’t keep up with the demand for animals as it is, particularly the French Angora rabbits and the Saanen dairy goats,” he says “We have already decided to be much more aggressive in our breeding program next year so that we will have more animals to sell.”
If you have patience for software and a desire to learn, there are a number of free online website platforms, such as WordPress, available that can help you develop your own website using pre-made templates. Or if you’re after a high-quality professional web presence, rather than a do-it-yourself endeavor, you can engage the services of a website designer.
Armed with the photos, text and guidance you provide, a web designer will work to incorporate these elements, along with your logo and tagline, to create a unified site that is consistent with the rest of your farm marketing efforts. Costs will vary depending on the complexity of your needs, whether you are selling products online, the completeness of the information you provide and subsequent revisions.
6. Join farm associations.
Association membership can also be a cost-effective way to market your farm and its products. Membership fees are generally modest, and benefits include newsletter subscriptions and a printed and/or web-based listing in the association’s membership directory. For Jarvis, association membership is important because it reaches his target demographic: beginning breeders.
“Association membership is definitely a part of our marketing plan for alpacas and Cormo sheep,” he explains. “Since both of these are rare and it is difficult to buy good quality breeding stock, being a member in the society puts our farm out there in front of all of the other breeders, particularly the new members who are likely just starting to build their foundation herd,” says Jarvis.
7. Attend farm-related events
Be it festivals, farmers’ markets, seminars, demonstrations or farm open houses, events provide you with an excellent opportunity to market your products in a hands-on environment. Just as some buyers aren’t comfortable buying from catalogs, some of your customers are likely to want one-on-one contact with you and your products or animals before making a purchase decision.
“Many people buy on impulse. If something appeals to them, they will buy it. They see it, really like it, buy it, and later decide what they will do with it,” says Leslie Orndorff, owner of Tintagel Farm in Glenville, Penn.
Orndorff markets most of her goat and sheep farm’s products at festivals and shows and chooses which events to attend carefully.
“Because my fiber business is geared to roving and yarn I try to go to shows that will have spinners, knitters and weavers as customers. Shows that offer classes usually generate the highest sales for me. I also like to do goat/sheep shows specifically, so that I may be able to show and sell my animals,” she says.
Having a wide variety of products and presenting them well is important, too. “I try to set up my booth so that my products are visible from the front opening,” Orndorff says. “I put like products together, always within eye and hand reach, since fiber is a visual and tactile product. Also, setting up the booth to offer a flow of traffic, not a dead end, really helps!”
Other events, like open farm days or demonstrations at the local fair can also drum up business for you. Contact your local paper and see if they’d be interested in covering what you’re doing to further increase your exposure.
8. Begin advertising.
Display advertising in a glossy magazine might not be within your budget, but perhaps a small classified ad is. Show programs and newsletters can also provide cost-effective advertising opportunities. Keep in mind that you only have a limited amount of time to catch readers’ attention, so your headline should pique their interest and make them want to read on. Always be sure to include your farm name, your phone number and your website address in any advertising you do. If you have room, also include your logo and tagline.
9. Provide good customer service.
Many times the best marketing practice is also the cheapest to implement. This is never truer than in the marketing benefit of good customer service. Good customer service doesn’t cost any more to deliver than bad customer service, but bad customer service can literally cost you your business. Whether it is standing behind a sale, answering voicemail and email promptly, or handwriting a thank-you note to put in with an order, small efforts can make a big difference!
10. Establish a marketing budget and calendar.
In your startup years, your farm marketing budget might be 5 to 10 percent of your gross sales figure, but as time goes on and word-of-mouth begins to work for you, your marketing budget might drop to 2 to 3 percent of gross sales. Creating a marketing budget and calendar for your marketing year is a good way to set goals and keep yourself on track.
If your farm business has a natural downtime (as many farms do), this is a great time to plan your marketing. You’ll have fewer distractions, less stress and will be able to come up with more creative ideas than when you’re in the height of your busy season. Marketing isn’t hard to do, it’s just easy to put off doing when it seems like a million tasks are more pressing.
11. Evaluate your success.
The success of your farm marketing plan can be gauged in many different ways. Ask yourself these questions after you’ve given your newly implemented marketing plan time to work (generally six to 12 months):
Did I sell more?
Did I make a larger profit?
Did my farm products sell more quickly?
Are there some potential customers that might turn into sales in the coming year as a result of this year’s marketing?
Did I retain more customers?
Did I get new customers?
Were my existing customers more satisfied?
Was my job easier and more fun?
Over time, as your farm business matures, you will undoubtedly expand your marketing horizons, be it sprucing up your product packaging, having brochures professionally printed, sending out press releases, or getting signage made for your farm store or show booth. There will always be a continuing stream of marketing possibilities to consider. Keep an open mind. If there’s something you can’t justify financially today but think would be a great marketing idea, in a year your increasing sales might make it possible.
Get more farm-marketing tips from these HobbyFarms.com articles:
16 Food Labels and What They Mean »
5 Ways to Make Money in Agritourism »
How to Build a Great Small Farm Website »
8 Tips for Beginner Farmers’ Market Vendors »
How to Create a Farm Newsletter »
How to Create a Farm Newsletter
Farm newsletters are a great way to draw new business to your farm and keep repeat customers appraised of what is happening.
Are you searching for an easy and effective way to promote your farm? Are you eager to market your farm business but would prefer to stay behind the scenes? Do you want to maximize your farm’s marketing budget to get the most bang for your buck?
A farm newsletter is one of the best ways to increase business while developing lasting relationships with your customers. Newsletters are not as hard to create as you might imagine. Even those with limited computer knowledge can create a simple newsletter. With a host of programs available that make designing a newsletter as easy as a click of the mouse, there is no excuse not to utilize this effective farm marketing tool.
Newsletters connect you with a target audience that wants to read about you and your farm business. By reaching out to these eager customers, you can easily increase clientele, as Kelly Harding of Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, N.J., discovered.
“Instead of spending money on newspaper advertising, which is a broad, shotgun type of advertising, our newsletter is targeted to people who have made some effort to contact us and who have taken an interest in what we’re doing,” Harding says.
Although newsletters are an excellent farm marketing tool, you should first realistically evaluate your business to decide if the effort of creating a newsletter is warranted. If most of your business comes from selling directly to wholesalers, restaurants or other businesses, a newsletter might not be the best use of your time and energy. However, if most of your business comes from selling to the public, newsletters can bring in more business and encourage repeat guests.
Once you have decided that a newsletter could benefit your farm, you have a few decisions to make before designing and publishing your newsletter.
The first decision in creating a farm newsletter is choosing aformat to use. According to Carol Luers Eyman, author of How to Publish Your Newsletter, newsletters can be published in one format or a combination of five formats: print versions; webiste pages; text emails; HTML emails, which are similar to text e-mails but have graphics and design elements; and downloadable PDFs, which are documents that need to be read through Adobe Reader, an easily downloaded program that many computer users already have.
What format you use depends on how technologically savvy you are, how much time you have to create your newsletter and what type of format your customers will actually read. If you live in a community where residents are more likely to read a printed handout than turn on the computer, your efforts will be best spent in producing a printed newsletter. If you can budget only two or three hours a month to create your newsletter, it’s probably worthwhile to use computer software with newsletter templates in which you just need to insert your text and photos, and hit send.
Producing a text or HTML newsletter could be the easiest way to launch your farm newsletter.
“Electronic newsletters are faster and less expensive to produce and distribute, and that’s why they are becoming more and more popular,” Luers Eyman says. “Print newsletters are better if you need to publish lots of material in each issue. Also, if you want to distribute the newsletter at a retail outlet like a farm stand, print works better.”
Yet another factor to consider when deciding on a format is how you will collect the addresses of newsletter subscribers and how you will distribute your newsletter. If you would like to send it through the mail, you must have a system set up to collect addresses through your store, by phone or on your website. If you decide to create electronic newsletters, many programs that offer newsletter templates also offer you the services of electronically subscribing and unsubscribing addresses.
The second decision in creating your farm newsletter is deciding what type of information to include. This is how you can personalize a newsletter and showcase the products you offer.
Cherry Grove Farm sells grassfed beef, lamb and pork, so Harding includes recipes and articles about the meat industry in his farm newsletter.
“If we seem to be getting a question over and over, we try to address it in the newsletter,” Harding says. “One thing we tackled was why our farm is certified organic but our meats are not.”
Alternatively, the Iron Horse Farm in Sherborn, Mass., uses their newsletter to promote the products and classes offered on their fiber farm.
“We usually feature something from our farm co-op gift store; our store hours; policies for visiting the animals; classes, workshops and private lesson information for the month; as well as any upcoming events we host and where we are appearing as vendors,” says owner Debbie Smith.
Regardless of what type of farming you do, there’s a wealth of information that can be included in a newsletter.
Recipes are always a favorite in newsletters and encourage customers to buy more of a product in order to try it out.
If there are any special events taking place on your farm or in your region, be sure to include them in a newsletter several weeks before the event so customers can make travel plans.
Many newsletter readers enjoy receiving special discounts and coupons; they might visit your farm to redeem a coupon when they wouldn’t have visited otherwise.
“We put a coupon for a free product in the newsletter one time and we got around 70 coupons back,” Harding says. “That brought some people in who have never been here before.”
Articles about daily activities on your farm and profiles of farm animals are interesting reads for non-farmers.
“People who don’t farm find the silliest things interesting and entertaining,” Harding says. “Write a story about what you do daily and that’s interesting enough for most people.”
If you’re a dairy farmer, profile one of your cows and include its name, when it was born, its milking record, et cetera. If you grow tomatoes, write about the chores that must be done each day to ensure a healthy and bountiful crop. Many people don’t realize how much work it takes to run a farm, so not only will you be educating your newsletter readers, you all will be instiling a newfound appreciation for your work.
Photos offer a personal touch in your newsletter and can entice people to visit your farm. Including photos is easier than you might think. If you have a film camera, you’ll need to develop the photos and then scan them onto your computer. If you have a digital camera, you can simply upload the photos. Once you’re familiar with the process of how to upload images to your computer, you can quickly add photos of your farm products, employees, et cetera. If you would rather not use photos, you can use clip art, which can be purchased in a book, on a CD or downloaded from the Internet.
The third decision to make regarding your newsletter is how frequently to create it. If you would rather sit down a few times a year and create a newsletter chock full of information, a quarterly newsletter is ideal for you. If you want to update your customers on what crops are available for purchase throughout the year, you’ll probably want to send a newsletter at least once a month. Sometimes a weekly newsletter is appropriate. For instance, Full Belly Farm in Guinda, Calif., provides a newsletter with recipes using its products and payment reminders in with its weekly delivery of produce to members of its community-supported agriculture program.
Remember occasionally to create newsletters during your off-season, as well. Even though your farm might close for several months, keep building relationships with your customers through newsletters describing the activities on the farm in preparation for harvest next year, as well as updates about new products or varieties you intend to debut.
Once you’ve decided on your farm newsletter’s format, content and frequency, your next step is to design it.
If you have decided to publish a print newsletter, you will need to focus on the layout and graphics. One of the easiest and least expensive options is to use newsletter templates. Templates, which can be found in page-layout software or purchased individually, allow you to easily insert text and photos into pre-fabricated slots without worrying about design.
Not all print newsletters need templates or require the purchase of additional computer software. Many newsletters are produced with word-processing program Microsoft Word. If you’re searching for a basic format that includes a few columns, some graphic elements and the ability to import pictures, Microsoft Word can probably handle your beginning needs. If you would rather present a more professional look, you might want to use templates or purchase software, such as Microsoft Publisher, Serif PagePlus, Adobe InDesign or Quark XPress.
You can print your newsletter on your home printer, print one copy and photocopy the rest at a print shop or email your newsletter file to a print shop for printing. If you will be sending your newsletter to a print shop, save it as a PDF first or make sure your software is compatible.
For PDF newsletters, you will design a layout much like a print newsletter. Once it is created, you then save the file as a PDF document that can be sent as an e-mail attachment or linked online.
For Web newsletters, you will create a Web page just as you created pages for the rest of your website. Check with the Internet service provider that hosts your website to see if they offer templates you can use to easily create Web pages and newsletters. If your ISP doesn’t offer templates, or if you prefer to design your own page, you can purchase software such as Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia DreamWeaver; however, these programs will take some time to learn and might be too advanced for people who desire to produce a simple newsletter in a short amount of time.
Text email newsletters can easily be created in a word-processing program or in a text editor, such as Windows Notepad. Once you’ve written the content, you would simply copy the newsletter to your email account and send it to your subscription list.
HTML email newsletters can be created through a Web-development program and copied to your email account. However, according to Luers Eyman, there’s a much easier way.
“For HTML e-mail newsletters, the trend among small businesses is to use one of the list-hosting services,” she says. “Their fees usually include the use of newsletter templates that are relatively easy to plug text and graphics into. … They are quite reasonable for someone just getting started.”
List-hosting services, such as MailChimp, Constant Contact and Vertical Response, not only make creating email newsletters easy, but they also take away much of the hassle of the tedious tasks of subscribing and unsubscribing email addresses. If you choose not to use a list-hosting service, you can manually add and delete addresses from your email account, purchase distribution software or find free services that can handle smaller distribution lists.
With a myriad software and website services that allow anyone to create a professional-looking newsletter in a matter of minutes, your farm can easily begin reaping the rewards a newsletter offers.
Seven Ways to Stretch Your Newsletter Budget
From How to Publish Your Newsletter, by Carol Luers Eyman (Square One Publishers, 2006). Reprinted with permission.
Worried how much money a newsletter will cost to produce? Luers Eyman suggests the following ways to stretch your newsletter budget.
Use a free online mailing-list service for Web or email newsletters.
Use one of the newsletter templates that come with page-layout software instead of paying a graphic artist to design one.
Instead of using expensive color ink, add visual appeal to your newsletter by printing it on colored paper.
Check with the postal service to see if printing on a lighter-weight paper would reduce your postage costs.
If you’re mailing more than 200 pieces, look into using the reduced Standard Mail postal rate.
Apply mailing labels to envelopes before adding postage so you don’t add postage to more pieces than you need to mail; such costly mistakes add up.
Use the U.S. Postal Service’s address correction and return services to update your mailing list. This will help prevent future mailings to incorrect or nonexistent addresses.
About the Author: Kimberly Button is a freelance writer in Lake Lure, N.C., and the author of The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook. Visit www.kimbutton.com for more information.
This article first appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.
5 Ways to Make Money in Agritourism
Agritourism offers a variety of agriculturally based experiences, ranging from seasonal festivals, educational tours to “pick your own” produce farms and on-farm accommodations. Learn more about the benefits of agritourism.
Agricultural tourism, or “agritourism,” is one of the fastest-growing trends in the travel industry. It combines agricultural settings, services and products with a unique tourism experience.
Long recognized as a valuable business type in Europe, agritourist spots have become a popular destination across the farmlands and rural settings of North America.
Many people look forward to vacations as a break from life in the city and suburbs. Whether it’s just a day trip or a weeklong holiday, people are increasingly turning to rural settings for relief. Agritourism offers a large variety of agriculturally based experiences, ranging from seasonal festivals, educational tours and “pick your own” produce farms to outdoor adventures and on-farm accommodations.
Boy at a U-Pick Pumpkin Farm
Given the wide variety of innovative products and services that are available on a farm, an agritourism business can provide both the full-time and hobby-farmer with added benefits such as extra income and employment for family members.
1) Pick-Your-Own & Farmers’ Markets
Also known as “U-Pick” throughout America, “pick your own” farms provide customers with the opportunity to pick their own produce at a savings to both the customer and the farmer, who would normally have to pay for the labor involved. At the same time, this business can offer visitors an education in agriculture, including how crops are grown and which crops thrive best in a given climate. In addition to pick your own, many farmers sell their produce right on the farm, either through simple stands or through larger-scale country markets, to entice visitors with the concept of one-stop produce shopping in a simpler setting.
Baugher’s Orchard and Farm is a 100-year-old, family-operated farm located in Westminster, Md., that offers “pick your own” from June through October. With two market locations—one on and one off the farm—as well as a bakery and small restaurant, Baugher’s has a lot to offer.
“We’re basically a fifth-generation family business that started out with Mrs. Baugher baking pies out of her basement and selling them door-to-door on a little cart,” explains Cheryl Vural, Market Manager at Baugher’s.
“Those pies are still made in our bakery located right here on the farm, which is run by her granddaughter.”
Vural adds that when starting up an agricultural business, getting the entire family involved can certainly be beneficial. However, as any marketing textbook will tell you, it helps to find a special niche and expand on it.
“Find something unique that no one else is doing,” she says. “There are a lot of farms that do pick your own, but there aren’t any in this county, for example. So we have a large customer base. Likewise, there’s some produce we grow that others don’t. People come from three and four states away just for our sour cherries because no one else offers them.” Once you’ve identified your niche, make sure you promote it in all of your marketing materials, whether it’s newspaper ads, billboards or just a roadside sign.
2) Seasonal Events Attract Tourists
Seasonal events such as harvest festivals, Easter- or Halloween-themed activities and Winterfests are a unique way of attracting tourists to your farm during specific months of the year. This option benefits farmers who don’t want to be open to the public year-round or who simply want to bring in income during a slower part of the season.
A Sea of Pumpkins
Dan Pawlowski and his wife, Diane, operate Pumpkinville, the oldest original pumpkin farm in New York, located outside of Great Valley. Catering to families with their motto, “Your family’s fun is our business,” Pumpkinville not only offers a limitless supply of pumpkins, but fall harvest attractions such as hayrides, pony rides, farm animals, a cornfield maze, picnic pavilion and a pick-your-own pumpkin patch as well.
With a passion for agriculture, Dan Pawlowski left a position in business 11 years ago to pursue a career in growing pumpkins. “We originally started out just selling pumpkins; since then we gradually evolved into an agricultural entertainment farm,” he says. “We discovered that there’s never much money in growing anything; the box stores have seen to that.”
Pawlowski has carved his niche by operating an entertainment center that offers families the opportunity to spend a day taking part in fall harvest activities on his farm during September and October.
“It’s a fun business, but it can also be quite competitive; you have to work hard to stay on top,” explains Pawlowski.
“If you don’t want to work 14-hour days for at least two months straight, then this isn’t for you. And the rest of the year, you’re growing your crop and getting the place ready for opening day. You might have to work long, hard hours, but you still get to be your own boss and you can get a lot of satisfaction out of the job.”
Of course, the lure of working for oneself is one of the strongest incentives for this kind of hobby-farm venture. But the more you want to offer, the more likely you are to need help. A typical fall-harvest farm might require 10 or more employees for such non-farming activities as traffic and parking management, ride operation and ticket sales.
Planning ahead for that two-month spike in expenses like payroll and employee taxes will help you get the most from your agritourism business.
3) A Vacation Ranch Offers a Unique Getaway
A Vacation Ranch Offers a Unique Getaway
© Courtesy Black Mountain Ranch
With the expanding population of urban America, many tourists are looking to ranch vacations as a way to fill the need for a taste of the great outdoors, a relaxed atmosphere and a different way of life. The possibilities for guest ranches are limitless, offering a variety of specialties including cattle drives, horseback riding, cook-outs, rafting, rodeo activities, and hunting and fishing.
Nestled in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming, Black Mountain Guest Ranch offers tourists a chance to get away from all the hustle and bustle with a true American West ranching getaway.
When Black Mountain owners Rosie and Dan Ratigan decided 19 years ago to open up their ranch to domestic and international tourists, they were operating it as a full service bed and breakfast. But they soon found they had no time to themselves. With a small change to their business plan, they now offer a spacious, newly remodeled country guesthouse with a fully equipped kitchen situated on their property at the North Fork of the Popo Agie River.
“We no longer offer food services, as we were literally working from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. each day,” says Rosie Ratigan. “But we found that if we offered them a lovely, clean guesthouse with a fully equipped kitchen, the guests were more than happy to cook on their own schedule. It’s so important to offer vacationers a separate facility so that they have their own privacy and freedom.”
With popular activities such as on-ranch trout fishing, local hiking and horseback riding, as well as numerous historical attractions nearby, Black Mountain Guest Ranch has proven to be a popular tourist destination with something for everyone in the family.
Remembering that location, as well as marketing, makes or breaks a business, it’s important to promote activities that are easily accessible in your area. Trying to provide an all-inclusive, resort-style vacation is best left to the big companies. Travelers usually expect a ranch vacation to have some activities, but it doesn’t hurt to advertise other close-by amenities as well.
4) A Bed and Breakfast Can be Quite Profitable
Often referred to as a “B & B,” the practice of hosting overnight guests who yearn for a calm, nostalgic environment has been around since the 19th century. For the hobby farmer, agritourism businesses such as these can be quite profitable, whether run as a full-time or part-time operation.
Bill and Annette Hendrixson operate McCoy Place Bed and Breakfast in Crossville, Tenn. Situated in the 70,000-acre Catoosa Wildlife Management Area and surrounded by century-old towering oaks and lush gardens, this 1920s farmhouse is the only remaining house left in what was a thriving community in the 1800s.
“We started this business on a lark,” explains owner/operator Annette Hendrixson. “This was originally my parents’ farm; it’s been in the family since the 1870s. After my mother passed away, I really didn’t know what I was going to do with it, as we didn’t live here at the time.”
The Hendrixsons didn’t want to sell the 60-acre farm, but were well aware of the costs involved in its upkeep.
“I thought opening up a bed and breakfast would be the perfect solution,” says Hendrixson. “With a bit of planning and a lot of hard work, it’s been quite successful; most weekends I have guests.”
Pampered with gourmet meals, good local wine, and nearby recreational activities like golfing, canoeing and winery tours, visitors find McCoy Place a perfect retreat from the stress of city life.
While the bed-and-breakfast model typically requires more time from its owners in interacting with guests, few B & Bs offer any on-site activities other than a library or board games. Guests are encouraged to discover the area surrounding the B & B; having only breakfast included in the price of the room gives guests a gentle push to explore.
Having such operating procedures in place before opening will help you balance your work and personal life. “I’m only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights,” says Hendrixson, “So I still have time for myself and the things I enjoy, like gardening.”
5) Educational Tours Builds Your Brand and Educates, Too
Many farming operations have begun to incorporate educational tours into their daily schedules, not only for the increase in visitors, but also to raise awareness of local agricultural products. Tours associated with on-farm productions such as making apple cider or maple syrup, or livestock production can help educate the public on the importance of maintaining agricultural lands at a time when many farming areas are being squeezed by encroaching development.
Tours are particularly attractive to schools that are looking for ways to teach children about agricultural life in an entertaining and engaging way; marketing to teachers and administrators can be profitable for any farming hobbyist. Because they are easily integrated into typical farming operations, additional overhead and manpower are low. In most cases, the tours can be run by the farm owners themselves.
Of course, having tours on an operational farm may require some additional homework on your part. If the farm is medium to large and the tour will include heavy machinery, it is important to know what safety laws are in place and how to implement them. While school boards typically insure their staff and students during field trips, it may pay to discuss the matter upfront, so that everything is in place and safe before the students arrive.
Help is Available When Starting Up
Whether you’re opening a ranch in Montana, a B & B in Connecticut or a corn maze in Tennessee, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. There is plenty of help available for people starting a small agritourism business.
One such example is the Kansas Agritourism Advisory Council, a non-profit group that combines government resources and small business support to promote the industry. These groups not only provide expertise on specific areas of agritourism, but also list resources for business aspects from start-up and financing procedures to marketing tips and insurance.
While agritourism can offer farm owners benefits like a supplemental revenue stream or employment for family members, it’s not for everyone. In addition to the challenges of any business startup, agritourism businesses typically require hard work and long hours, and should not be considered “get-rich-quick” schemes. However, with a little bit of planning, you can provide both your guests and yourself with a very unique and lucrative experience.
“It may be a lot of hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” says Dan Pawlowski of Pumpkinville. “I may make half the living, but I now have twice the life.”
Specific Support for Farms
11 Steps to Successful Farm Marketing