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The Good, The Bad, and the…Was It an Ugly Year, or Not?

By Jane Eckert

Jane Eckert, CEO Eckert AgriMarketing and RuralBounty.comFor many of you, this year’s season has peaked and the year is coming to an end. 

It’s so easy to lock the front door of the market and head out for a vacation, but I want to encourage you to sit down right now with your key staff and family members to review the year’s accomplishments.

To be effective, you need to be somewhat brutally honest about what worked and what didn’t.  It is important to do it now—if you wait a couple of months, you may not have the benefit of your staff’s input, and you might forget some of the little details that were very important.  Frankly, you also need to look at some things while the “edges are still sharp” instead of waiting for time to mellow and smooth out opinions, feelings, and perceptions.

Staff input into the annual evaluation process is very valuable.  You aren’t always there when the day-to-day glitches that occur—like when an employee fails to show up, a school bus arrives early, or the equipment wasn’t serviced properly the night before it was needed.  I’m sure many of you conduct regular staff meetings, but for those of you that don’t, I encourage you to at least start the process at the end of the season.

Assess, Focus, and Define
Gather your crew, and together, determine to really understand what happened this year in your business. This review will help you do a better job of customer service, make better marketing decisions, focus how you invest your money and time, and collectively, these new strategies will no doubt increase your revenues for next year.

Review by department, looking at the staffing requirements, products sold and any limitations in providing good service to your customers. You want to identify those times when you really exceeded customer expectations, when you met their expectations and when you fell short. Then define a list of new service standards that you will apply in 2009 to improve in this area.

After evaluating your operations, move on to analyze all of your marketing and advertising expenditures to see where and how you spent your money. Often at the end of the season, we discover that we spent too much in one category, and not enough in another.  That’s okay.  Just apply what you learn to next year.  Unfortunately, there is no golden formula to tell you how much to spend on advertising, but often the results are based not on the amount you spend, but on where or how you elected to spend it. 

If you read this column frequently, you already know that I believe that paid advertising is only a portion of your overall marketing program.  There are also the special promotions, media relations, the community activities, the coupons, the newsletters, a website etc. that collectively build and increase awareness, customer traffic, and revenue.  Look at these other things that you did beyond paid media and evaluate their success.

Perhaps you hosted a local non-profit organization at your farm for a special day—did that bring you new people to the farm?  Maybe you gave exclusive coupons in your e-newsletter the first weekend of opening the maze—did that increase your numbers? Did the overall revenue improve (including admission, food, produce and gift sales), or just the attendance? 

Look at every dollar and every hour spent for your promotional efforts to see if you can tell what brought you new customers to the farm and if it did increase your average sale. Remember to go beyond your own perspective and ask your staff what they saw and heard on those special promotional weekends.

Dollars and Sense
The review is not complete until you really look at the numbers, and I’m always surprised when I run across farmers that just look in their billfold and think that’s all the information they need.  So many farms are not using their sales and customer count numbers to their full advantage. 

Compare your sales to last year, reviewing the sales results week by week.  Look at the average sale per customer to see if it went up this year.  To find your average revenue, simply divide the day’s revenue by the number of people admitted or making purchases.  This number should be increasing from one year to the next.

Examine the sales by department—produce, gifts, food, admission, etc.—and compare these sales to last year to see if any new trends are emerging. If you only look at the whole market revenue and you see it has declined, you still don’t really know where to start. But if you look by department, and learn that while half your market space is a gift shop, the gifts just aren’t selling, then you know where to look.

As our costs and prices go up so should the average sale per customer.  Otherwise, you are likely not growing your business in real dollars.

How Did My Year Compare
Agritourism is a business, and we need to manage growth with better managerial skills and financial reports.  You may be a great farmer, but you also must be a good manager. One of the best ways that I know to grow in this industry is to attend the winter farm conferences and bus tours.  I encourage you to participate in all that you can, recharging your batteries through new ideas and good farm friends.

I’m going to add one more indicator for you to use in evaluating your year, and that will be a comparison to other farms in the agritourism business.  To do this, I’m going to need everyone’s participation.  Farmers have been asking me all fall how others are doing and whether or not the economy affected our business.  We would all like to know. 

Since my business as an agritourism/agrimarketing consultant spans all of North America, I have seen and heard a lot this year.  But I’d really like to hear from every one of our readers.  I have prepared a brief, online survey to allow you to share anonymously what worked, and what didn’t in 2008, and how the year compared in terms of business, marketing expenditures etc.  This survey will not require a lot of writing, just yes and no answers and choosing answers appropriate to describing your year on the farm. 

Will you please take the time?  Everyone who participates will receive a copy of the results so you can compare your year to that of other farms throughout North America.  To take this survey, just go to:  Thank you very much.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (, 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, 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.