Blog Post

College road trip lessons.

College tours are so similar, some parents play college tour bingo as the tour guide reads from a litany of standard phrases.

Hey gang,

I guess I expected a little more from universities recruiting kids whose families might pay, through an endowment, scholarships, grants, loans, and hard-earned cash tens of thousands per year, per student.

No, I will not be naming any schools because names are not relevant when the oversights were universal. You are welcome to share how your alma mater was better than this, but I doubt your arguments will be based on much more than the amount of fun you had at the last collegiate event.

I would do the same as Penn State is, far and away, the best school ever – mainly because I went there, had a bunch of fun, and found my wife.

So, let’s take these college visit road trip lessons as a marketing exercise with a few cautionary tales for us to bring home to our businesses.

1. Success breeds laziness. Podcaster and NYU professor Scott Galloway rails against universities for becoming luxury brands for rich kids instead of educating the masses – their stated mission. We visited the #1 ranked “hardest to get into school,” and the visitors center was locked on a summer weekend. Come on, people.

It’s easy to overlook the value of guest care when people are beating down your door to get into your business. I don’t know about you, but last year, 2020, people were desperate to get out to the farm, and marketing was easy! Sell out after sell-out makes you feel so comfortable as you rest your head on those beautiful laurels.

2. Just because you know doesn’t mean everyone else knows. We had a GREAT tour guide at another school, realized Ian might not mind a smaller school, found intriguing programs, then, once done the tour, couldn’t for the life of us find the Swag/Gift Shop.

Really?? The school hid the merch in a building with a small door. The guide didn’t point out the shop to the tour on the way. We circled campus three times to find it, and we were primed to buy!

Make NO ASSUMPTIONS that your guests know where ANYTHING is. Signage is important. Pre-trip videos are essential. Staff orientation is important. Think of your farm as if it were an airport. Airports are great at directional signage.

3. Your people are everything. We had three excellent tour guides and two blanks. If you think you can replace people with machines, you are right! Hayride tour people, you can substitute with our hayride audio systems. Introductions and rules you can replace with videos.

However, you cannot replace that personal interaction, that connection, of human to human for greeting, ticketing, welcoming, and service. You have to have great people. People can answer questions. People can make a big college feel personal. People share experiences.

The colleges that didn’t offer a live human to lead us around campus, no matter how cool on paper, feel less connected. Don’t skimp on people.

All this said, there is a lot of value in branding. Colleges can be lazy on marketing, tours, and personal connections because a flood of people want to get in.

THIS part universities got right – If you are worth it, charge for it. In fact, charge a little more than you think if you are doing a good job branding and demanding your place in the market.

Are YOU charging enough? One way to tell is if you have capacity problems. I’ve had two business-changing instances of capacity driving decisions in business.

Filling capacity. I spoke to a farm operator once who was purchasing hayride audio systems, and we got talking about marketing. His philosophy is that until he runs out of parking, “Anyone brought to his farm by any means necessary was good marketing.”

Essentially, more is more. That lesson has guided my marketing ever since. Any program, marketing channel, free ticket giveaway, ANYTHING that brings people to the farm, I’ll do it. More is more.

Running out of capacity. The second happened at NAFDMA, and I’m NOT naming anyone (not because it was bad; it seems like it was formative for her as well), but it would be her story to tell.

We were on a bus somewhere, and she mentioned that she couldn’t keep jam on the shelf. They make delicious fruit jams, and they kept getting more staff and more kettles, starting earlier, and nothing was working to fill capacity. It would fly off the shelves at every market.

Someone asked, “What do you charge for a jar?” She replied $2.50 (or something equally low), and the questioner said, “I think you found the issue. That’s way too low for homemade jam.”

She had a premium, hand-made product selling at a price below Welch’s grape jelly price. Customers were stealing jam from her at that price and they knew it, so they kept stealing more and more! The price had created a capacity problem. She took action, went home, raised her price, starting making the profits she deserved and had very few customer complaints.

Ian and I are back on the road visiting more colleges this week and heading to see a bunch of you at the Advanced Learning Retreat in Ohio. (No, we’re not visiting Ohio State, with one child at Michigan already, we don’t want to torture the grandparents anymore than we are already.)

I’ve got my eyes peeled for a school that breaks the college tour/visit mold and does something innovative, but I have low expectations. The script looks pretty similar from school to school. Those similarities, to me, seem like a prime opportunity for someone enterprising to overturn the (very uniform) apple cart and start making college tours really special.

Are you special? What specifically makes you more special? Are you too much like your local farms? All have sunflowers? All have barrel trains? All have the same products on the shelves?

Maybe it’s time to overturn the agritourism apple cart again…

Trust me; we’re working on it 🙂

See (some of you) soon, and I’d love to hear what you think and which college tours you enjoyed the most with your kids AND why,


PS, Do you need some of those Hayride Audio systems to make sure your tours are excellent no matter who’s driving? We are building for August delivery now –

PPS Need to make recruiting a little easier? We used a TicketSpice software add-on to take the pain out of employee applications and interview scheduling. It is a FREE webinar if you’d like to make recruiting easier like we did ->

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