Blog Post

No free lunch – Part 1 – Back on your game.


I love the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” You know how it goes…

  • You get invited to coffee with an old friend, which turns out to be an MLM or Amway pitch.
  • You think you got a steal of a deal on that tractor on Facebook Marketplace, and it needs a new 3-point hitch two days after bringing it home.
  • A friend helps you move, then needs your pick-up for three days while she moves.

The good news is: You’ve been eating free lunches for 2-3 years.

In 2020, our outdoor businesses were the only attractions open. Drive-thru festivals helped the community and brought in much-needed revenue. (Sure, you had to hose everything down with sanitizer, wear masks and fight supply shortages, but at least it was a marketing “free lunch.”)

In 2021, half the world remained closed or limited, and we had another run at being isolated as entertainment venues weren’t reopening quickly. Most businesses were playing catch-up to stay operational, and marketing was the last thing on their minds.

In 2022, the lunch tray started slipping out of our fingers. Early in our 2022 annual “FutureNOW” presentation, we predicted businesses would be in a dogfight for entertainment dollars and guest attention. It as a prediction that, unfortunately, came true.

Now, you might have had a great year, which is awesome! At the NAFDMA Advanced Learning Retreat, we learned from Wickhams that it pays to keep records of revenue and sales… and weather. (If you adjust for the weather, you can ensure you aren’t seeing a great year that happened by meteorological good fortune.)

I will freely admit that 2022 felt like we were fighting for our lives to get anything Viewed, Liked, Shared, emails Opened, and tickets sold at the very last minute, giving us very little heads up.

The “Free Lunch” was over.

Because of my early paranoia, we put the marketing “hammer down” diversified advertising streams, bought media, beat the PR drum, and followed a new guiding business principle that kept revenue growing*.

Fall revenue beat 2021 with a weekend and a half to go. Attendance squeaked out a win over 2020 on the final Sunday afternoon, but it felt like a fight the whole season.

Back on your game. Do you remember the “Before Times?” Way back in 2019, we all had to work harder for each dollar. We hustled non-stop to get press coverage, attract social media attention, and get people through the doors.

We had promotional “game,” and it’s time to get back on your game for 2023.

You might be thinking: “Cool, very motivational, but what the heck does that actually mean, Hugh? And what was that new ‘guiding principle’ that led to revenue growth?”

In 2020 & 2021, we followed a plan of scarcity marketing. We sold tickets by time slot so that we would “sell out,” thereby restricting access and keeping prices high.

Maybe you participated in our 3 Module Course “Pricing Strategy Bootcamp.” We specifically designed PSB to help operators realize the actual value they provide to guests and charge for it.

Raising prices in 2020, 2021, and 2022 was critical to successfully growing revenue while barely increasing attendance. Plus, raising prices created free money in a ‘scarcity’ environment, and I hope you felt encouraged to follow our lead.

In 2023, competition is back, but the LEAST of your worries is the farm down the road. You are competing with youth sports, freed-up vacation options, unlimited customer mobility, every fundraising event known to every PTO man or woman, and on and on...

We face a death of a thousand cuts.

*The [NEW] Guiding Principle. You can’t make money unless you get people get on-site, but when guests arrive they are ready to spend.

In Part 2, we’ll see what this looks like in action.

Have a great week,


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