Three lessons from a plain ol’ rainy season: Part 1 Year’s in Advance.
It wasn’t a disaster. Being hit by a tornado, hurricane, flood, or fire – is a disaster. It was a plain ol’ rainy season, and it just kind of sucks.
We aren’t used to rainy seasons; our last one is back in 2018. The last one this pervasive was back in 2002. Measurable precipitation every weekend from Labor Day through Oct 27th, with the two biggest weekends fully closed on 1-2 each.
Thankfully, it was beautiful Monday through most Fridays, so we got farm work done on time and never rescheduled a preschool or middle school field trip, but it doesn’t buoy your spirits to wake up to rain on Saturdays.
At one point in mid-October, we were down 40% on revenue for the year. That combination of too much loss and not enough time to make it up can get you worried in a hurry.
I remember that Monday, thinking long and hard while determining our actions and options, what was in our control, and what was out of our control.
It’s those moments, I think, that separate business people from the rest of the population. You have to consider many variables, evaluate many parameters, and measure impacts on many groups of people, from employees to families.
The pressure, it freezes that moment in time, and many people stay frozen and then get themselves out of business.
It’s just too much, and I don’t blame them. Pulling the trigger, deciding, and then taking action is painful. When you decide to act, you are saying “No” to all the other options.
My advanced age, now 48, does come with one benefit: Experience. Most of us have been kicked around by circumstances before, and in the process of taking previous lumps, we found we had a few key strategies to draw on when the chips were down.
That’s what’s coming in these next few blog posts. I will share with you how we turned around from 40% down in mid-October to just a 9% loss at the end of a rain season.
- Some of the turn was weather turning good after Oct 27th. (That was nice, but out of our control, so we won’t spend time on that.)
- Some of the turn was plans laid years in advance.
- Some of the turn was planned and deployed this season, not knowing it would positively affect our negative weather situation.
Lesson 1: Years in advance.
De-risking fall has been a push for us since 2002. From 1997 to 2001, we were so early to agritourism, i.e., it wasn’t even a word that with mostly sunny weather, we grew like magic.
In 2002, we faced the rainiest year we had “never imagined,” the Washington Sniper terrorist closing school tours, and just about went out of business. It was a mess I made by being young and never imagining that things could go sideways all at once.
One brief aside. Our actual weather disaster came in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd swept across the corn maze on September 16-17th. I was so distraught that I stood out in the wind and rain as 90% of the corn maze blew to the ground. Luckily, no one was there to see me look up into the rain and yell that I would “find a way to survive” as if I were in some B-movie.
We did survive and opened five days after the storm by pounding over 1,500 T-Stakes and using baling twine to tie up sections of the stalks nearest the pathways. You do what you gotta do, right?
After 2003, we weren’t financially able to make significant investments, but the move was on to de-risk fall. In 2005, we added an indoor playground for winter birthday parties. We opened for summer with new permanent attractions.
We tried just about anything. In reviewing these expansions of hours and attractions years later, we slowly closed many of the trial business lines and seasons down.
- Winter was too costly to operate. Summer was too slow for the labor cost.
- In 2015-2016, we launched our winery to use soft peaches and extra apples from the orchards, a lesson learned from Huber’s Winery in Indiana.
- Then, along came flowers. 2017, the Sunflower Festival came to the farm, coordinated explicitly with our peach season, and we found a REAL event to split the risk from fall.
- 2022 The Lavender Festival continued the plan by coordinating with our blueberry picking season and offering wine at events.
- Our new barn inside the Maize Quest Fun Park was the latest investment, built just in the nick of time for this rainiest fall season. It saved our Wine Your Way Out event in September from rain on both days and will be the venue for future indoor events, all of which will include wine.
So, what is your years-in-advance strategy?
- Become a year-round farm market so people shop 365.
- Add a summer splash park to bring guests in before the pumpkins.
- Offer baby animals in Spring.
- Go with a drive-thru Christmas light show.
- Add Airbnb cabins for lodging income.
- …There are a million options, but it has to fit your business.
The new barn is vital to our being less weather-threatened, but we’re still working to build a significant event in July. We specifically focus on seasonal events and have no desire to become a year-round market.
The key is that none of these options happens without prior planning and a lot of time. These are the long-term, strategic business decisions you plan now to stabilize your business.
So, what is your years-in-advance strategy?
In 2023, it played out like this for us. Lavender Festival’s growth nearly wholly covered the Sunflower Festival’s weather decline. While they balanced, fall remained at the same risk level.
Next time, we’ll share a DOZEN strategies planned and deployed this season that we had no idea would become so valuable during the fall rainout, plus how you can follow along and update your systems for 2024.
Have a great week,