This is a long one. I’m trying to get all the details written down while it’s still fresh. I’m also, as I normally do, trying not to pull punches. Some of these subjects are touchy and I really am not comfortable with all this but we’ve strived to be transparent since we started this blog and people generally like to hear the unvarnished truth. We’ll see on this one.
This past Saturday we had our free pig event. In comparison to our Open Barn Day, we strived to make this event as small as possible. This entire event started because of a comment that Gran-SWMBO made after barn day that she really loved seeing the kids faces light up when they interacted with the piglet she was holding. The thought was that we could have some kids out to play with the piglet and have Gran-SWMBO happy, the kids happy, and the piglets happy.
SWMBO posted one event on Facebook. No boosting the post. No advertising, no flyers around town. I made one post on our website, purposefully at the last minute. That’s it. We did this to keep the event as small as possible because we were dealing with baby piglets and they can only be handled so much.
In response to our barely whispering about the event, we had a major group in NC contact us and inquire about posting our event on their site. We said no. It’s a peculiar thing to tell someone no, you don’t want free advertising. But our intention was to only have a small event where people could pet and maybe hold a baby piglet. The limitation for us was the piglets themselves. They can only take so much.
For open barn day, we had only one little piglet. For this event, since the piglets were the focus, we felt good that we had two piglets. Once the day started, I immediately went and grabbed another piglet from a momma (no small feat) so that we ended up with three piglets. About an hour into the event, I tried to go back and get a fourth piglet. The 700 lb now severally pissed off momma sow was having none of it and I left empty handed. Three piglets were all we had to work with. Two of them were runts who we were taking care of. One was literally pulled off of his mom’s teat and shoved into service.
For this event, we made a point to count cars so we’d know how many people we had come through. At the end of the event, we had 150 cars. If you add in the 10-15 cars that came after the event then we were around 165 cars. If you figure 4 people average per car that is 660 people on the farm for our event.
Most of those people showed up before lunch so we had quite the line of people trying to get into see the piglet.
At barn day, we were able to hold the piglet outside as it was a relatively cool day. Quickly we realized that it was a bit warmer than we expected and the piglets were becoming overheated. We had to call an audible and the decision was made to move the event inside into our stock room which is air-conditioned. Once again we were making this up as we went, we’d not planned on having to move inside for A/C. Rain yes, A/C, no. There aren’t that many places where we have both enough room and A/C. In fact there was only one, our stock room.
The downside for us was the stockroom was a disaster of empty boxes and whatnot from all the stock we’d just put into the store so some emergency cleaning was needed. But in about 15 minutes we had everything moved and we were back in business. It was in the nick of time too because one of the piglets was just laying there he was so hot. We were minutes away from just shutting down to protect the piglets health. Luckily the combination of water, milk, and A/C revived the piglets and things moved forward. The A/C had only been installed a few weeks, in fact I haven’t even paid the bill on it yet so this was a big win for installing such a nice A/C system for our store.
Another plus of this change is that everyone was able to stand in the shade rather than in the sun like they’d done in the garden. Just a few days prior the forecast had been for cooler weather and partly sunny so the warmer weather and clear blue skies had been a bit of a surprise.
One special treat we had was that Lee’s produce showed up to display and sell their fresh produce. I know I scarfed up some of the blackberries as I happened by. They were delicious! I saw a good number of customers leave with produce so I think they were happy to have the choice. We don’t charge Lee’s for coming and we don’t make anything off their sales so it really is just a bonus for our customers. Once again Lee’s said they were happy with their results from our day so hopefully we can continue to offer their produce for our events going forward.
So what went right on our day?
We made a lot of people really happy. I never knew there were so many people so enamored with pigs. Everyone was able to pet the piglets and many of them were able to hold them. Many people said this was their lifelong dream, to hold a piglet. Who knew?
Despite trying to downplay our event, we still had a tremendous response. There is definitely an opportunity to bring new customers into the farm by having family friendly events. Had we actually advertised the event, it could have rivaled Barn Day.
We are getting good at parking and directing traffic. We have our radios pretty much sorted out. We know how many people it takes to park and direct traffic. We have a system for handling the one way road and it works well. And we’ve proven, again, that we can get hundreds if not thousands of people on and off of the farm with no crashes and no anger. That’s no small feat for a farm with a one way road.
I was not giving tours on this event. By combining tour groups, Spork was able to handle all the tours by himself, freeing me to be anywhere I needed to be which was everywhere. That made a tremendous difference. Combined tour groups is working well and we are adopting it as standard practice going forward. We had several no shows for booked tours (I still need to address that) but a few people who were here for tours took impromptu tours so it all worked out.
We saw 165 cars come into the farm for our event. The event was free so obviously we’d hope people would at least look in the store and maybe try something, anything. Heaven knows we have tons of really good stuff in the store. For the day, including our regulars who came by, we did 107 transactions. Lee’s did about 30 transactions for a grand total of 137 transactions. If we deduct our regulars from the totals, that would leave us about 107 transactions, total, from the event. That means roughly 2/3 of the people who attended bought something. Had we been giving out samples, I’m sure we’d have sold some more. I think a 2/3 hit rate is pretty good. I know some people will just come and leave without spending any money.
For total top line revenue, we did about 1/2 of what we did on barn day. Considering barn day was all day and this event was 4 hours, barn day had multiple vendors giving samples and this day had none, barn day had advertising and this day had none, that’s actually pretty stellar. If we can run an event like this smoothly, I think this is a win for us.
Now the bad
SWMBO made a special effort to have more signage for the event. We knew this was an issue after barn day so we’d been working on it. However she can only print 8.5×11 signage. We used our two dry erase boards for big signs, but they kept blowing over and people still didn’t see them even if they were up. We need some professionally made signs that are easy to mount so they are plainly visible. I know who will make them and how to get them, I just need to figure out what they should say (it changes from event to event) and get them made before our next event in the fall.
At barn day, we had a crowd control issue because we’d planned on people staying in the yard and in front of the store. We had a physical barrier to delineate the customer areas from the “behind the scenes” areas. But 2000+ people later, overflowing parking blew that plan and people wandered into where the cows were and the food was. They fed the entire days food in just a few minutes. That caused some ruckus later in the day when the cows refused to eat and people were disappointed.
This time we had the gates closed and signs saying nobody past this point. However when the piglets got too hot, we had to open the gate for people to get into the store-room and sure enough, people wandered over and started handing out the food as fast as they could despite the sign saying that feeding the cows was part of the paid tour. Fortunately I saw it this time and broke it up so it wasn’t an issue but I learned later that other employees has seen it and “didn’t have the heart to tell them no.” Trying to be nice can cause problems as it did on barn day. Sometimes you have to be mean to be nice.
Despite multiple inquiries about taking a tour, hardly anybody actually signed up for a paid tour . Frankly, people were quite interested until they found out there was a charge, then the interest immediately died. I don’t know if it’s because they were already seeing enough of the farm for free or they were simply unwilling to spend money. Since we had staff dedicated to tours all day, this was disappointing.
Of the 660 people we saw throughout the day, I’d say better than half were there from 9:45 – noon. We really had a big surge at that time, and then it tapered down to a good flow the rest of the day. The result of all the people being here at once is it was crazy busy for a few hours and then calm in the afternoon. That’s still a few hundred people after lunch but comparatively it was smooth sailing. We need to control the flow of events going forward, for the customers benefit as well as our own. A steady flow is better than a big surge for everyone involved.
This was the big one of the day. Some people were quite frankly nasty. Several times we had to switch from holding the piglet to only petting the piglet. We explained that the piglets were only 1-2 weeks old and that after non-stop handling for the past several hours, plus getting too hot in the sun, they needed a bit of a break. We never stopped people from seeing and petting the animals, just the constant handling of switching laps so they could rest for a few minutes. Usually after 15 minutes we’d be back to holding again.
I understand being disappointed. It’s unfortunate and we tried our best to avoid it, but we were dealing with live animals and more people than we intended. It had been non-stop since before we opened (people showed at 9:45), and the babies needed a break. Most folks were good about it, but unfortunately some were downright nasty. We tried to accommodate them all and make it up to them. Some by offering return one-on-one trips, some by comping a full tour at another date. We do try to please everyone and make them happy. We don’t have such high reviews by accident.
However what I wanted to do was offer them their money back for the free event. We charged you nothing, opened our home to the public, and did our best to accommodate everyone and you are nasty you only got to pet the pig instead of hold it too? I wanted to ask if they acted this way if their friend had twins and they stopped by to see the babies. Did they get mad if the babies were napping when they showed and demanded the mom go wake them up? We ended up having to closely monitor the piglets after the event to ensure the stress had not damaged them. They were obviously overtired and overworked. Again, MOST people were understanding but as with anything, a few bad apples ruin the bunch. I heard the comment from our folks multiple times, “Now I know why other farms don’t do events like this.”
When we moved the piglets to the stock room to get into the A/C, we opened the “no customers beyond this point” door so that folks could flow right out of the stock room and into the store. This kept the flow going one direction and made foot traffic work much better than trying to reverse and walk against traffic. If you wanted to exit the store immediately, you were free to do so. Or you could look around. Whatever. This was all an audible we called because of weather not a plan to trick people into the store. We heard several comments about “being forced to go into the store.” This comment is just a combination of the ugliness and the cheapness we observed with a few folks. We charged nothing for the event and nothing for parking, we staffed up with five extra employees for the day, and we had the entire family working non-stop all day, plus Lucy on her day off. This comment was disappointing to say the least.
We need staff here a bit earlier. On barn day, due to bad communication, they showed up at the event start time. This time they showed up 30 minutes before start. But because people show 15 minutes early for the event, that’s really only 15 minutes before start. I think next time we need staff here 45 minutes before start time.
We’ve always been pretty easy going about tours. We don’t have a check in process. We don’t accept payment up front. We don’t take people coupons for tours if they have them till after. Frankly I’ve always tried to be easy going and welcoming rather than strict. However we gave multiple tours on Saturday and Spork and I told the customers to make sure they told the girls to charge for a tour when they went in the store. At the end of the day we’d given more tours by far than we were paid for. People obviously didn’t tell the girls to charge them. Sadly the honor system doesn’t work. We need to implement a pay first tour system with a check in process.
So should we have an event like this in the future (believe me there is some doubt), what do we need to do differently?
I have to get better signage. We’ve gotten used to handling small groups of people personally. Large groups need signage to direct them. We need a sign that lets you know the store is even there. Plus directional signs, sign that make customer areas and private areas, stuff like that.
This is a big one. We need to charge for parking. We have to staff up with extra help for events like this. By charging for parking we can offset these extra expenses and make it easier to justify doing an event like this. I know we’ll lose some customers because there is paid parking. I will also have to staff an extra person taking money and making change. All I can do is try it one time and see how it goes. I know when I go an event I have to pay for parking so I think people will be ok with it, but I hate doing it.
Staff needs to be here 45 minutes early. That means more pay and more cost. But being prepared before the start makes everything go much more smoothly. It was 10 times better this time. Next time it needs to be 100 times better.
I need to order a lapel mike and a few more radios. I keep borrowing Dustin’s. I need my own complete gear set, not partly mine and partly his for events.
We need to use our appointment system to control the flow. Even for a large event, we can still utilize the appointment system. If we can handle 100 people at a time, then we can have 100 appointments concurrently. That would have flattened out the curve for the pig holding, and given us a better idea of who was coming when. I think I can also make paying for parking pay up front to deal with the no shows so that would be a bonus.
And lastly, we need to make sure we are clear with expectations on our advertisements. When SWMBO put out the original event, she put pet and hold a baby piglet. We thought we’d get 75-100 people for this event. When interest took off, she regretted her choice of wording and sure enough, some people clung to “holding” the baby piglet seemingly caring more about what they wanted than the health of the piglet. Some, patiently waited and were able to hold the piglet a little later. In everything I put out after, I made sure to be careful with the wording to make sure that I put petting the piglet but who knows if people actually went to our website vs. reading on Facebook. On barn day, we had a lady get mad that she couldn’t feed the cows 15 minutes before cut off time. They’d been fed so much by then (remember people feeding when they weren’t supposed to) that they refused to eat. We have to be careful what we promise, especially in our first post.