A trip to the Pumpkin Patch…

Money troubles ‘R’ us lately, so we’ve been looking for things to do with the children that are low-cost, or even better, free.  Today Michelle got an email for a local pumpkin farm having hayrides and pony rides for kids with disabilities, visible or not, wheelchairs to asthma.  Sponsored by a local autism support group and sounded like fun and we grabbed our autistic child and off we went.

The hayride took us through a forested area, decorated at stations along the trail; in short: they do a haunted hayride each Friday and Saturday night.  In the daylight of course, it mostly looked cheesy and stupid, but I’ve got an imagination and I can imagine what it would look like late at night…on a tractor…in the dark.

Scary, in other words.

At the conclusion of the ride, I got to chatting with the two dudes running the show.  They were brothers, and greatly contrasted.  Brother #1 had a dark complexion, and firm handshake, and was affable, if busy.  Brother #2 had a medium complexion, a handshake that tried to hurt, and was an asshole.  (No one can accuse me of equivocating in my blog.)

The ride in the dark is $14.  Given that the professional attractions run about $20 a ticket, that seems about right to me.  I asked what a guy had to do to get involved, and was told.  I got a bit more than that though.

I learned three things in short order.

1. They’re advertising in the Kansas City Star (and on e other newspaper).
2.  The don’t have a website; they have a MySpace page.
3.  They’re losing $1000 a night to maintenance and operational expenses.

Now, I’m no Warren Buffett, but naturally I thought to myself, I could do this better.

Not the pumpkin farm, not the attraction.  The business part of it.  Making the assumption that the attraction doesn’t suck ass and therefore isn’t getting bad word-of-mouth advertising, then something else is going on.

Let’s start with this: they don’t have a website.  Before you start jumping up and down and waving your arms about shouting, “Hey!  He’s got a MySpace page!”, let me just stop you before you make a fool of yourself.  MySpace is perceived as a place where anorexic high-school age girls can complain about being overweight, misunderstood junior high boys can whine about all the girls they don’t get to kiss, and teens of both genders can post pictures of themselves and each other half-dressed and either drunk or in the process of becoming drunk.

Which, in point of fact, is precisely what MySpace is.

To sum up: it’s not a place for business.  If you want to be taken seriously as a business, you suck it up and buy your own domain and pay someone to write you a website.  You put a spot where people can buy tickets in advance, maybe even give them a discount for doing so.   You take credit cards and PayPal.  In other words, you make it as easy as possible for your customer to part with his money.

On your website, put lots of photos.  Put video. Damn.  Revolutionary thought, there.

Advertising: Print is dead.  The Kansas City Star is nothing more than tonights kindling and/or tomorrow’s birdcage liner.  Mr. Smart (actually, that’s really the guy’s name) told me that advertising there costs him “a fortune.” [his words]  Okay, you’re losing money and The Star is screwing you for advertising.  Hmmmmm.

How about this: within five miles of your location, there are at least five coffeeshops, a couple of them I know for a fact are independently owned.  Go in with fliers: offer a discount if the customer presents a receipt from that business.  Sounds like a win-win for everyone.

Now, we come to the hard part.  Staffing changes.

As we were getting ready for the hayride, loading people on, Mr. Smart (I swear to God, that’s the guy’s name) announces to an already full wagon, “This ride is free if you have a child with disabilities.  Otherwise you need to buy a ticket.”  He then proceeds to quiz each family, and kicks one off to go inside to buy tickets.

WHAT?!?!?  Dude, all your goodwill just vanished.  Sure, it’s Autism Day at the farm, and there is going to be the odd family or two who’s there just for the day, but do you have any idea how insensitive that was?  From the impromptu quiz to the ticketless eviction, you are now The Asshole and quite frankly, you’ve earned it.

The older gentleman (read: the old man with the busted hearing aid and short attention span) working the cash register probably wasn’t the best choice for that position, although he did blend in with the rubber corpses strewn about for effect.

Here’s what I’d change, if it was me:

Put the darker brother in public view.  Let the fairer brother do his bit behind the scenes, but keep him out of the public eye.  Put a pretty girl behind the register, one with a big smile and a V-neck t-shirt.

The feminists and Dianics among my readers just gasped in offended horror, but here’s my reasoning: this might be an event for kids, but the kids have no money.  The parents have the money.  Mostly, judging by the families I saw today, the dads.  It’s the dads you want to part from their cash, and you’re not going to do that with Mr. Deaf McGrumpy-pants behind the register.  With all respect to the man’s age and probable rank in the mounted cavalry in World War One, he wasn’t the best ambassador.

In summary, and here’s the lesson The Smarts should take with them from this: my kids had fun (some), but I didn’t.

…and I have the car keys and the money.

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