What Just Happened?

December 7, 2008

My plan to return to posting this blog on Fridays ran into my busy schedule. Friday I was on a field trip with my younger son’s class, then taking him to the pre-test session for Tae Kwon Do before rushing to try to see part of my older son’s soccer game. Saturday we had the belt test, then another soccer game, followed by my younger son’s family birthday dinner. Although my schedule was packed full and time for my business seemed squeezed out, I found myself On The Twisting Road anyway.

The field trip was to Mainstay Farm in Burleson, south of Fort Worth. I first heard about the trip on Monday when my son’s teacher asked if I could be one of the parents who drive the kids. All week I asked my son if he knew much about where we were going. He said, “It’s a farm.”

I asked if we would milk cows or see chickens, and he told me, “It’s an agricultural farm. They grow crops.” I asked what they grew, but he had no idea. While we were discussing this somewhere, at soccer or Tae Kwon Do or who-knows-where, someone suggested it might be a Christmas tree farm. That made since, because there’s not a lot to see at a farm in the winter that grows crops – unless, as my wife suggested, they grow radishes. Intriguing.

Mainstay Farm is a Christmas tree farm, but it’s a lot more. They grow pumpkins as well, so it’s sort of a seasonal holiday farm. But it’s even more than that. It’s also an apiary. And it’s a place designed to give visitors a great time tasting rural life.

Our group began our time at the farm eating our sack lunches at tables in a covered area next to rows of trees that were for sale. We were listening to the crackling of the ground fire nearby where another group of kids was roasting marshmallows. We could see a huge “hay barn” past the maze, designed for climbing and jumping harmlessly – well, almost harmlessly, since some kids are natural experimenters. The place was designed for play.

While we walked to the small “stage” area where the tour began, I suddenly started thinking about the marketing plan for a place like that. People only buy one Christmas tree per year (unless they have a McMansion), so it would be important to get them thinking about coming back before the next Christmas season started. I also wondered if they were following up with the pumpkin buyers to encourage Christmas tree purchases, and with the Christmas tree buyers to encourage pumpkin purchases. Would they give the kids a coupon for a free hot chocolate or a discount on a tree purchase to get their parents to bring them out to buy a tree? My mind was sparking.

Then I wondered if they had something to offer in spring and summer, as well. I imagined that if they had a full annual cycle with four or more events, they could bring people back on a regular basis. The plan would focus on an e-mail newsletter that was not structured and not too predictable. It would hardly seem to be an e-mail newsletter at all. It would be more like an occasional postcard — Guess what we’re up to now! — or an invitation to a group of friends — Come over on Saturday for some hot cider!

I was getting excited about the creative and fun design of the marketing plan for such a place. And that was even before I heard farm co-owner Marianna Wilson tell the story of the naming of the farm. I won’t tell it here because I hope to be able to develop a full article on the Wilsons’ story and their business. I think it could be an absolute blast to learn more about them and tell their story. And I also think it would be a blast to brainstorm with them on marketing ideas.

The kids had a wonderful time, climbing and leaping form hay, dressing the farmer (kind of like building a scarecrow), roasting marshmallows, running through mazes, going on the hay ride past the trees and pumpkin patch and bee boxes, and playing in the tree fort with slides. I had a wonderful time being away from cities and suburbs, enjoying the land and remembering the pastures and forests and ponds of my childhood.

I also had an exciting time drafting the story of these creative entrepreneurs in a way that can inspire other people who want to climb out of a job-rut and find their own path. But I especially enjoyed the creativity when my mind and my story-telling spirit came to life as I saw the possibilities for bringing more visitors to the farm and getting them to come out regularly. That’s marketing. I was getting excited about marketing.

What was happening?

I was getting excited about a style of marketing that helps people tell a unique and engaging story that reveals their life mission and also attracts other people to their business. I was getting excited about applying potentially boring marketing techniques to a creative and unique venture. I was getting excited about how much fun that would be.

Marianna was our guide on the hayride, and that confirmed for me that having fun is part of their mission. She explained important aspects of tree farming and bee raising in ways the kids could understand. She included some good common sense wisdom and goofy country humor in her presentation. When I talked to her briefly at the end of the tour she said the best way to get hold of her was to call because she doesn’t check e-mail, but calling might not work too well because “you can probably tell I don’t spend a lot of time inside.”

I picked up a brochure and card with the web address and phone number in the gift shop before we left. I looked at the card and knew theirs will be a fun story to share. Marianna’s title is “Director of Fun.”

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey


One Response to “What Just Happened?”

  1. It Really Can Be Simple : Anything But Marketing! on December 10th, 2008 5:59 pm

    […] roasted marshmallows might have helped. I wrote about my trip to Mainstay Farm in my weekly blog, Twisting Road Travel Log. I was one of the parent volunteers who drove the children and helped supervise the field trip to […]

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