The key to retailing today is to provide an experience, for the whole family. If the children are happy, then their parents are happy. If you can get all age groups to want to linger longer then your average sale is bound to go up.
Keeping children happy on the farm used to be a case of setting up a purpose built play area that was safe and secure and the kids would be happy all day long. That is not the case anymore, children’s expectations and demands have increased and we need to keep pace with their needs if we are to build the 'leisure pound'.
Linda and I have six grandchildren and it is interesting to look at what they consider to be their 'needs and wants' when they are out with their parents.
Recently, it was our nine years old’s birthday, When he was asked how he wanted to celebrate his birthday, the answer was either rock climbing or go-kart racing. His expectations of a birthday experience are far different to what they were with the previous generations. No more parties at the local fast food outlet, I am pleased to say; that is now very 'old school'.
One of our aims at Chestnut Brae is to get children to the farm so they can experience the countryside and our farm activities. This is something many children are not exposed to; they have no understanding of where their food comes from and we feel part of our role as farmers is to provide some understanding. We recently had a 7 year old on the farm who had never run on grass before, let alone been on a farm.
We soon learned that our desires on how to set up a farm experience to keep them engaged were not the same as theirs. Children would often come with their smart phones and “Google” as they went on the farm tour. We realised that what was on their screen was often more important than smelling the flowers, petting the animals and tasting the fruits from the plant. The answer was to meet them half way and to engage them based on their needs and wants.
We decided to take a two pronged approach to children’s engagement.
Firstly, the traditional children’s play equipment is now “old fashioned“ and does not meet the needs of today’s children, we needed to research what was leading edge and how we could adapt it to our situation.
Our research took us to Austria where they have winter holiday parks for skiing but where they also need to find a profitable use for them in summer. The result has been interactive parkland areas where the child could use all their different senses. They could take their shoes off and run in the grass and other natural surfaces. I have been involved with setting up such a play area in Tyumen in Siberia at a garden centre where the children line up to play in the interactive area.
We are in the process of combing this type of experience in a labyrinth that we are building; we can then educate and entertain their parents at the same time in the same area of the farm.
No more parties at the local fast food outlet, I am pleased to say; that is now very 'old school'.
Our second prong is to accept that the smart phone is now part of everyday usage and getting children to part from it is a major crisis for some. So, we thought, why not use it as part of the farm experience, to engage children through the smart phone and combine this with a physical experience?
Over recent years our grandchildren have been talking about where they have been using ”Geocaching”. For those not familiar with the term, it was invented in 2000 in Beavercreek, Oregon, USA and is an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use GPS on their smart phone to seek containers called “Geocaches” at specific locations around the world. The key element is that it encourages our grand children to venture out and discover things in the outside world instead of sitting in front of the computer at home.
We joined forces with Aaron Burakoff of Evergreen Creations in New York State and Gerry Mezzina of Norbit in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia who developed the phone app Farm Games. We signed up for the first augmented reality farm app to be used on a farm in Australia. Visitors to our farm are advised to download the app and enjoy this new digital experience.
Some of you will already be familiar with the name Aaron Burakoff; he is the inventor of Spookley which has proven to become success on farms in Canada, USA and UK. The success of Spookley revolves around farms where autumn based activities and pumpkins are an important crop.
We were searching for a concept that had a more general appeal for our farm and MacDonald’s farm looked like an ideal fit for our business.
On the farm we have eight staging posts located here and there around the farm that encourage the participants to explore the areas we would like them to go to. When a child gets to each staging post they point their phone at the sign using the app and the phone comes to life with cartoon farm animals dancing around their phone that look like they are on our farm.
The app also gives them some information about the animal they are looking at. Once they have visited all eight staging posts we give them a small present that also promotes our farm.
Ultimately, our aim is to engage children in farming practices and to educate them on farm animals. Their parents can also get engaged and it becomes a family activity and an excellent marketing tool for our farm.
We are seeking to provide the experience children want to have on the farm, but to also relate this to the type of entertainment they feel is comfortable with.
This style of 'child engagement' has proven to be successful in shopping centres around the world.
As retailers, we need to pay attention and follow the trends being adopted by other retailers across sectors that have the same challenges as we do, whilst adapting them to a farm environment at the same time.
It is undoubtedly a key driver for continued success.
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John Stanley is a retail consultant specialising in the farm retail sector. Based in West Australia, he is a sweet chestnut and pig farmer as well as consultant and conference speaker with clients in 35 countries. He is the author of several books in this subject, including the book 'Food Tourism... A Practical Marketing Guide'