Going mobile: rural opportunities

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Mobile third spaces are among the “trends you need to know to be relevant” in 2017, according to the ad agency sparks & honey.

Why should rural people give any thought to forecasting by urbanites? These ideas offer food for thought about rural opportunities. Many entrepreneurs in rural areas are already acting on these trends.

Food trucks are so 2016. There are many more business opportunities that can be located in an old VW bus, panel van or Airstream trailer. Shopping and leisure activities appear to be the focus when the vehicle isn’t just selling food.

Mobile Cigar Lounge

Mobile Cigar Lounge Co. / mobilecigarlounge.com

From a mobile knitting yarn boutique in California to a mobile cigar lounge in central Texas (“have cigars, will travel”), if you think of a business, you can probably put wheels under it. The American Mobile Retail Association offers tips to creating a new business in a vehicle.

In Norfolk County, Canada, there are many food trucks. But there are also two new mobile businesses that focus on promoting leisure. Red Apple Rides is a vehicle packed with bicycles ready to connect your group with amazing experiences. Ride the Bine is more than a tour bus. It is operated by two women with deep connections to local terroir, food and wine.

Sparks & honey predicts many more mobile third spaces will open.

“Third spaces like cafes – places that are neither home or office – provide us with opportunities for socializing and learning,” says the ad agency. “Expect to see growing numbers of mobile third spaces emerge.”

Some examples of new mobile third spaces include an art gallery in a car in Portland, Oregon. A spin class housed on a bus in the U.K. is currently still conceptual, but over 24,000 people have registered to use it when it launches.

For a mobile business to stay viable in a rural area, it is advisable to avoid wacky offerings. Instead, put a spin on an experience that is authentic to the region, one that will appeal to many demographics.

You can read more about the sparks & honey A-Z Culture Glossary here.

© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Lifting the curtain on tourism product development

Lifting the curtain on tourism product development

Imagine going to a theatre in any major city and paying for a seat, only to realize you need to write, direct and act in the play to entertain yourself.

Sounds ridiculous!

Now imagine that the theatre promoted itself on web, in print and on social media, without explaining that you were in for a do-it-yourself experience.

Crazy, right?

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This scone was a highlight of the Fab Food Trail walking tour. It melted in my mouth. Quality tourism experiences leave indelible memories that visitors recount to others. Photo: Clark Hoskin

Unfortunately, for many tourism businesses, this is exactly the kind of experience their customers are expected to enjoy – season after season.

And if business seems to be slowing down, many tourism operators will choose to re-design their website or print more brochures.

Wrong again.

Any tourist-oriented business needs to evaluate and, if need be, redesign the customer experience from top to bottom.

In my post 3 qualities needed for tourism success, I explained the basics. Your tourism product needs to be viable, reliable and buyable.

Many organizations choose to skip the last element – the ability to easily purchase your product.

What is tourism product? It is any location, experience or service that attracts tourists. A B&B, a restaurant, a scenic landscape, a campground: these are all tourism products.

So, what’s tourism product development? It is the bundling and monetization of a number of elements to increase the yield in terms of revenues, while respecting your carrying capacity.

Don’t jump to conclusions, thinking that you need to start developing packages with hotels and bus companies. Keep it simple. Just consider moving your current tourism product beyond a passive offering, to something active.

Moving to active tourism offerings is a challenge for some. For a heritage site or park, keeping things maintained within budget is the primary objective. Think how you could increasing the amount of money from an equal number of visitors through the gate so you won’t tax the resources available to serve them.

Let’s lift the curtain on tourism product development to maximize your revenue and minimize costs. To develop good tourism product, treat the process like producing a play.

I am going to compare one of my favourite travel experiences of 2016, Fab Food Trails in Ireland, to theatre production.

Stage (Property / Venue)

The first basic element is the empty stage. It’s your property. In the case of Fab Food Trails, the stage is the streets and small businesses of central Dublin.

Your stage – your business – is an empty experience without a good story, actors who know their lines, and a box office that sells tickets when the customer wants to buy them.

Story or Play (Tour / Experience / Package)

Write the script. What is the nature of the experience? Fab Food Trails offers a two to three hour guided walking tour of ten food stops. You get to meet and talk to chefs, baristas and cheesemongers, among others. You get to experience the neighbourhood culture of Dublin and receive insider knowledge about the flavours and personalities of Ireland’s foodie world.

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Audience (Tourist)

Who is your target market – the clientele who will want to experience this play? For Fab Food Trails, the target audience includes foodies and tourists, mainly mature and Millennial couples, willing to participate in a group experience and stretch their legs.

Actors (Guide / Front Line Staff)

Actors tell the story. They need to know their lines and the part they play. As for most tourism experiences, the property employs a paid or volunteer interpretive guide. Fab Food Trails uses a narrator, a walking-tour guide, pulled from a group of food-oriented people, including writers and journalists, chefs and others. Plus, at each of the ten stops along the way, there are more actors: speakers and presenters at the bakery, pub, outdoor market, cafe, etc. The photo at the top of this post features a worker at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, who educated guests about Irish gouda cheese.

Stage Crew (Other Staff)

Like any quality theatre production, there is a professional support team working in the shadows. For Fab Food Trails, these people include the wait staff, chef and counter workers at the stops, plus the workers creating the food samples. These folks need to be prepared and knowledgeable about what is happening. They don’t need to know the script line-by-line, but they do need to change the set and have the props ready.

Producers (Tourism Business Owners)

Let’s take a reality check. Who’s backing this play? Who’s balancing the books? Without them, the play would not go on. This is the tourism business owner / operator. They oversee all the elements of the business, decide the quality of the product or service, and keep costs under control. For Fab Food Trails, the executive producer is founder Eveleen Coyle. But don’t forget her co-producers: the owners of all the stops along the trail.

Publicist (Marketing Plan)

Rehearsals are going well and dates for performances are arranged. Now to get the word out. This is the marketing plan, the promotional tactics. Theatres use digital, web, print and more to publicize the performances. Fab Food Trails runs a website and leverages the great TripAdvisor reviews (the critics) and awards received to garner attention.

Box Office (Reservation System)

Everyone knows you need to contact the box office to buy a theatre ticket – either online or in person. Where’s your box office? In this day and age, it better be online and easily accessible, 24 hours a day. Fab Food Trails has reservation and payment options available on the front page of their website.

Ticket Price (Experience / Package Price)

Don’t underprice your experience! The theatre producer wouldn’t. They need to pay their costs and make a profit. So do you. Fab Food Trails charges at least €55 ($80 Can) per person to experience their top-notch tour.

What taste does your business leave in the mouth of your customer?

After the show (Word of mouth / Bragging rights)

When the curtain goes down, audience members turn to one another and begin a conversation. Did you enjoy it? What was your favourite part? Along the Fab Food Trail, I learned about the Canadian owner of Camerino’s Bakery, who started her business from scratch based on a passion for baking. We tasted her scones slathered with Irish butter and black-currant jam. It melted in my mouth. For me, that was the most memorable scene in the show. My mouth is watering now. What taste does your business leave in the mouth of your customer?

Now it’s your turn. Take the stage (your venue) and create a production that will sell out.

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Sharon Judd (right) leads a Walk the Crop Tour at Meadow Lynn Farms (Photo: Meadow Lynn Farms)

Own a fruit or vegetable farm? Hold a “walk the crop” night and sample the various varieties. Bring in a real farmer, like Meadow Lynn Farms of Norfolk County does, to animate the experience. Charge a fee.

Operate a campground or nature park? Develop a guided tour where guests gather food from nature to create a meal. Catch fish or forage for mushrooms – such as the annual Mushroom Foray at Long Point Eco-Adventures in Norfolk County. Charge a fee.

Opportunities in tourism have never been more vibrant, and never have your new customers had such high expectations. Prove that you can put on a good show that audiences will rave about and critics will love. If all goes well, profits will follow.

Other reading:

© 2016 Clark Hoskin

Farm-to-bistro college program

Farm-to-bistro college program

Tompkins Cortland Community College or “TC3” has a Farm to Bistro program that gives students hands-on experience in every aspect of the food-production system.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-10-32-45-pmIn Ithaca (pop. 30,000), the College owns and operates TC3 Farm which supplies fresh produce to Coltivare Restaurant, a 17,000 square-foot culinary center including a full- service restaurant, amphitheater, wine cellar and event space.

Coltivare is located on the ground level of a parking garage in downtown Ithaca.

A group of Canadians learned about this innovative initiative in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, while gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

TC3 Curriculum includes Culinary Arts, Sustainable Farming and Food Systems, Wine Marketing and Hotel and Restaurant Management. In the near future, the farm will be run using only renewable energy.

Read the full story on page 27 of the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016 Report.

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

When a group of Canadians visited Greenstar Coop in Ithaca, New York, they observed how a commitment to selling local food can be lucrative.

GreenStar is a member-owned, community consumer cooperative with over 11,000 members in a city of 30,000. Joe Romano, Director of Marketing, showed the Canadians around and provided background about the organization and its activities.

Local LabelGreenStar celebrates fresh, whole foods, sustainable living and the transformative power of a strong local economy. Sales in 2015 were approximately $19.5 million.

GreenStar carries more than 4,100 local products (within 100 miles) and 3,300 regional products (within 300 miles), resulting in over $4.9 million reinvested into the local economy, and over $1.7 million reinvested into the regional economy.

The Canadians were touring the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

Greenstar“[It’s] amazing that they can compete with the larger scale grocers and it works! Grassroots and that deep local feel that everyone craves,” said one of the participants.

Supporting local builds strong relationships with vendors and customers. Even stronger bonds are created when member-volunteers earn discounts by working in the store.

In 2015, GreenStar had 81 full-time employees and 53 part-time employees. GreenStar provides opportunities for its members to act as “SuperWorkers” or in-store volunteers. By committing to work 2 hours weekly at designate times for a 4 month minimum, the SuperWorker receives a 15.5% discount in addition to the 2% standard member discount on most purchases.

In 2015, 480 member-owners (and their share partners) saved $187,455 through their participation in the Member Labor Program, an average savings of $391 per member-worker.

“Co-op Markets at their best … saw so many members filling shelves,” said another participant. “Although expensive, found the concept fascinating.”

For the full story on GreenStar, start reading on page 19 of the Finger Lakes 2016 Study Tour Report.

5 learning moments on the Finger Lakes Study Tour

In the Finger Lakes Study Tour Report, you can read all ten learning moments. To keep this read short, let’s concentrate on the first five. The next five are listed in my August 25 post.

FLX Group shot

This friendly group of Canadians spent two days together learning about businesses and communities in Upstate NY in April 2016

Here are just a few of the ideas and concepts the group from Norfolk County and Ontario’s Southwest learned during the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016:

  1. Enabling Neighbourhood projects: The city of Geneva operates a “center for neighbourhood initiatives” that encourages and supports projects and volunteers that revitalize all parts of the city. Musical porch parties and concerts in the cemetery engage residents and get them communicating and working together.
  2. Upselling second-floor apartments: Chris Wright in Penn Yan upgraded his second-floor apartment in the downtown core and listed it as overnight tourist accommodation on Air BnB. He’s now earning $300 a night for an apartment that used to take in $500 a month.
  3. Story-telling for Business: Telling your story is the most important thing you can do when you are operating a business whose target market is consumers. Ports of New York in Ithaca is a small business but offers a powerful, memorable experience because the owner narrates his family’s story so well.
  4. Social Enterprise: Social enterprises can address community needs by raising money from tourists and consumers. Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan and the GreenStar Coop in Ithaca are great examples of non-profit organizations that rely on income from one stream of business to subsidize the costs of a social need in the community.
  5. Collaboration and Community Mindfulness: Collaboration is everything – there is no “them”, there is only “us”. It was clear in most communities – Corning being a good model – that work got done when people rowed in the same direction, especially if a major corporate sponsor is on board. There was acknowledgment that all players in the community have a role. When everyone respects one another, a lot gets accomplished. As one participant put it: “I love that every place we went was community minded.” This kind of collaboration enabled the ‘Race for Space’ program in Geneva, where entrepreneurs competed for a discounted downtown storefront lease.

The goal of the study tour was to learn from people at similar businesses in communities similar to those in Norfolk County and other parts of Ontario. A report prepared by Norfolk County staff, based on a survey of those who attended the tour, summarizes the learning moments that participants experienced in the Finger Lakes. The report has detailed information about each stop along the way, including key observations and learning moments.

 

Another insightful Finger Lakes tour

“Back by popular demand…”

It’s such a cliché, but in the case of the Finger Lakes Study Tour, it is so true.

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It was my pleasure and honour to guide the tour, both years, with our driver Harvey (right). He got us there and back safely – even through freezing rain and grumpy border guards. Photo: Tracy Haskett

With help from Southwest Ontario Tourism and Norfolk County, I had the great pleasure and honour to guide 40+ business and community leaders through the Finger Lakes in March 2015. It was a great success. The tour concept won the award for Cross Border Cooperation and Regionalism from the Economic Developer’s Council of Ontario.

Participants enjoyed it and learned so much – they asked me to organize another tour. So, Finger Lakes Study Tour II happened in April 2016.

So, again this year, I wrote up a summary report about what we learned, based on a survey of participants. Over the course of a few blog posts, I’ll break the report down into manageable chunks.

Or – feel free to download the entire report at norfolkbusiness.ca.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about the 10 “learning moments” we experienced: enabling neighbourhood projects, upselling second-floor apartments, story-telling for business, social enterprise, and so on.

You can also read about last year’s Finger Lakes tour starting at Finger Lakes 2015 – Post #1

But first, special thanks to the many people who made the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016 a success:

  • Andrew Tompkins, Finger Lakes Boating Museum
  • Brandon Kane and Joe Romano, GreenStar Cooperative Market
  • Chef Richard Larman
  • Chris Iversen, Birkett Landing
  • Chris Wright, Penn Yan
  • Christine Peacock and staff, Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
  • Coleen Fabrizi, Corning’s Gaffer District
  • Debra Loehnert and staff, Three Birds Restaurant
  • Frédéric Bouché, Ports of New York
  • Harvey the Driver, Attridge Transportation Inc.
  • Jeremy Coffey and staff, Hermann Wiemer Vineyards
  • Joanne Wolnik and Jen Moore, Southwest Ontario Tourism Corp.
  • Joe Myer, Myer Farm Distillers
  • John Johnson, The Technology Farm
  • Karen Taft, Amanda Vinson and staff, New York State Wine & Culinary Centre
  • Katharine Korona and staff, Three Brothers Winery
  • Kris Pearson and Sandy Murrin, Arts Centre Yates County
  • Lauren Lowman and staff, Coltivare
  • Lorin Hostetler, Shtayburne Farm
  • Patrick Gaffney and John Jensen, Greater Hammondsport Chamber of Commerce
  • Phyllisa DeSarno, JoAnn Cornish and Annie Sherman, City of Ithaca
  • Sage Gerling, City of Geneva
  • Steve Griffin, Finger Lakes Economic Development Center
  • Suzan Richards, Susan Wolff, George and Carolyn Schaeffer, Milly’s Pantry
  • Trevor Davis and staff, Rooster Fish Brewery
  • Zach and Laura Cutlip, Winewagen Tours
  • Plus … Gail Bouw, Fritz Enzlin, Tracy Haskett for their photos in the report

 

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Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 14

We had completed our tour of the Finger Lakes. The two-day, one-night trip by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

Ryan at The Combine

Ryan Rivard of The Combine describes the appetizers he has served the group / Photo: Melissa Collver

During our last meal together, the chef/owner of The Combine in Norfolk County, Ryan Rivard, invited the group to reconvene at his restaurant in two weeks time, to debrief and share experiences.

In the meantime, comments were gathered from the participants on the trip, who generally found value in the Finger Lakes Study Tour.

“Well organized, good itinerary, amazing inclusions! Only by working together will we be able to redevelop our area,” said one participant

“Good for local businesses and Norfolk staff to be able to experience the up and downs of economic development in small towns in the Finger Lakes area,” said another. “With such a wide selection of places to visit there was something for everyone to learn. Thank You! I have a lot of good usable info that can be incorporated in our business.”

“I learned that everyone every now and again runs into adversity. Every village, town, city or establishment has obstacles. I plan on helping to meet the challenges we have face on, to keep thinking of ways to improve.”

Menu

Participants in the Finger Lakes Study Tour reconvened at The Combine Restaurant two weeks after the trip to share ideas. Thanks Ryan for inviting us! / Photo: Melissa Collver

Asked if any bright ideas were discovered during the tour, one participant commented: “Not one particular idea, but lots of food for thought. My wheels are still turning, I have researched some of the places we visited. I haven’t stopped talking about it.”

Two weeks later, most of the group gathered at The Combine. Chef Ryan served a mind-blowing combination of dishes, including Norfolk County ingredients such as YU Ranch beef, Round Plains sweet potatoes and Pristine Gourmet oils. The food was complemented by pairings of local wine from Burning Kiln and Bonnieheath, hard cider from Villa Nova Estate Winery, and “Sweet Leaf” craft beer from the Blue Elephant Craft Brewhouse. Ryan also incorporated butternut squash seed oil from the Finger Lakes into the aioli in his Perch Tacos.

Many ideas and experiences were shared. The group also received copies of the Finger Lakes Study Tour Report, which can be downloaded at norfolkbusiness.ca/news/finger-lakes-report/.

Thanks again to Southwest Ontario Tourism Corp., and Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development, all the hosts and all the participants, for making this initiative a great success.

See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

Bonnie Preece & Ron Barr

Bonnie Preece & Ron Barr

Our friends from Rushcreek Winery, who joined the tour, wrote two excellent blog posts about their experiences. Check them out at:

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine

(c) 2015 Clark Hoskin