With Agritainment, Everybody’s A Critic

Christina Herrick

Christina Herrick

This time of year brings a renewed interest in everything apples — apple pies, cider, apple-scented candles. So it’s no surprise that some friends of mine went apple picking in Ohio this past weekend. What did surprise me was the reaction the couple had to this orchard’s admission policies.

I’ve written about pick-your-own prices a few times and it is always a hot topic of discussion — with no right or wrong answer. But, this time it hit home in multiple ways.
My friend took to social media to advise all of his friends and followers to avoid this orchard because the policies were unfair. He also advises his followers to frequent another orchard.

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“Absolutely disappointed. Requires $8 per person admission before paying separately for pick-your-own apples,” my friend wrote. “Total rip-off if you don’t want to do all the other farm things.”

I understand his frustration. If I didn’t write about apples for a living and know what goes into running a successful agritainment business, I might have initially reacted the same way.
I could explain to my friends that owning a pick-your-own operation isn’t cheap and if they changed their minds and wanted doughnuts, or a hayride, to use the restroom, or even to go through the corn maze — all of those are costly to maintain.

And the liability of having people come onto private property and pick apples is a big inherent risk. So is maintaining a safe environment through staffing and signage. And structures are costly too. I could also explain that the amount of inputs needed to sustain a modern orchard aren’t cheap. But, I feel like these messages would have been lost on my friends because they were already upset.

“We just couldn’t justify spending an extra $16 for them on top of actually buying the apples,” he said.

The truth is, no matter how you’ve developed your pricing structure, you’ll likely get complaints. The agritainment adage is if you’re not getting any complaints you’re not charging enough, but if you’re getting a lot of complaints, you’re charging too much.

So, where is that happy medium? That’s up to you and your business structure.

But, there are some things you can do:

  1. Monitor the types of comments being made. My friend posted his comments on Foursquare. So, everyone that checks in at this orchard can see his “recommendation.” People can comment on your business in unlikely places – blogs, Google reviews, Yelp, Instagram, Foursquare. Your customers aren’t just taking to Facebook and Twitter. It’s a good idea to check these other places to make sure the real experience is being broadcast to potential customers.
  2. Remember that it’s a personal experience to your customers. No matter how you view any discussions or customer confrontations, how they internalize what happened is another story. There are two sides to every story, and they’ll likely only tell theirs to anyone who will listen. Be very careful in how you explain your pricing structure to your customers, and empathy can help.
  3. Be pro-active about how you communicate the value of what you’re offering for the admission you charge. Make it easy to see you’re providing a safe environment, with smiling, friendly staff helping attendees park and navigate the farm and farm market, hayrides, and also manning concessions.

The truth is, everybody’s a critic when it comes to your orchard. But sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Be as honest and up-front as you can, but above all, deliver a great experience for your customers that they will tell all their friends about.