This post will explain why we did a survey and three of the fundamental things we discovered - the Executive Summary. My next blog post(s) will go into specific details about the ideas for the future that we're going to run with to (hopefully) make the farm even better!
Why do a survey?
My mum, dad and I help to serve our customers almost every day of the year. I also have the pleasure (?) of reading all the Trip Advisor and Facebook reviews, answering the phone a few hundred times a week and responding to all the emails that drop into our inbox. This means we already have a pretty good feel for what folks are thinking about the farm.
But it's still really important we pro-actively ask customers for their thoughts every now and then. An open survey makes sure as many people as possible have a voice - not just the people we happen to talk to. It also gives space for constructive criticism and interesting ideas not usually possible in social media reviews, which tend to either be 5 star praise or 1 star anger without much in between!
For this survey, the focus was on the farm's Future Direction. We weren't really interested in asking how people found their last visit or rated our customer service. We wanted to know why you come, how often you visit and what we can do to make the farm better for you in the future. These are questions I'm personally very keen to ask. Having turned my back on a life of steady 9-to-5 office work with weekends off and a regular salary, I've thrown my life at the mercy of the farm. As I start to slowly take the reins of the farm from my parents, it's imperative that I understand what our customers want, to make the future of Kenyon Hall Farm a successful one. And with three young mouths to feed, my own family are relying on me to get it right!
Café regulars. Foodies. Gardeners. Maze lovers. Maize lovers. Motorway drivers. Eco-warriors. Pumpkin pickers. Craft enthusiasts. Cake aficionados. Mums and tots. Dads and tots. Granddads and tots. Sustainable livers. Asparagus addicts. Strawberry munchers. Junior Farmers. Healthy eaters. Allotment owners... and more.
The survey confirmed that the list of reasons people visit Kenyon Hall is almost endless. With the café, farm shop, plant centre, play area and numerous seasonal attractions, we attract folks with an incredibly diverse mix of interests to the farm. A brilliant and broad church!
However, the good level of interest in all of the year-round elements of the farm shows there’s no single part that stands-out as being the main attraction. Equally no part of the business is particularly unloved. Each part of the farm draws in different people at different times of year with different degrees of regularity.
If our thinking had been to focus on one particular element of the farm for the future, then that's definitely not our thinking now. The different parts of the farm are symbiotic: the shop, cafe, plant centre and seasonal events are all connected and benefit one another. It’s unnecessary to unpick all these inter-linked strands, but it’s pivotal to know they exist and the farm as a whole is better for it.
2. Co-existence is Crucial
It’s no accident that the farm plays host to such a wide variety of guests. In their 40 years here, my parents have diversified the farm in this way very deliberately. As any good farmer will tell you, it's important to spread your risk and not put all your eggs in one basket. And so Kenyon Hall Farm has developed quite a lot of baskets.
The survey uncovered some strong opinions on what people would like us to do in future and possibly even stronger opinions on what we shouldn't do. To give you an idea, I've picked out a few of the most polarised answers to the question of "What you would do to improve the farm?"...
Fortunately, the survey showed that in practice the vast majority of people sit happily in between these two extremities of opinion. Folks enjoy the fact that we’re both a farm shop for food lovers and an attraction for children. That that cafe serves relaxed home-cooked meals as well as quick take-away pies. That we have craft fairs for some and fun fairs for others. That the play area keeps kids amused while the plant area occupies the grown-ups.
In fact it’s this variety which is big part of the farm's appeal. We’re not simply another soft play centre or typical tea room that you can find elsewhere. We’re lots of different things! What the survey has demonstrated is it's important for us to remember this. However we progress in future, we must do it with care - to make sure our different groups of customers with different interests can happily co-exist at the farm. If we do it right, there's no reason that everyone can't get along!
3. Evolution, Not Revolution!
One thing that took me by surprise when looking through the survey responses was the strength of feeling towards the farm changing at all. There were a number of comments expressing concern at the prospect of us turning into something too big and impersonal. You needn't worry!
There were so many heart-warming comments from folks who love the farm just as it is, I got misty-eyed reading them! I've put a selection in the picture below. This isn't just me trying to show off - I'm trying to demonstrate that we're not doing too badly as we are. And so as we look to the future we'll focus on slowly building on what we've got, doing more of the same just better, and making sure we don't stray too far from the ideas that have got us to where we are today.
Thank you again to all those who took part in the survey and to all who've supported us in 2018. Happy Christmas everyone!
James Bulmer, 22nd Dec 2018.