What’s the Secret Ingredient to a Successful Agritourism Business?
The 17th century Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide wrote a haiku that’s often translated as, “Barn's burnt down / Now I can see the moon.” It’s a phrase that speaks to the idea of looking at the bright side of life when things go wrong.
New Hampshire farmers Sarah Heffron and Craig Thompson found themselves quite literally in this kind of situation when their multi-use barn burned down in 2017. Their version of seeing the moon? “When we rebuilt, we switched from pigs to parties,” Heffron explains.
Though they still raise pigs in a dedicated area of the farm, they’ve shifted their primary focus and expanded their agritourism offerings. The duo will serve on a panel at Extension’s 11th Annual NH Direct Marketing Conference—Agritourism: Building Connection Between Farmers, Customers and Communities on November 4, 2019.
Heffron and Thompson will share insight into how they’ve found success with Mayfair Farm in Harrisville by specializing in fresh food, hosting weddings and private events, offering catering services and renting out a cottage through Airbnb. “We got our feet wet with farm dinners and then it took off from there,” Heffron says.
A Pleasing First Impression
Customers can browse farm apparel and food products on Mayfair’s online shop. Scroll through the photos and you will see: pieces of biscotti neatly packaged in a bag tied with a red bow and labeled with the farm’s logo; maple syrup delicately drizzling onto a stack of blueberry pancakes; and hand-rolled toffee slices with chopped almonds atop smooth, tempered chocolate. The composition of their photos is thoughtful, artistic and mouth-watering.
“The website is the first impression that many people see so the aesthetic is important. About half of our business comes from word-of-mouth and half from people searching online,” Heffron explains.
Magical and Transformative Experience
Heffron puts a large emphasis on fostering client relationships. “I gravitate towards the people aspect,” she says. “If a bride has a magical and transformative experience, she’s going to tell her friends.”
Several testimonials on their website speak to the quality of the food and the care of the service. “It’s pretty unusual to have caterers with peace, calm and smiles throughout rather than intensity and stress,” wrote one reviewer.
The Balancing Act
While Heffron handles most of the customer relations, Thompson spends his time on operational and logistical tasks—everything from rounding up livestock to repairing fences to plowing snow. “It’s a good fit for the both of us,” explains Heffron. “We try to avoid areas of tension and incorporate fun. The most challenging aspect is human resources—staffing and managing staff work. But I think it's an area we have really improved upon and we are grateful for the excellent staff we have today, some who have been with us for several years.”
Farmers interested in learning more about Mayfair Farm’s business model and marketing pizazz are encouraged to register for the agritourism conference this November. In the meantime, you can head on over to Mayfair’s Instagram account to gaze at snapshots of: honey-glazed ham; chocolate chunk cookies infused with sea salt and orange; and a two-tiered chocolate cake featuring raspberry jam and coffee buttercream adorned with vibrant farm flowers.