Apple Picking

Over the weekend, my wife and I made our first trip of the
year to a nearby orchard to pick apples. This is something we’ve been doing for many years. We used to take our kids, but since they’re
grown, it’s just the two of us.

It’s about a half hour drive from our house to the
orchard. When you get there, they put
you on a tractor-drawn wagon and take you to the part of the orchard that’s
open for picking. They give you some
empty bags and off you go. When you’re
done picking, the wagon takes you back to the starting point where they weigh
the apples and you pay for them.

Considering the price of gasoline, why would someone drive
to an apple orchard to pick their own apples? Is it the price? They’re a little
cheaper than apples at the supermarket, but unless you buy a LOT of apples, the cost difference doesn’t justify the time or the expense.

Is it fun to pick apples? It’s fun for kids, and there were a lot of kids there Saturday, as there
are every weekend day during “apple season”. As an adult, the older I get the more it seems like work, but the Eckert
family, owners of the orchard, have found other ways to enhance the experience,
making apple picking an event for the whole family.

During the busy season, they have live music on the weekends. They have hamburgers and hot dogs and
corn-on-the-cob cooked over a fire. They
have games for kids. They have a
sit-down restaurant and an “old country store” that sells produce (including
apples that sell for about the same price as the ones you pick yourself), fresh
bakery goods, gifts, and other impulse items. Including the hot dogs and drinks and the general store, our three bags
of apples set us back almost $100.00!

The Eckerts have been doing this since long before event
marketing became a  buzz word. They’ve turned their business into a
destination; a place people go for entertainment. Instead of a ten minute trip to the grocery
store to buy a bag of apples, their customers spend half a day getting their
apples and look forward to it.

Local schools even take apple picking field trips to Eckert’s. Think about that for a minute. All over the metropolitan area, school kids
are coming home with their little bag of apples. They can’t wait to tell mom and dad how much
fun they had. What comes next? “Please, mommy. Can we go again? Please. It’s soooo much fun.” What parent
could resist? Eckerts has thousands of
little word-of-mouth marketers all over town selling mom and dad on a trip to
the orchard.

Since apple picking only lasts for a few weeks, they also have a pick-your-own season for peaches, pumpkins, and Christmas trees, keeping them busy for a good part of the year. Notice I said at the beginning that this was our first trip.  See, different varieties of apples don’t all get ripe at the same time, and these folks have lots of varieties.  You have to call the "Harvest Hotline" or visit their web site to find out what kinds of apples you can pick this weekend.  A lot of people go back two or three times.

Of course, the lesson here is that a little imagination and
planning can turn shopping into an event. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same thing. What can you do in your store to create an
event? In some cases, the product itself
can drive the event. For example, how-to
classes are an excellent place to start. But there are other events that can also be fun and drive traffic.

People love sidewalk sales. If you have retail neighbors, you can work together to make it a big
event and share the costs of promotion. Have
music, free gifts, contests, games for kids, or
anything that attracts attention and draws people.   A side
benefit of a sidewalk sale is that it lets you move some slow stock that might
not sell otherwise.

Another possibility is a charitable fund raiser. Sponsor a car wash, or a barbecue, or another
activity on your parking lot. Both you
and the organization that benefits from the event will promote it, making it a
win/win for both of you. Make sure to
have other things going on in your store to draw potential customers in from
outside.  Consider having the organization give their customers a gift certificate to your store.

Events are fun and if you do them right, they can be very

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