Andelin Family Farm in Sparks, Nevada runs entertainment year-round, but 2020 wasn’t the best year for agritainment. The farm tested a drive through event, private tours, a summer series, and a fall event – learning each time about how to pivot during the pandemic. They pivoted in three major ways to succeed. Today, Cameron Andelin, co-owner of Andelin Family farm, discusses how their team shifted their mindset in ticketing, staffing, and upsell experiences. These are all things you can shift at your attraction when planning this season.
Pivot 1 – Timed Ticketing
Shifting Their Mindset from Expanding Capacity to Limiting Capacity
“The model for haunts, farms, and corn maze is: how can we increase our capacity? And that was what we did for a decade. We started small and grew big – we got more people, expanded parking lines, queue lines, all that stuff.
This was the first year where we needed to not max out all the time. We were forced to adapt, so we did it. But we found that there were some good things about it. We actually extended our season with a bonus weekend because we had so many sellout nights.”
Introduction of Timed Ticketing
“One protocol that we started was online ticketing. If people came up to the gate, we had big signs that said, ‘Reserved Tickets Only’, ‘Must Have a Ticket’, etc. We really pushed online ticketing – and it allowed us to manage the capacities a little bit. The first weekend we really pulled back on the reins to see how it felt and how it was just logistically. Then each weekend we would increase a little bit based on our comfort level.
2020 was weird. Of course, we had reduced capacity, but it just felt slow. What it was is we were doing timed tickets and so there wasn’t a mad rush. They were just spread out. And so, we’re excited about this year where we can bump up the numbers and play with that a little bit. It gives you the ability to know what your staffing needs to be like. Also, the haunt staff loves hearing, ‘Hey, we’re already sold out for tonight’.”
Standby Tickets & Accounting for No-Shows
I hate to turn people away. I just hate it. So, we would do what we call ‘standby tickets’. At the beginning of each night, I would tell the ticket booth staff, ‘Here’s all your tickets and here’s all the reservations. But here’s a little stack of what we call standby’. Because what would happen is people would buy tickets online and then they wouldn’t show up.
The first weekend about 15% of the people didn’t even show up. That was capacity that I could have done. Every time slot I had a little stack of standby tickets and we even knew that the eight to nine o’clock was always really busy. Most people showed up for that, so we’d have less standby for those time slots.
We don’t want to train our customers that if they just show up, they can always get a ticket. So, we struggle with that because our radio advertising, our Facebook advertising – everything’s ‘get your tickets online – it’s limited’. But if people feel they just show up all the time and they always get a ticket, then you’re defeating part of that purpose. So, it’s a juggle. We have the same challenges for our nighttime attractions and our daytime fall festival. But I feel if we call them standby and say that they’re very limited then it gives us an out because ‘we had some but you’re just too late. They’re all sold out’.”
Pivot 2 – Staffing Changes
Training Staff to Enforce Safety Measures
“Even if you bought online tickets, you still had to come to the ticket booth and exchange it for actual physical ticket. Our staff just said, ‘You guys all have masks, right?’ When we first started, we were going to sell some masks for a dollar and we also made Gators with our logos and stuff for swag that we would sell for more, but we ended up just giving these out because we bought some crazy number of them at the beginning – we still have tons. Our staff began to ask, ‘you all have masks, right? Does anybody not have a mask? Here, take this mask? You have to keep your mask on at all times’.
The daytime staff struggled a little more with masking because it’s hot and it’s outdoors. At night it’s colder and so people don’t mind as much.
We tried to build confidence in our customers that we were taking it seriously, despite what our personal feelings might be. We just said, we’re going to do what the state of Nevada is telling us to do. And that’s what we did. It gave us someone to blame – don’t be mad with me or my staff, call the governor. We want to take it seriously but this is not our rule. We wanted to do what was mandated from the state and that’s what we were going to do and do our best with it.”
Pivoting from Volunteer to Paid Staff
“For many years, we had more of a volunteer staff but this year we decided to just pay more people and have a solid core group of cast. We were actually able to start earlier because they knew what to do and they knew their spots. I felt like we were able to take care of them better.
We basically said, ‘okay, we’re not going to do makeup. You guys are going to wear the same costume and the same mask the whole season. You have your locker, you have your space, we’re going to temperature check. We’re not going to be cooking you hot food like chili, but we’ll have some prepackaged stuff.’ We just simplified it.”
Pivot 3 – Introducing Upsell Experiences
Introducing Upsell Experiences
“In our industry of entertainment with farms, a lot of farms actually really like limiting capacity and our customers seem to like it – and they’re willing to pay for it.
We did private group tours, which had to be 10 people or less, and we would tour them around the farm. The tours went through our normal daytime farm animal area. We are actually going to do them again this year. Normally, we do a lot of educational field trips for school kids, but those are out the door right now. We are just taking that whole month of May and doing private tours. We’ve actually already had people since we started advertising for our spring festival that have asked if we are doing the private tours also – and we’re going to do that.
There was a demand for it. Some people were still not comfortable just being in the masses, or what they would perceive as crowds or masses.
You always want to have something bigger for somebody to buy. And even if you don’t sell that many of them – maybe you sell one a night or ten a night – there’s a pricing thing where people don’t want the bottom but can’t afford the top, so they go with the medium option.”
Andelin Family Farm’s Plans for the 2021 Season
“We’re going to do the timed ticketing. In fact, we’re getting ready for our spring event, which is in April, and we just started selling timed tickets for that. As far as the haunt we’re pretty pumped about it because last year was just so good.
We really want to keep investing in our cast. We love them and they’re great, and we want to build on that. As far as the flow of things, we’re hoping that the state of Nevada opens things up and we’re able to operate at a higher capacity. So basically our plan right now is what fall of 2020 looked like. So, if it lightens up, then it’s easy. If capacity can go up, I can just adjust that on our online ticketing. If the masks can come off, we just scratch that off on the poster. “
Biggest Lesson from 2020
“One of the biggest lessons we learned is to not be afraid of having to tweak things or adjust things. We adjusted things all year. There were some times where we were at our breaking point and just trying to put our arms around mentally – ‘How is this all going to work out?’ – but it all worked out. Whatever situation you’re in, you just adapt, be flexible, persevere, be resilient, and just push on through. If you get discouraged, that’s okay. It happens. Just bounce back, get back in the saddle and keep moving.”