News

Two tours completed, two big lessons learned, and everyone wins!

You can file this blog post under our previous promise to do this in public. The first two “Soft Tours” are in the books, we have learned much from them. The first big lesson we learned, we are trying to jam too much into each tour. Anyone who knows me knows, I, Marty, have an over-optimistic mind. I always think I can do one more thing, and I always expect a positive outcome. This has served me well in the past when we look at the big picture. However, it has also caused some issues in the past as well.

It has served me well as a head football coach who has taken over two different High School football programs that were on the skids and returned them to what I would term respectability, as well as my career as a relationship manager with public school districts during the Act 10 timeframe. It has also caused some problems as I have taken on some projects that were bigger than I first realized and taxed my abilities to the limit and my family’s patience as well. (However, as an aside, those were the times I learned the most.)

Some who know me would say I am as ridiculously optimistic as a hardware store trying to sell swimming pool algaecide, in Wisconsin, this May. That may border on crazy actually. (Actual picture taken this week when the high was 52 degrees.)

With our first two tours we learned we were simply taking participants to too many stops, within the time available, and with the personal energy it takes to take it all in. Both tours went well, we have received some great feedback and will continue to receive more from those participants to continue to make improvements. However, one item is extremely clear, we will need to limit the number of stops to 4 to allow enough quality time at each stop. For instance, I am still getting the “stink-eye” look from tour participants that I pulled from the calf hutches and young kid goat pens as I tried to usher them along in an attempt to stay on schedule. At one farm on the West Coast Tour we clearly could have stayed longer, and even I had a desire to remain to ask a few questions, but we were futilely attempting to stay on the schedule.

Therefore, going forward, we will reduce the number of stops to 4 during each tour in the attempt to stay on schedule and insure the proper time is spent at each spot. We are not considering eliminating any of the farm or business partners, but we will put them on a rotation so as to include all of the current stops as we have found participants are quite fond of every stop.

Also, at Ridge and Valley Tours we are huge fans of the CNBC show “The Profit”. Each week Marcus Lemonis, CEO/Creator of Camping World and now Gander Outdoors, reviews a business to see if they are worthy of his time and money investment to take them to the next level. Sometimes these are business that are in distress, sometimes they are businesses with a great concept but they don’t have either the capital, people, or product to continue as they exist. We find the show extremely entertaining, (I highly encourage you watch the show if you want to understand how a good business and good people can go wrong and sometimes right.) but also we learn something each week about pricing and concept of businesses.

The one question Mr Lemonis asks business owners every show, and surprisingly several of them don’t know the answer, “What is the cost to produce your item?” In “look back” episodes the Executive Producer and Mr Lemonis review past episodes and update how it is going. He has routinely expressed how shocked he is that any business owners do not know what it costs them to produce each product or serve a customer. At Ridge and Valley Tours we took that idea very serious, and some day if a business guru comes along and asks us “What does it cost you to run that shuttle down the road?” We will have that answer immediately so we don’t look like we don’t know what we are doing. (We still may not know what we are doing, but at least it will take more investigation to figure that out?) I am known to say, “I am not trying to get rich, but I am pro-prosperity and if we don’t turn a profit, we won’t be here long.” We have also travelled to many other areas and understood, at a minimum, what a tour should cost.

With this in mind, we originally set our tour price back in March so we could get the tour dates out there, and continue a Social Media presence. Keep in mind, we did not know the actual purchase price of the shuttle, insurance, food, or drink at that point, we could only estimate. And yes, those are most of our costs. We set our tour price back in March based on cost estimates with 5 stops on the tour. Now that we have actual costs we know, good news, we are overpriced, for a typical industry standard profit for each trip.

So, here is the big news, (I suspect you have been wondering where this is leading?) and I think it is great news for all of us! We will be reducing the base cost of each tour effective immediately by $10. Also, for previously purchased tickets those purchasers will see an adjustment for this change in the base price. All discount codes will continue to remain valid and you will begin to see more about those in the coming days.

We look forward to seeing everyone on a tour, we are finding there is a wide interest in our tours and meeting our farm partners. Our farm partners have a compelling story, are excellent at sharing their experience, and our tour participants have walked away with a greater understanding of agriculture, our Driftless Area geography, and how they both rely on each other to work not to mention a full stomach.

-Marty

So, we are officially a real thing.

For the last 5 months Teri and I have been scratching out of the dirt a business idea that was the whole time simply a concept. From what we have learned, no one else has ever done it, we haven’t experienced anything quite like it, and we had the brilliance to kick off a tourism venture in a county that consistently ranks in the bottom 10, out of 72 counties in Wisconsin. Brilliant! (More on that later.)

For some time privately I was referencing to Ridge and Valley Tours as “The Fyre Festival of Richland County”. (For those who don’t know this reference, you HAVE to check out the Netflix show, “Fyre, The Greatest Party That Never Happened”.) Teri didn’t appreciate that I was doing that but up until last week, we had many shared characteristics with the Fyre Festival.

As I mentioned, this past Saturday that all changed. We actually took a group of 12 brave souls on a trip through the Driftless Area of Wisconsin to visit a dairy farm, a goat dairy, a cheese factory, a winery, and a micro-brewery. We actually had our own shuttle to accomplish this, with a paid employee. Therefore, I have promised to never refer to us in the “Fyre” context again.

We learned much during the tour, a few of those items;

We must have a time limit on the farms. If we left our guests to determine how long we spent with the calves and young goat kids on the farms, we would still be at one of the farms today. I still feel like that parent at a McDonald’s Playland dragging the crying kids out because they were not at all ready to leave.

There are some points of interest along the way that the guide needs to become more familiar with. (Yes, this is a self-improvement demand.) At least twice people asked me “What is that _____ ______ _______ along the tour route?” and my less-than intelligent answer was, “I don’t know.” Mind you, I was born and raised along the route, I thought I had some basic knowledge of pretty much everything you could possibly throw at me, but obviously I have more “learn’in” to do.

Install a visible map in the shuttle, with tour stops noted. Yes, I was born and raised in this area of twisting, turning, and double-backing roads of the Driftless, I am very familiar and have a fairly strong sense of direction. Very few of our guests have been raised in the area and even those who are familiar with the area are not familiar with the whole county.

While these are a few of the things we learned that might need improvement, we did learn one thing positive. We are on to something.

The reaction to the farm visits with the calves and kid goats was priceless. The imagery of the group sitting around the big dinning table at Hillsboro Brewing all talking to each other about the experience, each other, and sampling the beer; that is the vision Teri and I saw 5 months ago. It is a real thing, and judging by the comments following this initial tour we aren’t too far off.

I look forward to meeting more of our guests and introducing this Driftless Area experience to them. We have a very special offering coming up the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. For any active military member, or veteran, their spouse, or family, we are offering a 50% discount. We are a military family, we have spent many holidays apart due to our daughter’s military commitment. Therefore, we understand the importance of supporting not just the military member but the family as well. We hope to see a full shuttle of military families enjoying a Ridge and Valley Tour on the 25th. For the discount code just enter Memorial50 .

You can see more about that tour here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ridge-valley-tours-west-coast-may-25-memorial-day-special-for-veterans-and-families-tickets-56659400793

‘Twas The Night Before The First Ridge and Valley Tour……

Not a creature was stirring, not even the possums who get into our dog food.

Well, that’s not accurate, we are still putting in the final prep for our inaugural East Coast Tour. We are beyond excited for the first tour, we have gone down the checklist and checked it at least twice:

  1. Set up social media and begin to promote the tours.
  2. Purchase a shuttle bus-check
  3. Negotiate and renegotiate insurance-check
  4. Final information and discussion with partner sites-check
  5. Stock the shuttle with protective foot covers and carrying bags-check
  6. Research cheese factories, recall my farm upbringing, and research our Karst Topography and local history-check
  7. Hire and schedule a driver of the shuttle…….wait, what? Don’t panic, yes, I did that-check

It appears we are ready for the first tour, pretty much everything we should do in preparation has been checked off the list. I can remember back in January and February when we were contacting farm partner sites and getting the typical, “You want to do what?” response, it felt like we would never get to this point. But as time wore on we just kept ticking each item off the list.

The preparation for this tour season reminds me of a rock-picking illustration I have used to motivate my football players and co-workers alike, and it is very appropriate in this situation.

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable project I would tell my players or co-workers, “This is just like picking rock on the farm when I was a kid. If you look at the end of the field, with several acres in front of you and all of those rocks sticking out of the ground, it can be depressing and even debilitating. But if we put our head down, and pick that rock up at your feet and just keep moving forward, pretty soon you are at the end of the field. A project that seemed to be impossible is done. Just keep your head down and keep picking rock.”

Both Teri and I are very excited to share the stories of the farms and businesses with our guests. I can promise three things will will happen during a Ridge and Valley Tour.

  • You will laugh and be entertained
  • You will be educated and fascinated by our partner’s stories
  • You will have some great drink and food

Tomorrow can not come soon enough and we look forward to introducing our guests to our corner of The Driftless Area. We hope to see you soon.

Have a great day,

Marty

A look behind the curtain

When we started taking this tour idea, scratching it out of the dirt, and forming it into an entity and an actual “thing”, I promised I would do it in public. Of course things got busy and I fell short on that promise. So now it is time to catch everyone up a little bit. We knew our idea of an agri-tour that took people from farm to farm, to food processing, to the final product was a bit ground-breaking. Little did we know how leading edge we were.

First a couple questions. Did you know, insurance underwriters may prefer to insure businesses who transport dynamite on rough roads over a start-up agri-tourism business? I worked in the personal and commercial property insurance industry for a good 20 years of my career. I suspected this would not be an easy risk to cover, but the time it took, and the questions we had to answer, to find companies willing to even cover us surprised this grizzled veteran.

My second question; Have you tried to do a basic internet search to find a true farm-to-fork experience in which you travel from farm to farm and then eventually end the experience with a meal? There are several farms across the United States who offer an “on-the-farm” experience. Typically it is on one location and not very often true operating farms with cattle, and very rarely with a meal at the end. In our quest to find our market we actually bumped into one other business actually doing anything like what we are attempting. Feel free to check out the Oregon Farm Loop, they are even somewhat self-guided: https://oregonfarmloop.co

When insurance underwriters do not have a past to look back upon they get nervous, and anyone who has worked in the insurance industry knows that is a bad thing. They don’t have a history to determine what is the risk we are really insuring here? How much should I be charging to make sure we cover the actual risk of a claim occurring and how much will that claim be? For instance, if you have ever added a new driver to your auto insurance, all you need to know is this is how they determine an underage driver’s insurance premium; “It isn’t a question if the 17 year-old is going to have an accident, it is when is it going to occur, and how bad is it going to be.”

Fortunately, Teri and I had great resources and people willing to work with us. My hat’s off to two local insurance agencies and agents, Dillon at Richards Insurance and Jeremy at Wallace, Cooper, and Elliot Insurance were both fantastic to work with. They never once laughed at me, at least in person, when I suggested this idea and the possibility of getting insurance. I know they both at least once thought to themselves, “I had always thought Marty was a bit off-center, but man he is dreaming in color now.” Very much to their credit, they are both very knowledgeable and worked very diligently to find us coverage that covered our risk quite affordably. Even though we learned this is truly a ground-breaking venture, the cost actually came in a little lower than I had anticipated.

So, the moral of this blog post: Call your insurance agent to find out the least expensive business risk ahead of determining what you think your next business venture will be.