In this series, ActionCOACH Mary Ann Hauser (MAH) and team virtually sit down with business owners to learn how they are working through COVID-19. Check out their inspiring stories for tips on how to cope with and successfully recover from this pandemic as well as ideas on how to avoid making common mistakes. And be sure to look at special offers from these businesses – we can all use a little extra help right now!
MH: Coach Mary Ann Hauser
TW: Tony Wohlgemuth, Owner of Kersey Valley
Special Offer: BOGO tickets when you mention ActionCOACH!
MH: Tell me a little bit about what Kersey Valley does and how long you’ve been doing it.
TW: My family is from Zurich, Switzerland, so I’m the first American-born person in my family. My parents moved to the farm here in Archdale when I was nine years old. It was a tobacco farm, but my dad was anti-tobacco, so we planted Christmas trees instead. In 1979, my father decided he was going to move back to Switzerland, and he said, “sell the farm”. Luckily, it did not sell. My dad instructed me at a young age, “if you want to keep this farm, you’ve got to figure out a way to pay for it.” So, when I was 15, we started this Halloween show on the farm for $2 per ticket. We kept doing it every year through high school, and when I met my wife in college, and she kept begging me to get rid of this Halloween silliness and focus on our careers in computer science. I loved the creative side of putting the Halloween show together, so eventually she decided to join me instead of trying to stop me. Those Christmas trees had grown together into a thick labyrinth of trees, so I cut out a path through them, and that’s how Spooky Woods came to be. This is our 36th year doing Halloween, but along the way, we extended our season to the point that now we have year-round offerings of different attractions that are all family focused.
MH: How would you describe your target market?
TW: We’re very family–centric: my best customer is someone that came here in kindergarten to learn about the bees and got introduced to us at a young age, then keeps coming back. It’s a rite of passage to get to come to the haunted house because you’re old enough. Then eventually they come back as a young family with their own kids.
MH: What has been the biggest impact of COVID-19 on your business?
TW: The biggest impact is not having our events for corporate groups and field trips. We had grown to the point where field trips were completely sold out and we served 20,000 kids a year. Once the complete shutdown lifted, we looked at the guidelines. Our zip line is for small groups of 10 or less, so if you book a time, that time slot closes to other families. We call it “social bubbles”: if you have a neighbor that you’re in contact with all the time, they can join your family at one of our attractions. Because we are open, there’s less competition for us, and people are begging for stuff to do. Our sales are still behind from last year, but we’re getting closer and closer to pre-COVID revenue.
MH: What are one or two actions that you’ve taken because of the pandemic?
TW: We’ve taken actions to keep people safe. I think it was important to let them know on the website that we have health and safety measures for our year-round attractions, like that masks are required as long as North Carolina is mandating them. If you go to book something on our website, you’ll see a quick little blurb about what to expect during COVID-19— temperature checks and our other procedures. I also came up with this idea called “Sunflower Extravaganza” where we planted 15 acres of sunflowers in a design. We’re going to give professional photographers exclusive access to come out for socially-distanced photography sessions with their clients. We also have a couple fields where families can pick as many of their own flowers as they can fit in these vases for $20. Sunflowers are special because they don’t pollinate, so you put them in your house. You can text the word “maize” to 31996 to get updates on the sunflowers blooming.
MH: What is your biggest learning as a business owner?
TW: Take the time to over–exceed customers’ expectations, because they’re not going to forget it. I’ve had people come back and say, “you took the time to show me something, or explain something to me”. That may have been a distraction, and I may have been in the middle of something, but I look at those moments as opportunities to make a special memory for somebody.
MH: What is most inspiring to you?
TW: Taking the COVID situation as an opportunity instead of a hindrance. It makes me feel like I’m doing something that’s not controlling me. I’m encouraging other people to not sit back and let this tear you up, take it as an opportunity.
MH: Do you have any special offers you’d like to include?
TW: I’d like to offer buy one, get one free tickets to any of our year-round attractions to anyone that mentions ActionCOACH.