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When most think of the Walt Disney World Resort, images of giant roller coasters, Mickey Mouse and crowds of entertainment-seekers usually come to mind. But after spending three days in behind-the-scenes training sessions with the Disney Institute in Orlando, Fla., members of the North American Farm Show Council say they will never look at Disney in the same way. Rather than an amusement park, they now see Disney as a source of professional development.

The North American Farm Show Council took part in a once-in-a-lifetime experience in May, which changed the way show managers and support staff perceive customer service, leadership, organizational creativity and custom innovation. Along with the training, the council held its annual meeting with not just farm show managers, but also several site managers and support staff.


One of the most important points made by Disney is that farm shows should focus on all of their customers, both attendees and exhibitors. Craig Fendrick, executive coordinator of the North American Farm Show Council and manager of Farm Science Review, Columbus, Ohio, says it was great to see what Disney does to keep its sponsors and guests coming back.

Bob Oberheim, show manager of Ag Progress Days by Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences, University Park, Pa., and president of the Farm Show Council, says there is always room for improvement in show management. "We feel that in the past we have done a good job of being courteous to our customers. But after hearing the Disney theory, we need to take it up a notch," Oberheim explains. "Also, as show manager, I realized that I need to be more available, personable and interactive with every exhibitor during setup and the show."

Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Ga., says the Disney Institute training session was a great refresher in Customer Service 101. "Disney made the point that we all need to know our customers and the services we need to provide both visitors and exhibitors," says Blalock. "The success of farm shows depends on our customers' experiences. The easier and more profitable we make it for exhibitors and the more comfortable and safe of an environment we provide to guests, determines a farm show's success."


During the business meeting held while at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Farm Show Council hosted a panel of five diversified industry exhibitors that provided insight into the marketer or exhibitor side of farm shows. The panel was made up of Les Hoyt, Deere & Co.; Tom Murray, Monsanto Company; Bill Heick, Kinze; Paula Kaster-Purvis, KASCO; and Aaron Kassings, Timewell Tile.

Paula Kaster-Purvis, sales director for KASCO, a Shelbyville, Ind.-based manufacturer of agriculture, landscaping and saw mill equipment, and board member of the Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association, says the annual meeting provided a great opportunity for both the farm show managers and the panel of exhibitors to discuss farm show pros and cons. "Once it was realized that we were all on the same page, there was great discussion and feedback," she explains. "We all want farm shows to succeed in order for manufacturers to have an outlet to market products," Kaster-Purvis adds.

One of the main purposes of the panel was to identify some of the problems that marketers face when utilizing farm shows. Kaster-Purvis explains that farm shows are "trying to be all things to all people." As agriculture changes, this seems to be one of the biggest problems facing the industry. "It is difficult for farm shows to target the 'big guys' and also meet the needs of smaller companies," she says.

Both panel members and council members agreed that the discussion allowed each group to see the other side of the story. Mark Randal, vice president of shows for Farm Progress, Carol Stream, Ill., says, "The panel opened communication on some tough issues, such as the future of farm shows, how many shows are too many and the optimum time of the year for shows."


The attending farm show council members will never forget the term "bumping the lamp," which was used by Disney instructors to describe going above and beyond the call of duty. Fendrick notes a particular eye-opening experience when a Disney executive was seen chasing down a piece of paper and depositing it in a nearby trash bin. Fendrick notes, "Never have I seen such attention to detail. Disney definitely walks the talk."

The participants were challenged to find ways to bump the lamp back at their own farm shows. One example that several members plan to implement or intensify is the use of surveys to gather demographic information from show attendees and evaluations of 'vents from exhibitors. Many members, such as Farm Science Review and Farm Progress shows, have used demographic surveys for many years but took away new, creative ideas to improve their existing systems.

Sunbelt Ag Expo began demographic surveys at its 2001 show and plans to build on that even more at this year's show. "We plan to work with exhibitors to provide demographic information, which helps them plan the marketing of products and services at shows," explains Blalock.

Sunbelt offers something for the whole family, with traditional ag, ATV, lawn and garden, small farm, hunting and fishing, and family living sections. "Although 71 per-cent of our audience is involved in agriculture, we want to offer a nice balance between farm, family and consumer-oriented guests, while keeping our primary focus on agriculture," he notes.

As a person who wears many hats in a small company, Kaster-Purvis explains the benefits of detailed demographics to an exhibitor. She says that marketers don't always have time to sift through each shows' demographics. "I don't want numbers," she exclaims. "I prefer to have a sampling and know who is coming through the farm show's gate - not how many."

"This information would change the way I market at farm shows," Kaster-Purvis notes. "There is no reason to haul equipment to a show if a market we serve is not going to be there."

In another example of lamp bumping, Oberheim tells of his plans to communicate with all of Ag Progress Days' staff, including volunteers, emergency medical technicians and student auxiliary police, the importance of a first impression. "I want the guests to come away feeling that our staff was concerned about their needs, was courteous and, most of all, that they had an enjoyable time at our show." This could mean answering a difficult question, finding information for a guest, or personally escorting an exhibitor or visitor to another location, he adds.


The North American Farm Show Council members brought back more than just great ideas. They were positively bubbling over with excitement.

According to Fendrick, this was the best meeting he had ever attended. "I have been going to council meetings since 1973 and this is the first where I have not heard a single complaint from our members," he says. "I feel that 100 percent of our attending membership will go back and do something to make farm show operations more user-friendly."

Randal adds that the group was "unanimously involved in the meeting," so much that no one slipped away to do their own thing during the sessions. "The material and interaction was excellent," he adds. "It was truly a productive use of time." AM

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