I recently visited Hickman County, Tennessee, USA, 50 beautiful rural miles from Nashville.
My thoughts as I drove through the rolling hills was “How many Nashville residents are going to be interested in making this trip and how long will they plan to stay?”
My day-long study of a day trip destination within an hour’s drive of a major metropolitan area revealed some things many similar rural locations can learn from.
Hickman is all about history and heritage, and they know how to use it to attract those day-trippers from Nashville and weekenders from Memphis.
When you talk to Daryl Phillips, Executive Director of the Economic Development Association and Nancy Roland from the chamber you hear about the EXPERIENCE of their history and heritage.
Yes, it is the home of Minnie Pearl and the location of her mythical Grinder’s Switch.
Yes, they have active, open country stores like no place else.
Yes, they have a good ol’ opry music and even live theater.
Yes, you can drive for miles through stunning scenery on historic roads.
These people know that even the unique things like being Minnie Pearl’s birthplace won’t attract Nashville residents and their guests down I-40 and out into the countryside.
It’s the AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE of these things that people are looking for.
Here’s a quote from the web site for Coble’s County Store:
“It’s not the products we sell that make us special–it’s the service. We take the time to talk to you. Take the time to talk to us and you’ll find out about the places to go and the things to do. That’s why we have a front porch with a bench for sitting, and that’s why we have an old fashioned wood burning stove in the store. These places are for sitting and talking. While you’re on the front porch, take a look at the community bulletin board. Somebody local might have something you need.”
After a harried shopping trip at a big mall in Nashville, I’m ready! This is what I wanted.
Owners Jim Rozum and Bill Kirk know that you need more than a front porch to draw you away from Nashville, so they have music in the evening on the weekends. Nashville locals looking for an authentic music scene will love the Coble Opry and these guys know that.
Nancy at the Chamber of Commerce is a wonderful resource. She loaded me up with great literature about Centerville and Hickman County.
Here’s a lesson many chambers can learn from them:
When it comes to brochures, it’s more about the CONTENT than the quality of the print job.
I was handed a very useful tri-fold brochure that listed 50 things to do, 50 places to see and 50 bicentennial facts.. all in one 8 1/2 by 11 tri-fold brochure.
The thing that sets this brochure apart is the conspicuous lack of unnecessary adjectives. Nothing is “stunning” or “”amazing” or “delightful” or “historic”.
It’s easy to over use adjectives, thinking that somehow something “magnificent” will get people out of their recliners and into the countryside.
People need to create their own adjectives after having the “magnificent” experience. After a visit, if they use that adjective in a description on their Facebook page or in a blog post to their friends and family it means something. But from you… it’s a waste of space.
But, VERBS! Now those can get people moving. Hickman County’s brochure is full of action verbs.
“Ride a horse”
“Call up a wild turkey.”
“Eat a fried bologna sandwich at a country store.”
“Listen to real country music.”
“Sit on the front porch of a country store.”
I have never before had an urge for a fried bologna sandwich, but the idea of sitting on the front porch of a country store eating a fried bologna sandwich, listening to real country music will get me moving!
This little brochure of marginal print quality has helped me to create a picture of myself doing things I’ve never before thought about wanting to do! And without any adjectives!
As a small rural tourism business owner doing everything yourself, it’s best to build a strong online and offline marketing program one successful venture at a time.
My final stopping place was the Grinder’s Switch Winery just outside of Centerville.
Joey Chessor and his wife Gail have done an impressive job of turning a hobby into a thriving business. After a tragic loss of many of their vines to frost, they picked up and started again with a six acre vineyard and winery. They moved out of their beautiful log home and turned it into the tasting room.
Restrictions of the sale of wine means that small wineries like Grinder’s Switch need to make their sales on site. Going through a distributor would mean that they would need to increase their volume and probably not make much more money for the additional work.
So the Chessors became very effective at marketing their tasting room and winery.
Joey understood that the Internet was a great way to reach customers, and he knew a little about working online, so he created a simple web site in his spare (Ha! Ha!) time.
He saw the growing importance of Web 2.0 and interactive online marketing, so he started an online email newsletter. Then he spent time learning about Facebook, and created a page there that he works at and maintains.
He isn’t jumping into social media faster than he has time to learn and integrate into his already busy life.
The Chessors realized that getting people to come out to Hickman County and Grinder’s Switch Winery required more than one tasting room experience, so they worked with two other small wineries to create the Natchez Trace Wine Trail.
Brilliant! One major lesson so many small town businesses need to learn is that often businesses that seem to be your direct competitors are actually your best collaborators.
Three wineries make a day-long excursion. One winery is unlikely to get someone to take a 60mile drive from Nashville.
The Chessors and their collaborators have created a beautiful brochure that is available in key locations all over the area. They are about to add another winery closer to Nashville to their trail, which will make the it even more enticing to wine lovers.
In your town, you might look at your antique stores, or junque stores, or gift shops or great local foods restaurants. Clusters are good no matter what the niche.
Hickman County is still working hard on building their tourism industry. They have lots to offer and are on the right track for attracting the visitors needed to make rural tourism a significant part of their growing, diversified economy.
Want to get a taste of Hickman County? Tune into Grinder Switch Radio Hour every Saturday morning at 10am Central Time for their live opry music program. How about that.. a small town with their own radio show!
Many thanks to Daryl Phillips, their economic Development Executive Director for taking the day to show me around his beautiful county.