What’s really interesting about the Ice Cream Farm is that it’s won a number of awards for being the best/most improved attraction recently, and to me it seems to have done it by reacting to many of the frustrations that we at Brand Vista often hear customers having with conventional theme parks and leisure attractions.
To give some customer context, we go as a family with a 5 year old and 2 year old, and regularly buddy up with other families. The age range of kids is probably up to 10, though you do sometimes see older kids too… I mean, who doesn’t love ice cream?!
What’s most interesting about the ice cream farm is that they seem to have got 4 of the most critical things that customers want from an attraction, and that many attractions get wrong, 100% right. That seems to be the secret to their success.
1. The First Impression
When visiting an attraction with a couple of kids, money and queuing are always in the forefront of your mind, especially when you arrive at the attraction. The Ice Cream Farm manages this brilliantly by being a ‘free’ attraction. Of course, it isn’t really free, but you enter without paying a penny… which means no queues and no stresses on the way in. There’s a fabulous greeter who welcomes you and answers any questions, but the kids run straight into the free play zone, which is an awesome outdoor area in the middle of the attraction – the hub that you keep going back to. It means that you arrive on a high. Nothing breaks the spell, and you’re immediately immersed into their world.
2. Variety is the spice of attractions
Variety of experience has a massive impact on satisfaction and also perception of value for money – we’ve heard about theme parks being mono experience time and time again. The great thing about the ice cream farm is that there are 5 or 6 very different experiences, all at various offshoot points from the hub – they’re the spokes. They vary from a fantastic soft play area (which we usually start with), to a magical water play area (called Honeycomb Canyon), to a JCB mini digger experience (my personal fave), to a free mini petting zoo. There’s loads of other things too, but as you wander round doing each – some paid for, some free – you just get the sense of there being an abundance, despite it being a relatively small site. Put it this way, if you went from one race track to another race track, you wouldn’t be so enthused.
3. Pay once a year, feel like it’s free forever
Mrs Sling, like many of the mums in our area, buys an annual VIP card for the ice cream farm. It isn’t really VIP – there are no privileges – except for the fact that for £50 you get £100 worth of activities. Nice.
Just like the National Trust, once you’ve paid for this ‘membership’, you kind of forget about it. It feels like a free day out. And of course, that means that miserly Sling’s wallet is more likely to take a beating and dust off the mothballs when it comes to buying those little things that aren’t included.
4. The all-important final impression
This is the one that an incredibly small number of businesses get right. If you read about peak end theory, you’ll know that the final impression can overcome any amount of discomfort in the experience (one of the studies it was based on was colonoscopies!).
At the ice cream farm, everyone I know who goes there finishes with an ice cream. Their amazing ice cream parlour is next to the exit, and you of course attempt to keep the kids burning off energy on the attractions before finally succumbing to the inevitable request for ice cream at the end of the session there.
Remember, this is the last thing you’re going to do. They’re called the ice cream farm. So far, you’ve had ice cream theming, but no exposure to ice cream. The USP of the place is kept til last, and you walk into the parlour with tired and happy kids, and see scores of choices of ice cream and cones. By this point, the kids are tired, Mum and Dad are desperate for some quiet time, and an ice cream is the perfect thing to keep the peace.
But it goes beyond saving the best til last. Any of you with kids will know that young kids eat slowly. This leads to a beautiful and probably fortuitous customer experience alignment moment for the ice cream farm. Nine times out of ten, Charlie and I finish our ice cream before the kids. We then use this “ice cream in face” distraction as the perfect way of getting the kids out of the attraction (which, trust me, is not usually easy), and get them in the car. They leave amazingly content, quiet and happy, which of course means that we leave exceptionally happy.
It's genius, and it means that on the way back all we’re thinking is that ‘the ice cream farm is brilliant and so much better than all of the other attractions’.
How many attractions do you know that abandon their guest at the end of the experience, or go for the biggest peak in the middle, making the second half an anti-climax? There are significant lessons that could be learned here.
Now, who’s for ice cream?