Small Business Spotlight: Cherry Farm Creamery & Sun Air Golf
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
Small business owners know what it’s like to be busy. Now, what if you had to fit 75% of your sales into just 100 days of the year? Seasonal small business owners have to face unique challenges and come up with interesting and effective ways to brace themselves for their busy season. So, how do they do it? We spoke with Stephen Jones, owner of the family run businesses Cherry Farm Creamery & Sun ‘N Air Golf Center, to find out how he and his family prepare for their summer rush.
If you’re thinking that a day at the driving range followed by an ice cream sundae is the perfect summer day, you’re not alone—it appears the rest of Danvers, MA agrees with you based on the crowds that gather between mid-April to Columbus Day Weekend, a timeframe that has continued to expand over the years due to their popularity and changes in the weather. There’s a lot that goes into preparing for this type of concentrated foot traffic, so we interviewed Stephen and his younger brother, Tom, to figure out how they get the creamery and the golf center ready for the warmer weather.
How did you decide you wanted to own Cherry Farm Creamery and Sun Air Golf?
My dad and uncle started the business in 1976 as a hobby. They owned a hotel across the street, so it was more of a less stressful spinoff to that business. When I decided to take over it was because I wanted to be my own boss. Although they still didn’t hesitate to give me input, I had the room to make my own mistakes and really learn about the business. I’ve been running it for around 30 years—my wife, Janet, makes all the ice cream, my younger brother, Tom, handles all the marketing and promotions, and my daughter Kristin works in the ProShop. We’ve also had multiple family members help out throughout the years, whether they were managers or scooping ice cream.
At the time when I took over, we were only open in the summer, but these businesses support 2-3 families and when my kids got to the age where I had to start thinking about college, I knew we need to be open all year round.
When does your busy season start, and how much busier does it really get during those warm weather months?
75% of our business for both the creamery and the golf range occurs from May to Labor Day, so that’s packed into approximately 100 days of craziness. We start getting crowds in mid-April, but June is our busiest month between end of school parties, graduations, and weddings. Most days I wake up and don’t even know what day it is—time flies by in the summer here!
When does your day start?
There’s something going on here from 6 AM until 10:30 PM, seven days a week. We make our own ice cream, so we come in early to start making it at 6 or 7 AM and don’t stop until 2 or 3 PM.
When do you start planning for the busy season and how do you prepare for the crowds that are coming?
In the middle of February we start planning ahead, which usually starts with staff planning. We start to contact staff from the previous season to see if they’re returning and what hours they want to work. Between both the creamery and the golf range, we employee about 70-75 people between May-September, and that dips down to 20-25 during our offseason.
During our planning season, we also do a lot of maintenance with the refrigerators and defrost the walk-in freezers, which we could never do during the summer months. We have to make sure we get all of this done before we kick into high gear in April.
What type of marketing and promotions do you run during your busy season?
We do a lot of radio advertising for both businesses, and some direct mail to the local schools during the beginning and end of the school years for the creamery. We advertise Sun Air Golf in golfing publications, and sponsor local sports teams and church events in the summer. We also do email marketing for both businesses. We start planning our marketing strategy in January and February and really ramp up our advertising efforts March-June.
Do you have any tips for other super busy small business owners?
My biggest advice is that you have to love what you’re doing. In our business, you’re working weekends, holidays, and nights. When the upper management is all family, there are family events you have to plan around the business. It’s tough—especially when weddings, communions, etc. all typically fall during our busy season. You can’t close the shop, and you can’t call in sick to the family event when your family will know where you really are!
My other tip is to not have a higher upper management ladder. We’re doing everything from the accounting to emptying the trash. It’s hard for me to delegate because your business is only as good as your last meal, and no one is going to do it as well as you are.
It’s a great feeling now to see how far we’re come and grown. Tom and I look at each other in February when we’re planning for our busy season and can’t believe how where we are now and how well we’re doing.
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