Bushels of Business
When you walk into Gull Meadow Farms market in Richland, Mich, you smell the scent of freshly baked donuts combined with the aromas of sweet and spicy apple varieties, picked just feet away from the entrance of the farm market. This business is a little slice of heaven in Southwest Michigan for the eight weeks it is open every fall (and for a little slice of deliciousness try their homemade apple pies).
Managing the farm is Haworth College of Business alumnus, Justin Wendzel, who graduated in 2005 with a sales and business marketing degree. Wendzel’s parents own the farm; and though he did not originally plan to come “back home” to make his permanent career within the family business, he and his parents quickly realized that his people skills and business background were just what the rapidly growing organization needed.
Gull Meadow Farms started as a roadside picnic stand where then hobby farmer, Dave Wendzel, could sell his produce to the public. “My dad started the business while working full-time at General Motors. He has a degree in horticulture from Michigan State University, and he has always farmed. Eventually, we added a pavilion for weather protection. And then in the 1990s, Pumpkin Lane in Augusta came up for sale when the owners retired; my family decided to buy the business and inherited Pumpkin Lane’s customers who came to pick their pumpkins every year. That, along with the closing of another local orchard with a loyal following, caused our business to boom right around the early 2000s, increasing our customer base by 400 per cent in just five years,” says Wendzel.
Annually, Gull Meadow Farms welcomes over 50,000 visitors during the eight weeks they are open each autumn!
And Wendzel’s sales background has come in handy in an unexpected way, “I find that my sales education is very helpful in managing our staff. We have over 100 seasonal employees and about half are new each year. Knowing people’s personalities, their approach to problem solving and their motivations is very helpful in managing our organization in an effective way,” he says.
Staffing is the number one challenge in running his business Wendzel notes, “When you bring on a number of new employees each season and have to educate them quicklyabout the organization, it is a challenge.” Additionally, Wendzel says that it is challenging with a seasonal business to determine what are the best investments, “Do you invest in an extra wagon for rides even though you might only need it four or five times per season or do you put your investment elsewhere? Balancing for your best return on investment can be difficult, especiallywhen you are trying something new.”
Besides bushels of apples, the farm offers “wagonloads” of family-friendly activities, including hayrides, mini zip lines, jumping pillows, mini train rides, apple cannons, and this year even boasted a Bronco corn maze! “Our goal is to have people smile and keep coming back. We are planning to add even more activities in the coming years in which the whole family – all ages – can participate,” Wendzel says.
As we near Thanksgiving, Wendzel says that he is thankful for a very long list of things, “I have an awesome wife who is almost a single mom for two months while the farm is at its peak busy season, and she is amazingly supportive. We have loyal customers who come here year after year and provide wonderful word-of-mouth advertising. I get to work with family, and we all get along! I have a degree from WMU that provides as much bang for your buck in sales and business marketing as you are ever going to get. And, at the age that I am, I am able to be an integral part of a business where I can see the positive impact of my work, and that is something that I have wanted forever. I feel very fortunate.”
Season: September through the Wednesday before Thanksgiving
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Must Trys: If you haven’t tried the donuts, apple butter or award-winning cider, you are missing out!
Look For: Next year, pig races are being added to the list of family-friendly activities that all ages can enjoy.
How has the recession impacted your business? “I would never say the recession is good, but I will say that many people are looking for local day trips closer to home, and we are seeing a lot of “local tourists.” For us, once people come to the farm, they keep coming back, so we hope to gain those people as regular customers in the future when the economy recovers.”
Read more at MyWMU, Home Grown Success
Read more at MyWMU, Don’t Miss This
Read more at Official Website of Gull Meadow Farms