As I posted in my previous article, Young’s uses A LOT of tech for being a small farm in the middle of Ohio. I couldn’t fit all the exciting things they do for their customers into one article, so here are 11 more things that Young’s does to stay on the cutting edge (and make things easier on themselves & for their customers)
This has been a work in progress for many years. CEO Dan Young (who happens to be my father) and I thought long and hard about how we wanted to give out internet to our customers. We were ahead of wave on wanting to have public wi-fi, so there were not a ton of great (secure) options. We obviously have sensitive materials on our network, and if some of the local hackers came in and exposed our network – we wouldn’t be happy.
We started with a Proxim wi-fi station. It was able to take an IP address from our current network and split that signal into 20-200 wireless connections. If we wanted to, we could charge for internet service, restrict the sites they could go to, or just make it so they would only be able to see our site. It was a cool interface.
Now we have multiple broadcast points all over the farm. You can get a connection in the barn or sitting down for dinner at The Golden Jersey Inn. No charge. I know, nothing new – but we were WAY ahead of the game, especially for a farm in the middle of a cornfield in Ohio.
*Editors Note* When I say all over the farm, I don’t literally mean ALL over the farm. If you go out into the middle of the cornfield, you may see some signal interference.
The Evolution: I first started serving food at The Dairy Store when I was 14 (back in 1995, yikes). A customer would come to the register, order their food and have a seat in our dining room. Once the food was prepared we would go out into the dining room with around 100-200 people chatting and enjoying their conversation until we found the customer the food belonged to. That evolved into writing a number on their ticket, and matching the number, which was still frustrating, because customers wouldn’t have their number out on the table for us to see.
The Problem: The process was just unorganized. We were growing so much at the time, we didn’t have time to come up with a solution that really worked well 100% of the time, nor was there the technology in place that could help us come up with a solution.
The Solution: Pagers. You’ve seen them out at any restaurant you’ve probably ever been to. Instead of giving the customer a ticket with their magic number, we give them a pager that will illuminate and vibrate when their food is ready.
At The Golden Jersey Inn, the pagers are used for a different reason. Being a sit-down restaurant, sometimes there can be a wait for a table. So the customer gets a pager until their table is ready. The great thing about our farm, is that you don’t have to just go sit to wait on your table.
If the wait is long enough, you have time to walk down to the barn and feed the goats, play a quick round of miniature golf, hit some golf balls at the driving range or just enjoy the farm. Our pager system has repeaters located throughout the farm so even if you are in the barn watching the cows being milked, you will feel that buzz 1200 feet away and make the trek up to your table.
The Evolution: I can’t speak for before my time at Young’s, but I remember the old NCR 2160 (so old, this is the best picture I could find).
The Problem: Very hard to train. Once you got the hang of it, it was pretty easy, but if you are trying to do anything like Voiding a transaction or splitting a check? What? Are you crazy? Of course the obvious necessity of being able to take a credit card was gone as well.
The Solution: We made the jump from this to a touch screen POS. Quite a jump, I know. We spent days working with the programmers to transfer our menu to a digital interface. There was an initial lag in training since all of our employees were used to using this fossil, but now that we are in our 7th or 8th year of using touch screen technology, it’s hard to look back and think that is how we did it.
The Evolution: Believe it or not, we had over 140,000 people on our birthday list at one point. All acquired one at a time, by hand. Dan (the programming genius) made a D-Base Database that not only stored all of the names in the list, but also checked against people that were already in the list at the time, trying to stop cheaters from claiming too many free sundaes!
The Problem: Only Bill Gates had an email account when we were compiling this list, so we sent out postcards to everyone on their birthday with a coupon offer on the back. The problems? Printing & more importantly, postage. So we had to end the Birthday Club, much to the chagrin of our loyal customers.
The Solution: In 1997 we brought it back. We made our Birthday Club come to life online. We quickly regained a lot of customers on our list and have built it up to around 8000 people. We are in the process of switching providers to give us a little more flexibility with our list (and I’ll give them the proper plug when we’re all done and happy!) Our goal is to get our list back to it’s glory.
We have started to build up our presence on YouTube. The interactivity and fun that comes from a video is something that creates excitement for our customers. We have posted some of our training videos, old commercials, old local news spots and have started creating original content just for our YouTube audience.
When we first started to find our voice on the website, we decided that making an online store to sell our T-shirts, etc was a perfect fit. We have customers from all over the world – why not make some of those things available to the people that aren’t close enough to stop in?
For a time, we even sold our Homemade Ice Cream online. We got requests constantly about sending ice cream around to Ohio and beyond, so we figured we’d give it an official shot online. It turned out to not be cost effective (but we’ll still do it if you really want!). With the dry ice and 2-day shipping, it just was too expensive for most of our customers.
Since Young’s opened the Batting Cage in 1999, we have had a person standing up there with a modified apron selling tokens directly to the customers. Which means even on a cold day when a guest wanted to work on their swing, an employee would have to brave the weather to make change. Also, the ability to accept credit cards was a problem for some. The customer would have to wander down to the main Udders & Putters building to make the transaction.
Insert the Automated Token Attendant. It hooks up wirelessly with our (100% secure) connection to accept credit cards, makes change, etc. It didn’t replace the employee standing at the cages, they are still there to offer advice or make sure everyone is having a fun, safe time. But it did make the customers’ life easier in this day where most people would rather use a Debit/Credit card than cash.
Similar to the Batting Cage automated attendant, the golf ball dispenser at the Driving Range is there so the customer doesn’t have to walk back to the building to get more golf balls. It accepts credit cards and actually accepts our Batting Cage tokens as a form of payment as well. It saves time for our employees and our customers on busy days. If a golfer just wants to head straight up to the range instead of stopping in the building first, they can.
Yup, you read that right. There is a cow mounted on the wall in the Dairy Store with a old TV stuck right in the middle. We used to have this charity event called ‘Udder Chaos’ where we would buy up a bunch of fiberglass cows, organizations would paint them up and auction them off. We had a few cows left over, so this one got a TV installed inside.
For a long time, the TV was playing an old Powerpoint slideshow I had put together with current events, specials and other information, it now plays the local news now.
This has been a blessing for our management (and staff). For MANY years, our managers had done their schedule in a macro-laced Excel file that Dan had created from scratch, probably about the same time Excel came out on the market. (He probably doesn’t like me aging him like that, but it’s the truth) It was quite the interesting file, you would enter the schedule for each employee, hit a few keys and the printer would spit out each day’s schedule with who was working when, how many employees you had working at any given time and how many hours you had scheduled for the day. There’s much more to it than that – but they don’t have to worry about that now with HotSchedules.
HotSchedules allows each employee to go in each week and let the system know when they are available and how many hours they’d like to work. If they are sick, someone can go online and pick up their shift. If it is busy, the manager on duty can go on and add shifts and our available employees get notified that there are hours available.
It also has a way for our managers to keep notes about the day. (HotSchedules Digital LogBook) Things that need to be ordered, maintenance issues, etc. Which is nice, because at anytime, any of the managers can log into see how last night’s shift went and how many ice cream cones we sold (and if we had enough employees on hand to sell them)
Taking advantage of these free resources are invaluable. Going into their interfaces and ‘taking ownership’ of the content that is listed there is something every small business should do. Especially one like Young’s. For a long time, there was a comment on our Yelp page about how “Young’s doesn’t really make their own Ice Cream, like most people believe.” Now, if we hadn’t noticed that comment (100% untrue by the way), it would have sat there forever for anyone to see. Anyone who uses Yelp, looking for information on Young’s would see that and say “Oh, well if they don’t make their own ice cream – what’s the point.. they are liars!” Instead, we got involved & responded. Taking ownership in sites like this help get our (correct) information out there into the public.
*Check back next Tuesday for Upcoming Tech @ Young’s