When I started thinking about what kind of topics I wanted to feature on my blog – one of the things I really wanted to accomplish was feature some of the companies I work with and how they are using technology in their businesses.
The first company I had to feature was my family’s business, Young’s Jersey Dairy. Not only is it my family’s business, but most the things I have learned about technology have come from doing projects for Young’s. They also do so many different things and have evolved so much over the years, it is interesting to look at all the things they have done and all the things we still want to do. So let’s get started!
Our first attempt at a website came in 1997. (See here) Rough, I know. But we started with the first edition of Microsoft Front Page, so cut us some slack!
If you follow the timeline on the WayBack Machine, you can see how our page has evolved over the years. I recently completely scrapped the website and gave it a new look.
Over the years, we’ve realized that a majority of our customers are interested in two things: when we’re open and how to get here. Other than that, pricing, current menus and special upcoming events are all also important. Our current site allows easy access to all of those things. Besides that – if our customer can’t easily find what they want – there is a search bar at the top to give assistance.
Young’s is all about the memories our customers make, and a more photogenic look at the fun you can have on our farm is a perfect way to present them. (And, back by popular demand – the Moo) Our current site is more search engine friendly, and will be easier for our customers to navigate. We average 200-500 hits a day depending on the season.
When Facebook began to pick up traction a few years ago, I brought up the idea of creating a Facebook presence for Young’s. About that same time, a customer created a page for us. They did such a great job of managing the page, we didn’t worry about it and even helped promote it. Then we thought about the downside of not having control of information that was going out about our business and decided to create our own page.
We went from 600 fans to over 12,000 in the matter of about 2 months (closing in on 13,000 as of this post!). Small potatoes to some, but like I’ve mentioned before, we are a small farm in the middle of a small town in Ohio – it’s impressive. We did it with the help of the Yellow Springs, OH Facebook fans, and have been building strong ever since.
We are still working on finding traction on our Twitter. For awhile we used only Twitter to communicate with customers, now Facebook has taken over most of the conversation and Twitter is there as a supplement. We continue to keep up on it, but we are still growing our online presence and working on different ways to communicate with our customers online (which is why I love what I do – new things all the time!)
The evolution: Began with hand painted signs back in the ’50’s when the main part of the business was located in what is now the Ice Cream & Cheese processing facility, progressed to a translucent white plastic signs with fluorescent back lighting, then to a custom-designed cardboard-type material that was featured for a year or so.
The problem: Hard to update. We had the signs printed locally, but there was still a delay from changing the design, getting the new design to the printer, looking at the proof to check for errors, time to get the sign printed then finally installing the new sign. All-in-all about a 1-2 week turnaround at the least. What if we ran out of hamburgers or (Gasp) Cookies & Cream Ice Cream? We had to take a piece of paper and cover up the out-of-stock option which just says unprofessional and poor planning. Wouldn’t it be easier if we just had a way to change the sign on the fly, make a new special to put on the menu or change a price if we didn’t like the way something was selling?
The solution: Digital signage. We played around with a couple of ideas on how to implement the signage, spoke with a few companies that specialized in doing what we needed – but they were charging insane amounts of money and their solutions just weren’t easy enough for even was to handle. So we decided to do it on our own. We shopped around at the local electronics stores for the right size, resolution, etc and found what we needed.
We went back and forth on what hardware we’d use to power the screens. We needed something that was powerful enough to run a screen all day, but yet easy enough for any of the Young’s employees (with varying degrees of technological experience) to update at any time. We decided on the Mac Mini. The Mini was the perfect mix of power and ease that we needed to make our screens look great. I used Apple Keynote to design the displays, thinking of the ease to change a screen by all of the Young’s employees when a change needed to be made.
Not all of our screens are powered by Mac Mini’s. We have one of our menu boards (the one that is horizontal in the picture) that is running on a DVD player. It isn’t as easy to update, we have to burn a new DVD every time we need to make a change, but it is easier than ordering a whole new sign and waiting two weeks while everyone is asking “When are you going to have Cookies & Cream again?”
When Young’s started making and selling their own cheese, we wanted to show the public how we did it. I was called in to do a full day shoot (and by full day, I mean 7am – 7pm) of the entire process of making Baby Swiss cheese. I pieced together the video, put it on the Young’s Dairy YouTube channel and then it was decided that the video looked so good, we should have it playing in the stores on a loop so the 1+ million customers we have per year can see the process of making cheese on our farm.
I have stopped in the store a few times since the TV’s were installed and have noticed quite a few people standing there watching the video. It is a 10 minute long video, so I doubt many people stand there and watch the whole thing, but it catches the customer’s eye – which is what it was intended to do. People see the video and get interested in trying the cheese (which is a new product that Young’s is offering on the farm).
I can’t even remember the year we installed this computer – that’s how old it is. But it is based on satellite technology, if that means anything to you. But before you laugh and move on, it’s a pretty cool piece of technology. Before wi-fi, before satellite radio, before broadband, DTN (Now Telvent), offered this computer for us to get quick & reliable weather reports. I remember coming into the barn to play with it as a little lad.
The computer will be replaced somewhere in the near future with an actual usable computer. (So the cows can check their portfolios during lunch break)
This seems like an easy one, but it wasn’t. I was tasked to install one of our aging computers into the Ice Cream & Cheese Production Facility for our head guy over there, Mike Randall, to use for a myriad of tasks. He would be able to email from his office (instead of coming over to the Dairy Store to borrow a computer), print labels for our Homemade Ice Cream, and keep track of the many things that he does.
Of course, we weren’t going to dig a trench and run a Cat-5 cable 200 ft through our parking lot and playground – so it had to be wireless. Anyone who has tried to install a wireless card on an OLD PC will be able to commiserate with me here. Not only was I fighting that battle, our Facility is made of thick concrete walls and a enormous metal Ice Cream freezer. Difficult to get a signal through, very difficult. I tried antennas, moving the PC to one side of the wall to the other and finally I found a configuration that worked. Hope he doesn’t want to rearrange his office anytime soon.
I’ll admit, when our rep came in and said – “Have you heard of QR Codes?”, I felt dumb. I felt like if I went to up to someone and asked if they had heard of Facebook. I’m a tech guy, I should have heard of everything, but I didn’t know about this.
We do our printing with the
<shamelessplug>Great People at Holmes Printing</shamelessplug>.
Really though, great people to work with in the Springfield area. They are often giving us great ideas like this to enhance the experience of the customers.
QR Codes, if you don’t know, are a little barcode looking thing that links to basically anything – text, website, etc, if you have a reader. I downloaded QuickMark, a QR code app on my iPhone which does the job. So what does this mean for the customer? We had QR codes printed on our signs that just got put up for the summer. A customer can take out their Smart Phone, scan that image in and it goes to our website. Pretty neat stuff. We can have it go to a coupon, some sort of text message, or anything we want. Of course, the customer would have to know what it is and not be a dummy like me, but that’s another matter.
Something our customers asked for for years was some sort of music playing at the Golden Jersey Inn. It is such a big building, it seems like everyone’s voice was just bouncing all over the place. Finally, a few years ago we made it happen. It’s a little more complicated than just installing a few speakers and hooking it up to your iPod.
The system we got actually partitioned out ‘zones’ of where to play music. We can have different volume levels based on whether you are on the porch, in the dining room or in the back of the house (the kitchen). We also have a similar system playing on the Udders & Putters miniature golf courses, which is quite a jump from when we first opened and were playing music from a 5 disc CD player!
The SJU is where all of our orientation, education, management meetings are held. It has evolved from a paper tablet on an easel, to a wipe off board, to an overhead projector, to a digital projector and finally to a multimedia experience. This allows us to show videos, share pictures, run PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and anything else we want to do. The core of Young’s success is based on Customer Service, and this is where it all begins.
Just like Young’s has grown from a little store that sold milk, cheese and ice cream into what it is today, our need for connectivity and communication has grown as well. We started with a handful of computers in the Dairy Store back office, not communicating with each other and have grown to computers at 6 different locations, some 12oo ft apart from each other, all on the same network.
It was a slow build, and the steps that we took to get there are too long to describe. But just like the Public Wireless access – we were ahead of the game, and (as it often is around Young’s) our ideas were bigger than the available solutions. We made it work.
Our network now is mostly wireless, with hardwired cable underground going from building to building for some connectivity. For a farm that was just a short time ago selling milk out of the barn, not too bad.
This thing doesn’t look like much compared to the fancy-schmancy iPhone Point of Sale units the Apple Geniuses use, but it does essentially the same thing. In the fall, Young’s has a pretty extensive pumpkin patch, with subsequently a lot of people picking their pumpkins.
The problem was, once the customers had found the perfect pumpkin – they didn’t know where to go for step two, payment. We built a little shack to handle questions, give out dimes to feed the goats and to allow people to pay for their pumpkins outside – but as anyone who has been to Young’s in the fall – it can get busy.
So in addition to the register in the little shack, there is a person roaming around with a Handheld POS who is able to ring up your pumpkins and put them on your credit card, if you so desire. Much easier than bringing that 20 pound pumpkin into the Dairy Store and plopping it on the counter, if I do say so myself.
Next week, I plan to write an article based on the things that Young’s will be doing in the near future using technology. Look for that on Tuesday, May 18th.