Imagine: You bundle up the kids and drive ten miles to the Christmas tree farm. Before you can park your car, a young man greets you, asking you to roll down your windows. He asks if you have been to this farm before, you reply “No.”
Giving you a wide grin, the young man says “Welcome to Wahmhoff tree farm. We have pre-cut trees right here, but you can also cut your own. Yes, cutting your own is a few dollars cheaper. Did you bring a saw? No problem, we have them on loan in the gift shop for deposit. We have five varieties, with examples over there; prices are on the back of the brochure. The tractor can show you around the farm, drop you off and pick you up. Or, you could walk out; we’ve got free hand carts on loan. Or you could drive your mini-van right up to the tree you want. We also have free horse-drawn carriage rides today; you could load up your tree on that if you’d like, or just ride around the farm with the kids.
There is free warm popcorn in the gift shop, free pictures with Santa, and a free coloring book for the kids. Is there anything I can help you with?”
Wahmhoff farms is a real place in Gobles, Michigan. When you purchase the tree, they have a machine that shakes out all the dead needles, then they can drill a hole in the bottom for free. (They also sell a special stand with a big peg in the middle.) For a dollar, they have a baling machine that essentially surrounds your tree in shrink-wrap.
Why am I telling you about Wahmoff farms? Well, think about the business model. A nice tree is a nice tree is a nice tree, but they are able to create competitive advantage anyway. They do it by giving stuff away. There was so much to do that we drive ten miles out of our way to make an aftertoon of it, and we’d gladly do it again.
When it got time for me to hand over my forty-five bucks (and it was forty-five because of the stand), I hardly even noticed I was paying, because it was surrounded by so much free. Yet the stand created lock-in; next year, we’ll think “We’d better go to Gobles, or else get out the drill …” or “Better not buy a fake tree, because we invested in that expensive tree stand …”
In the era of $79.95 looks-just-like real Christmas trees at Target, and heavy competition among real tree farms, Wahmhoff is doing something right, and the market is rewarding them for it.
Whymoff farms doesn’t have customers. They have fans. This is a different business model for technologists, and it’s one that I think is worth exploring.
Oh, By the way – the saw was wicked Sharp. They must sharpen them at least ever week …