Maize Quest’s “The Power of “We”” – Alleviating loneliness with collaboration.

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Being a small, farm business owner can be a lonely life. Long hours and geographic isolation, plus the isolation of being a business owner when everyone else has a job, makes it a tough road.
The toughest part isn’t being alone, though, it’s the isolation from the feedback, community and ideas of others.
Fortunately, that isolation need no longer be so deep. I’ll share with you a few tips and tricks to alleviate the isolation and open your business to fresh ideas and feedback from other business owners online.

NAFDMA online, year round. If you are reading this, you likely know that I’m a big supporter of the North American Farm Direct Marketing Association. it is the largest independent group of farm marketers and agritourism operators in the world.

(Aside: Why did I say “independent”? By independent, NAFDMA is a group that exists for, and is directed by, its members, and is, specifically, not controlled by a for-profit company, such as Maize Quest.)
NAFDMA recently made a big switch from being a convention-based organization to being a membership organization with benefits available all year, even if you don’t attend the annual convention. (You can read more about the membership benefits [CLICK] here.)

How to use Facebook for collaboration.One of the most widely accessed NAFDMA benefits is a Closed Facebook Group for members only. There I’ve seen questions from sky-diving farmers to peanut butter recipes to vendor recommendations. Each one a chance for brainstorming and sharing regardless of location or time of day.

Accessing a group like this can save you thousands of dollars and hours of time. The camaraderie of connecting with like minded business people is worth the low price of admission – Just $250 for a premium membership. (You’ve likely seen a dinner bill bigger than that!)  The neat thing is that the group is just one of the new benefits. (Have you seen the magazine? Email me for more info if you like.)

Buy the class, get the group included. The Private VIP Facebook Group is creating big value in our Agritourism Manager Boot Camp Class as well. It is so wonderful to be with a group of people, all working on the same problems at the same time.

Members post their homework assignments and get feedback and accountability from other classmates. (It was fun to see all the last minute crammers post the night before the assignment was due. Took me back to high school!)

Why this all matters.

  1. You can’t think of everything. Tap the Power of ‘We” by connecting with other like-minded individuals.
  2. We all need to connect and share as human beings. It’s good for us to talk, vent, solve, and receive help.
  3. Geography is no longer a limitation. Neither is time.
You can do it, too. Setting up a group is as easy as 5 clicks from your Facebook Home Page.
  1. Choose an “Open Group” for public topics.
  2. Choose a “Closed Group” for limited access
  3. Choose “Secret Group” for your own VIPs.

Invite some friends and collaborate, share pictures, videos, files, add questions and have discussions without being limited by space or time.

There is no longer a need to be alone in business and go without the benefit of peer-to-peer interaction each week or even each day.

 That is something you to which you can assign a great value.

I hope to connect with you soon.

Have a great week,
Hugh

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“Magical People”

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“It’s our people that make the difference.”
“Customer Service is our competitive advantage.”
“Our farm market people are the best.”
“Our CSA box packers are magical.” Magical People.

It sounds so good, doesn’t it? Corporate America would have us believe that every person in their vast army of workers is so wonderful no one could assail their positions in the market place. Yet somehow, those very same companies struggle against the tide of turnover and seem to launch endless sales to keep the cash-flow flowing.

Who are these Magical People?
Magical People come in all shapes sizes and positions within organizations. They seem to get the job done, be successful, grow the organization, take care of business, and outperform those around them. Eventually, they seem to magically make themselves irreplaceable. They take on more tasks and push themselves to the limit for the business.

Do Magical People work for you?
Is there anyone on your staff right now, family or employee, without whom you feel you couldn’t run the business? “If Karen left the payroll office, we’d be lost nest week.”
“If Jesus, stopped stocking the market, we’d have a disaster on our hands.”
“If Dan left for a week in harvest season, we’d be sunk.”
“No one can set-up a farmers market like Jodi.”

 

Are you Magical?
As business owners, we are likely the first Magical Person on the payroll. We do everything, still do everything and when someone else doesn’t do things right, we jump in a magically fix things ourselves. I am notoriously BAD at letting our register operators engage the guests. I’ve even jumped into a conversation, uninvited, because I was going to be “better” at it with my “Magical Abilities”. Ever do that yourself?Do you have a Magical Business?

The worse case scenario is that your entire business is magical, meaning that if the Magician steps away for an instant, POOF! It’s gone.The elusive hunt for Magical People looks like this: 

“Kid’s these days aren’t as good as they used to be.” Where those kids magical? 
“We just need to find the right [Magical] person and all our marketing troubles will go away.” 
“If only I find the right woman, then I won’t feel so bad about myself.” Searching for the Magical bride? Magic does not equal healthy.

It’s fine to have Magical People helping your run your Magical Business, but it’s not healthy. If fact, it is remarkably unstable. If a Magical Person gets sick, you’re in trouble. If you want a vacation, the business is in trouble. If you want to grow your business, you can, right up to the limit of what you and your Magical Staff can possibly handle in tasks, phone calls, tours, and exhaustion. Depending on magic means you have severe limitations.When Magical People move on.

In my life on the farm we’ve lost 5 indispensable people, and we’re still here. My Dad is 72 and is absolutely Magical, but we’ll be replacing him within the next 20 years, almost for sure.

False belief in Magical People.
They don’t exist. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Magical People don’t exist. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can move on from your childhood belief in Magical People. It’s time to pull back the curtain and see what’s behind those magical tricks.

Behind the curtain.
Pull back the curtain and what you’ll find is that the only magic people bring is the ability to create good operating procedures and behaviors to get themselves through the day and the work successfully. That’s it.

Don’t for a minute think that I’m raining on the parade of magical actions you’ve taken, magical sacrifices you’ve made.
You are magnificent! It’s just time to move on and grow your business, build your team from a group of wannabe magicians who wonder daily, “How does she do it?”, into a team with full access to your bag of tricks.That’s what the Agritourism Manager Boot Camp is all about,

and while we’d love for you to join us for an 8-Week Adventure in creating your own employee system, I’m going to tell you what needs to be done, so you could do it on your own.

Step 1. The real magic in is the process.
Magic example: Why is Jesse so good with the party guests? 

Jesse’s process behind the magic:
A. He knows what he’s doing. He’s hosted parties with Hugh, by his side, and he know exactly what to do.
B. Jesse listens to the kids and the mom to see that they are having fun.
C. Jesse serves food and drinks at the right time so no one is waiting or wondering what’s happening.
D. If there’s a problem, Jesse smiles and instantly fixes it. He has authority to make things right.
E. Jesse keeps things moving. Dead time is NOT fun time, so he keeps things going!

In the Boot Camp, you are hiring us to
coach you through a process, hold you accountable to completing that process and deliver the templates to make the process of creating your employee management system as easy as possible, but we’re not doing magic.
 
You can do this for yourself if you like. Start by breaking down the “Magical” things you and your top people do into steps you can teach future employees.

Does this concept of “Magical People” make sense?
Let me know what you think.Have a magnificent week,
Hugh
PS We’d love to help you. There’s a special on now for the remainder of the first 100 seats in Agritourism Manager Boot Camp. This is the online course in which we “coach the coaches”; coach you directly through the preparation you need to guide your team through the “big game” of fall harvest season.I hope you’ll join us for a FREE Preview April 22, at 2PM EST. Join SIXTY-FIVE other farms and register right now and you get additional coaching resources each week leading up to the LIVE webinar event.

If you can’t make it to the LIVE event, we’ll send you a link of the recording as soon as it’s loaded, IF you register above.

If you like what you see and are ready to be coached, you may reserve your seat in the class right now. You won’t be the first one reserved, but we still have seats with a BONUS, individual coaching call included with your class. Reserve for the class now and SAVE $400. 

“The Coach vs. The Manager”

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Hey Hugh,

Last week, we took a look at the difference a coach can make in the outcome of a race, with just a very words of encouragement. At the end of the story, which you can read here if you missed it, I promised a deeper look into the differences between managers and coaches. Most importantly the differences in the behaviors of managers and the behaviors of coaches. The model for change I’ve found important in my life has come in the broad strokes of “Believe”, “Act”, “Become”.

Let me give you an example:
If you want to be a better family member, more involved in your kids lives, you might be thinking.
I haven’t yet become a better person, so I can’t be a better Dad.
That ends the discussion right there, and you might proceed to return to your office for more work, because you believe you can’t be better.
“Believe” – “Act” – “Become” With a mindset of “Believe”, “Act”, “Become”, you would think like this:
“I believe that there is a way I can be a better Dad/Husband/Child.” If I were going to “act” like a good Dad, what would I do? [Create a list of Good Dad actions] Then pick an action, such as “I’m going to make it home for dinner ON TIME tonight” Repeat actions from the list. As you perform more actions from the list, lo and behold, you “Become” a better Mom/Dad/Spouse/Daughter.
I hate management. Well, I hate the term “management” as, to me, it conjures the image of a person who moves things around, but doesn’t move things forward. You are welcome to disagree, but at least you understand my position.
A coach, on the other hand, is someone who looks inside a person, sees the potential within that person and somehow figures out a way to get that person to realize that potential. Often the athlete or business person being coached didn’t even know of what he or she was capable, but the coach did.
The best players have coaches. They have managers, too, but the manager is simply “moving around” what the player earns. If the player isn’t well coached, her career in sports is short lived. I bet not a single player would, if prompted to be able to keep just one of the two, would choose the manager over the coach. The coach pushes the player forward.
The best teachers are coaches. I know that my favorite teachers were absolutely the toughest. Who was your favorite teacher? (TWEET This!) My 2nd grade teacher, who was so old she taught my father as well, was so mean I saw her grab a kid by the hair and sack him with a ruler. You didn’t cross Mrs. Stewart, but I excelled in her class because she wouldn’t let me slide. She saw inside me and pushed until I saw it, too.
The best FFA leaders are coaches. When we pieced together a rag-tag bunch of FFA kids for a Parliamentary Procedure Team in high school, our teacher was the only one one, I mean the only one, with the belief that we could make it to the state competition. We didn’t win, but we made it to Penn State to take a swing at it, because he looked inside each of us and believed more than we believed ourselves that it was possible.
The best business people are coaches. I have a friend who owns some Chick-Fil-A stores in Virginia and he told me years ago, “Making chicken is easy. We’re in the HR [Human Resources] business.” He’s been through it all on the HR front and the cornerstone of his chicken business is coaching and developing people. It’s also a source of great joy for him as he enjoys seeing “kids” develop into full-time staff.
The best farm operators are coaches. This means you. I encourage you to move from a limited position as a “manager” in to the role of “coach” this season. Mangers are just moving things around, barking orders, directing every micro-movement of their staff, desperately trying to control each person as they might a cog in a machine.
The bigger your operation gets, the more stressful things become as you feel control slipping from your grasp as the details of controlling each person multiply by an order of magnitude. You feel like you’re slipping down a slope and picking up speed.
(Ever feel like that?)
Coaches aren’t allowed on the field. My son plays soccer and this past year marked the change from coaches being allowed on the field with the youngest players, to coaches forbidden to leave the side line. Thus is your life as a farm operator. You can’t be in the game anymore. Your operation is too large. You can’t cover the field for your players. You can’t manage them individually on each and every play. You have to coach them and put them on the field. Just as it’s challenging to let go of the parental control of your child; to let that child make his or her own decisions, so to must you let go of the tight reigns you hold on your employees. You have to coach them, then let them on the field to play.
Let’s end with a few questions for you, as the coach: I challenge you to think through and write down your answers:
How much time to do you spend preparing to coach your staff? How much time do you spend in the locker room with them preparing for the game? How much time to you and your players spend practicing without a “live” opponent, or in our case, “live” guests? Would a collegiate basketball coach send his team onto the court without hours of practice? How much time do you spend developing your game plan? How much time do you spend developing “plays”, specific moves your team members must to take react to a given situation?
Each and every day we must make a choice: Coach or Manager. Are you going to “move things around and hold on for dear life” or look inside someone on your team and find a way to “pull out the potential” they might not even know they have?
Have a great week, coach. Hugh
PS We’d love to help you. There’s a special on now for the remainder of the first 100 seats in Agritourism Manager Boot Camp. This is the online course in which we “coach the coaches”, coach you directly through the preparation you need to guide your team through the “big game” of fall harvest season.
I hope you’ll join us for a FREE Preview April 22, at 2PM EST. Join SIXTY-FIVE other farms and register right now and you get additional coaching resources each week leading up to the LIVE webinar event.
If you can’t make it to the LIVE event, we’ll send you a link of the recording as soon as it’s loaded, IF you register above. If you like what you see and are ready to be coached, you may reserve your seat in the class right now. You won’t be the first one reserved, but we still have seats with a BONUS, individual coaching call included with your class. Reserve for the class now and SAVE $400.

  Hugh McPherson hughmc@cornmaze.com Maize Quest’s Maze Master 251 E Maple Lawn Rd New Park PA 17352 866-WE-LOSE-U Ext 102 www.CornMaze.com   www.MazeCatalog.com Join the Quest!
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Maize Quest 251 E. Maple Lawn Rd. New Park, Pennsylvania 17352 United States (717) 382-4878

What I learned #3: Get out. Why you need to leave.

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Travel is like running your business. You need to leave. Think about the last time you left for a trip. You rushed around trying to get last minute tasks done, knowing you would be there for a few days or a week. You were hyper efficient and even up until you ran out the door to catch the plane, you were still trying to squeeze one last task in. 

The last time this happened to me I was leaving for a 5-day board meeting out of town. I kept finding one more thing to do until I had to get  in the car and hit the road. As I pulled out of the drive way, the feelings of doing one more thing slowly started ebbing. The further I went, the less the pull of those nagging responsibilities.  

Halfway to the airport I felt a shifting of gears to acceptance – I was not going to be in my office for 5 days and I needed to engage in the task at hand. I had to let go of the routines, the habits I left back at the office.  

Routine and rut both start with ‘R”. You need routines, you need habits to be effective in your business. The trick is that you have to make the habits and routines positive so they run your life on autopilot in the right direction. Habits and routines, good or bad, have a way of slipping from view. It’s not really a habit if you have to think about it.  

Once a habit slips from your view, once you go on autopilot, you do the behaviors you’ve trained without thinking. You need to periodically break all ties with potential routines to you can look at your habits, your programmed behaviors, from a more universal viewpoint.  

Do you know someone on autopilot? Chances are, this person that instantly came to mind is not using positive habits. You probably thought of someone who is spiraling out of control and “can’t see it” happening. They are on autopilot to disaster.  

You know THEY need to “snap out of it”, “look around”, “get his head out of the sand”, “wake up” to what they are doing. They need to “leave” their present lives and examine themselves from another viewpoint.  

We can all think of extreme examples. Television makes a mint on cheap shows about people who are on autopilot for eating, doing drugs, spiraling out of control. The uplifting nature of the shows shines when the subjects go to “The Ranch” where trainers introduce them to the reality of their current lifestyles. It makes excellent melodrama. How many times did you sit there and say,“Well duh! You’re 500lbs! Can’t you see that you need to change?!”  

Well, no. They can’t and neither can you. None of us can see the changes that we need to make in our own lives because we live with ourselves everyday. These “big changes” we need snuck up on us slowly over time. That poor contestant didn’t gain 400 lbs in a week! She gained it 1lb a week for 8 years. 

So did you. The way you talk to your wife, the way you hate everything Jane from accounting does, the way you waste time on Facebook at work; that all snuck up on you slowly over time. 

You need to leave. You need to call a time out, not for vacation, but for self-analyzation. You may also need a vacation, but if that vacation is just a “drug of avoidance”, you will returnunchanged to the same routine that caused you to need the vacation in the first place. 

You need to leave to reposition yourself for the next year. You need to examine the things you do on autopilot. You need to list 1 thing you want to put on autopilot for the next year. 

I call it puttering. It’s what I do before I leave on a trip. My wife does it, too. Straightening items on my desk. Checking thermostats. Setting online back-ups to run. Syncing devices. Putting away paper clips. Puttering.  

There’s a time for puttering. Let yourself have it. Just know what it is and that you are just trying to grasp what you can of your old routine and old rut before you know you’ll be torn away from them. Go ahead and putter, then leave.  

Get on the plane. Go to a new coffee shop. Go to a college campus and stake out an unused classroom. Go somewhere else where you don’t have the things you are used to and take time.  

Take time to examine what you’re doing, what you’re doing without knowing your doing it, what you want to be doing and what you want to be doing without thinking about it. 

You need to leave. Your life, no matter how busy, will be waiting for you when you get back, but you might find yourself a whole new person; newly able to tackle it’s challenges. 

Have a great week, 
Hugh 

PS Like the past few posts? Why not become a subscriber to the Maize Quest Insiders Circle – It’s FREE. You’ll never miss a post, receive Insider Circle quarterly newsletter, get exclusive previews to events and discounts on new games and attractions.

Hugh McPherson

“The Maze Master”
Maize Quest

What I learned #2: Trust your people.

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The plight of the entrepreneur: How do you trust others to do what you do when you know you do it the best? Many of us still work every day in our businesses. You are the best at it. I know I’m the best at Maize Quest Fun Park – every dang position in the park and on the tractor and on the microphone and at parties and at campfires and at… you get the picture. You might even have been picturing yourself at your farm, out there being the best!That’s nice, but it’s reeeeeealy limiting. If you’re the only one who can do it, you just can’t get very big. Being you doesn’t scale very well. You really have no choice in the matter. You have to trust your people or you have to stay small.

You know you are supposed to delegate, but you’ve been burned! You got burned when that person didn’t follow-up as well as you would have. You got burned when your party hostess wasn’t as energetic as you could have been. You got burned when the pies got burned because you weren’t baking them. It seems like only you know how to get everything just right.

Some people think delegating is terrifying. I think being the only one who can do everything isMORE terrifying. Here’s how I got around it and began to trust my people.

1. Accept that you can’t do everything. I say it out loud. I say it to the employees and to interviewees. I say it to my wife. I say it to the mirror. You need to do the same. You may need to print it out on a label that you put on your computer monitor. “I can’t do everything.” Repetition and constant reminders get you in the mindset to think about how you can get help.

2. Pick the easy things to hand off first. In the previous email, you should have written out a list of things that waste your time. This is a place to start finding tasks to hand off.

Ex. I was calling in the bakery order each week. One week I had too much to do, so I asked Dee if she thought she could call in the order. She said, “Of course!” I told her, I’d help her figure out the quantities then she could take it from there. Job done. I never called in another order all year. Why was I calling it in myself? Only because my mom had always done it.

3. Set your people up for success. Before you hand anything off, set up a system so your people can be successful. The Fun Park gets opened right every day, not because I’m there barking orders, but because we have a simple system of checklists. I can stay in the office working until the first school bus rolls in because I know the gang can follow the list and get it done.

4. Make the big decisions, delegate the details. Recently, we had a number of items to list on eBay to sell. This takes a huge amount of time, so I walked through the process with Eric and he made all the listings, loaded the pictures, found comparison pricing, got everything ready to go.All I had to do was spend 1 minute per item reviewing the listing and click “List Item” to complete the task. 

You cannot do it all, even if you are the best. Get started on the simple 4 step process listed above. See if you can’t hand off even 1-2 tasks per week to your people. They will feel great and you will feel relieved.

Trust your people. They really can do it.

Have a great week,
Hugh

PS One last thing: Coach, don’t criticize. My rule is 80% – If a staff member can do it 80% as well as I can, I hand it off. If they mess up, I coach them. The tendency is to pounce on your employee the second they fall even minutely short.

You might say things such as, “I knew they couldn’t do it!” or “I knew I’d have to do it!” or “Just get out of the way and I’ll do it!” WRONG.

Instead, use the coaching method of questioning. Say, “Well, that wasn’t quite it. What could you do to get up to standard?” or “How could you do things more quickly next time?” or “What didn’t I tell you that would have helped you…”

Consider each reaction in the framework of “the goal is to never have to do it again”, not “Can I make sure everyone knows I’m the best at everything.”

Good luck, and by the way, this is hard to do. Luckily, it’s totally worth it.

What I learned #1: 3 Reasons to Identify Time Wasters

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Emailing multiple versions of files.
Telling the staff what to do at closing time.
Remembering the recipe.
Finding your vehicle registration.
How do we build those bridges?
Who’s on the clock?
What does she want for her birthday theme?
We always do the graphic layout that way.
Now I have to call all the staff on shift to tell them that…
Did that campfire get enough wood?Time. Busy, busy, busy. If only we had more time. Time keeps on ticking into the future. Time waits for no man. A stitch in time saves nine. Busy, busy, busy. We all waste time. Sometimes on purpose, but mostly we’re so busy we can’t see that we may be active, but we aren’t being effective. We’re filling every waking moment, but we’re wasting time.

I realized that we had some broken systems when this season we grew the business, but found ourselves drowning in work. At one point I realized that we couldn’t get much bigger, unless we got a whole lot better. We had to stop wasting time.

To do this, we began with a meeting between the top staff to discover the tasks, items, calls, questions that were sucking away our productive time. You might call it a “bitch session”, but you have to start somewhere. Generally, even “bitching” is based in some fact, on some real annoyance.

Throughout this process, we discovered a few very interesting reasons why you occasionally have to stop working and look at the way you work.

Here are some reasons why you, too, need to stop working to identify your time wasters.

1. Time is the most valuable asset a business possesses. Your time. Your staff’s time. Your guest’s time. It is incredibly valuable and you are wasting it – needlessly.

2. New time creates opportunities. You increase your business and personal capacity if you eliminate time wasting activities. Time = Opportunity. Notice I said, opportunity, not money. You have the opportunity to eat dinner with your kids. Your staff has the opportunity to do the real work that makes clients happy. Your sales team has the opportunity to make more calls. Your party planner has the time to get things right on the first order. You have to eliminate time wasters or you are handicapping your business and your people.

3. It boosts morale. If you take the time to listen to your employees, coworkers and partners, you may find that they can save your time and you can save their time. Happy employees take good care of your guests. If your people are so busy they can’t think straight, they will make mistakes and your clients will suffer.

We had so many group leaders calling asking the same questions Michelle nearly had a breakdown. She was stuck doing busy work instead of caring for guests. Our system was broken and it wears your staff out.

4. Bonus #1:  No offense, but you can’t even see the big time wasters in your business. Time wasters creep in slowly, you have to stop working to see them. Systems get old. Technology gets slow. Employees and owners alike develop systems to cope with the broken process. No one will say, “Hey, here’s a big time waster!” Likely they will soldier on looking very busy indeed.

If you don’t stop working you can’t spot time wasters. Your homework for the week is to hold a meeting and ask your family, management or other top-level people in your organization two simple questions:

“What takes up most of your time?”
and
“What do you feel really wastes your time?”

Have a great week,
Hugh

PS Bonus #2 If you really want to get feedback, have each person right his or her name on 3×5 cards or sticky note and answer the questions above for himself or herself. After they hand the cards in, have them write down the person’s name seated to the right of each of them, and answer the questions for that person.

Post the notes clustered by each person’s name on the wall or white board so everyone can see each person’s internal and external time challenges.

It’s especially interesting to learn what others observe about how we each spend our time.

I’m sorry. Where has 2013 gone?

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I really am sorry. It’s been a crazy 12 months full of opportunities, struggles and just life in general. I know that many of you have enjoyed reading my blog/email about agritourism, business ownership and farm life. This year I just couldn’t do everything I wanted to; I just couldn’t get the time to write for you and I’m sorry. 

I never really thought I’d be a writer, and you can tell my style is pretty informal – to say it politely. Hearing back from so many friends in the farm entertainment industry has made it a life-line for me, and hopefully for you. Through writing, I found that I was not alone. There were other crazy people just like me trying to figure things out. Trying to make their businesses work better. Trying to be more profitable, just as I was and as I am. 

So, I hope you’ll accept my apology. Heck, you can write to me about your crazy year, too. I’ll listen. 

The good news is this: I learned a lot this year. I got put through the wringer of change and new ideas and I’d like to share them with you over the winter months and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to hold it together throughout the 2014 season for you. 

There is much more ready to come your way. If you’d take just 2 minutes, I’d love to hear from you what you specifically are interested in learning about over the winter months. Click here to check a few boxes and help me get aimed in the right direction. 

Thanks for reading, emailing, comment and all the encouragement over the years. As we go into our 18th season at the Maize Quest Fun Park, I look forward to learning and growing together with you. 

Have a great week, 
Hugh 

PS Would you like a preview? Let me share this: We didn’t have a perfect crew this year, did visit Great Wolf Lodge (3 part series), hired a marketing company (yes, I hired a marketing company), experimented with an aerial drone, had the largest 7 days of farm and maze revenue in our history, we’re completely renovating our computer/files/server system, and we increased pumpkin sales 62%.

 
It’s all coming up through the blog. Can’t wait to tell you all about it.