Rick Martell, the youngest of the three siblings that own The Garden Factory was looking for something to boost the Rochester, New York, garden center’s Fall Family Fun days past the typical offerings. Carnival rides and pumpkin decorating were all right, but he wanted to kick it up a notch.
First, they tried a Halloween version of a Christmas lights show. It was decent, but still not the showstopper he had in mind.
“Then we decided last year, let’s go completely off path and try something new,” Martell says. “I’m going to build a dinosaur park and a little kids’ construction area.”
The Little Digger Construction Site contains four customized excavators and sandboxes. The Prehistoric Park includes 15 animatronic dinosaurs.
The additions have been a huge success. Foot traffic tripled. The first Saturday in October, which is traditionally the IGC’s strongest fall day, 2,330 people visited the Prehistoric Park.
In the first three weekends of the event, 14,000 people visited the Prehistoric Park and the excavators (which are equipped with ride counters) had more than 5,000 turns. At its longest, there was a 90-minute wait for the excavators. Martell says he’s going to add four more next year, to bring the total to eight. Martell plans to add 5-6 more dinosaurs for 2020 to keep momentum going.
The Garden Factory first Facebook post about the Little Diggers, a short video, provided a huge marketing boost. The post reached 125,000 people, 70,000 views and 1,000 comments.
One of the main goals of the fall family fun events is to create a base of new customers. Martell says many of the visitors were overheard saying “We’ve never been here before.”
General admission to family fun days is free, but activities require tickets, which are $1 each. The Prehistoric Park is six tickets (2 years and under are free), and the excavators are four tickets for three minutes. There are other carnival rides as well, like a bounce house, merry-go-round and train.
The Garden Factory sets up its Fall Family Fun activities in the 77,000 square-foot retail area where annuals are sold in spring and summer. It’s typically empty in the fall.
After the activities close down at 4 p.m., the store stays open another hour for visitors to buy pumpkins, mums and other fall products.
The Garden Factory hired five part-time high-schoolers to staff the Prehistoric Park and seven for the Little Digger Construction Site.
The Garden Factory’s parking lot has 460 spaces, but the IGC didn’t want to be caught off-guard if the event proved popular. They moved all bagged and bulk materials elsewhere, making room for another 200 cars.
The event ran on weekends from Sept. 28 through Oct. 27, for 10 total days.
Watch for more in the November issue of Garden Center.