“Show up every day, all day. And when you’re there, give it your all.” Christine Loneman
Christine Loneman got the entrepreneurial bug early, in her grandparents western wear store. “I remember the way it smelled when you walked in. … My grandmother always had somebody upfront on a stool, elevated, because she would measure them for their custom chaps or square dance apparel or exciting western wear. And I think she just made everyone feel really special.” Faulkner’s Western Store was where Christine learned the value of hard work and great customer service. She studied hospitality management at the University of Missouri and then went to work for her parents in their event business at Benjamin Ranch. She coordinated the ranch’s events, and then August through October she would run the seasonal family pumpkin patch on the family farm where she grew up. She describes herself as a proud wife, mother of two and a passionate entrepreneur, and today she’s partners with her father, Bob Faulkner, and her brother Matt at Faulkner’s Ranch Event Venue. This March is the 10th year of their current location and the 20th pumpkin season they have produced.
Starting in the Family Business
The store started because of a need for space. As Christine tells the family story, “My grandmother was a school teacher and my grandfather worked for the electric company. After a hard day’s work he would come home and my grandmother would have women inside her home and fitting them for shoes, square dance shoes. There’s no place to buy them back then. So, I think he quickly realized that she needed a place to sell the shoes other than the living room and they set up a store and started selling all kinds of square dance attire and then that blossomed and bloomed into Western wear.”
Christine realized she wanted to be part of the family business full time when she was in college. “So [in] college probably I knew I loved business. I loved marketing. The only choices back then were hospitality management and it was hotels or restaurants. Those were the only event venues. There was no ranch management. I wanted to do events. That’s really what the Benjamin ranch was. It was a great location. They would bring conventions from downtown Kansas City out to the Benjamin ranch and throw huge barbecue for them with bands and barbecue and private rodeos and things of that nature. So, it wasn’t something that I could go tell my college advisor I want to do that. There’s no major or classes for it. So I went through their hospitality management program.”
Pumpkin Patch Entry into Business
The first year the pumpkin patch wasn’t really a patch. “I knew that that pumpkins would be a challenge for our family because in September and October at the Benjamin ranch, that was historically the busiest time for corporate events and weddings. So I thought, how are my parents going to do that? They grew a ton of pumpkins that year and I wasn’t home, but they would put them up by the roadside and people would drive by and put $5 in the mailbox and take a pumpkin. And so [Dad] saw something. He called me up and said, ‘you know, there’s really something to this. If you would come home and create a pumpkin patch, I think people would come out and spend time and buy pumpkins from us.’ And so I did. That’s what I did after school.”
Building out the pumpkin patch led to Christine looking for help, and a new appreciation for the intricacies of business.. “It’s important to have a mentor. I don’t know where I would be today without my mentor, Bob. He’s taught me so much about business things that I did not learn in college. And [things] that I could only learn through the time that we’ve spent together doing this together. … I hear him tell people all the time if you want to go into business, major in accounting because that’s what business is. And so recently in my career he’s been teaching me and I’ve been taking over the bookkeeping and that’s such a huge part of it, and I’m really enjoying getting involved with that. And that’s been motivating me.”
Expanding Faulkner’s Ranch
The sale of Benjamin Ranch to Cerner led to the purchase of new land and a desire to continue the event business on a bare patch of ground. That required some work. “starting with the Faulkner’s Ranch expansion and the building of that. … When we bought the place it was a pasture. And then we built a building.” Building that building took a little planning, but more planning and new experiences went into building their commercial kitchen. “After we built the venue itself and started to get established, that’s when we built a commercial kitchen in 2015. So I’m going through that whole process was very eye opening for me as far as working through the city and the permit, so the code of certifications and all of that and, so it never goes as planned.
This process led to several lessons. The first of which is “you should be flexible in every project.
You should be very, very flexible.” Detailed planning was another lesson. “But, but overall I would say we ended up with what we started planning for as far as our commercial kitchen goes and I think that that was probably one of the biggest milestones for Faulkner’s ranch.”
Great Customer Service
Serving multiple business segments, from the pumpkin patch to corporate events and even children’s pony parties, is a challenge. Having great customer service begins with knowing your customers. “I use a marketing consultant, and our first approach was called duct tape marketing. What we were doing was duct taping the whole thing, putting together packages, finding out who our ideal clients are, where they’re hanging out and how to get them this information. And that was really eye opening. We even named our ideal picnic clients and continue to call them that same name today and think about them all the time. They’re fictional characters, but they’re not.” Personalizing your ideal client makes them real to you, and you can do a better job serving them. “We really took a look at who [are] our ideal clients and what do they need and [what we do] is [make] them the hero. At the end of the day, we’re behind the scenes doing all the work, but they’ve planned this awesome company picnic and we want them to receive the accolades.”
Customer service also means not overstretching yourself. Take the sales position for instance. “Having a person in sales, this will be five years now. I used to do all the sales. All of them. And so having somebody to help me with that has allowed me to take more of a operations of approach. In small business, as you all know, everyone wears all the hats, right? And so I looked around and we looked around and we saw our sales person is spending a lot of time hiring and staffing these events that she’s selling. Huge stress on that. And I would just prefer that that person focuses on selling the event. So I’m trying, this is new, to take that off of her plate, trying to give away the hats.” Having a team and delegating responsibilities helps you grow beyond yourself.
If You’re Just Starting a Business
Christine has great advice for those just starting their own businesses. “Well, I go back to the mentor. I mean having somebody by your side that has been there, done this can stay calm, stay the course. See I had planned for the future. All of those things. I think having a mentor for any person wanting to go into business is huge.”
You can learn more about Faulkner’s Ranch and all the fun things you can do there at https://www.faulknersranch.com/
Studio Audience Q & A