Making the Ordinary Extraordinary Again

Mar 26, 2014 | Becoming a Destination Business, General

If you’d like to witness something spectacular that you’ll remember the rest of your life, you should make your way to Kearney, Nebraska within the next 2 weeks. Here’s why:

There is a great bird migration of lesser sandhill cranes that annually comes to Kearney, for just one month, from the first part of March through the first part of April, and there, on the Platte River, half-a-million lesser sandhill cranes stop on their migration to the north. This migration happens annually at the same time, and has been happening like this for millions of years.

If you didn’t catch that number, it’s 500,000 birds, all in one place. I don’t know about you, but I had never been up close to 500,000 of anything at any one time, and the opportunity to see half a million birds, all in one place, intrigued me.

I know you’re skeptical. There’s a business lesson here.  Keep reading.

The cranes spend their winters in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico, and then, around the end of February, start their migration north. On their trip north, they stop in Kearney on the Platte River where the Rowe Sanctuary has been created.

A typical sandhill crane day in Kearney goes like this: 500,000 of them sleep together in the middle of the river every night (they use the water for protection from predators) and every the morning, they all fly off together to feed in the corn fields (there is no corn growing at this time of year, just chopped off stalks). Though I’d starve out in those fields, these birds feast during the whole month, increasing their weight from 6 pounds to 7.2 pounds, a 20% increase!

At sunset, after eating all day, they all fly back in huge swarms and land back in the river.  Cranes from different parts of the world all reconnect with their crane friends, jumping around squawking at each other. Then, they depart all at once, in early April, and off they go to northern Canada, Alaska, and some to eastern Siberia.  There the females lay their eggs, and then, the eggs hatch.  As winter approaches, the sandhill families all fly south back to those warmer places.  And so it goes, year after year, repeating the process, always ending up in Kearney at the beginning of March.

When I heard about this migration in Kearney for the first time, I doubt you’ll be surprised when I tell you that my wife was less than enthusiastic to grab the car keys, pack a bag, and drive 367 miles to go see a bunch of birds in the winter in Nebraska. But after some convincing, we reserved our spots for a Saturday morning and evening viewing at the Rowe Sanctuary, where you pay $25 per person to be part of a group of 60 people who are allowed to watch the birds from a camouflaged blind, right next to the river. There you can look out through a hole in a brick wall and take pictures of the cranes, sight unseen.  The morning viewing lets you see them when they wake up and fly off to the corn fields, and an evening viewing has 500,000 of them flying back and landing en masse in the river.

A couple of years ago, we drove to Kearney one Friday, and when we got to our hotel, here’s what happened:  The front desk clerk asked us what we were doing in Kearney for the weekend.  We told her.

“We’re here to see the sandhill cranes.”
“You drove here to see birds?”
“There are 500,000 of them here, the largest migration of its kind.”
“Birds huh?  If you drive out to that bridge, you can see them.”
“No, we’re going to the Rowe Audubon sanctuary next to the river.”
“Where’s that?”
“It’s right next to the Platte, 7 miles east of here.”
“Never heard of it.”
“People come from all around the world to see the cranes, you know?”
“No kidding.”

It soon became apparent that many people we met knew little about the Rowe sanctuary, and though all of the people we met were very friendly, they seemed somewhat bewildered that we would spend an entire weekend in their city to watch birds.

So it probably won’t surprise you that in our group of 60 that went out to the blinds the first morning, there were only four Nebraskans, and they had driven almost 200 miles from Omaha to get there. The 56 other people were from all over the United States (a group of 11 bird watchers came from Delaware), along with visitors from Denmark, Germany, and England.

Yes, the Rowe Sanctuary is a Destination!

Now that you are likewise fascinated, here are the lessons you can apply to your business:

  1. Is there an extraordinary part of your community that you and others have come to take for granted?  There usually is in any city or town. What attractions, historic features, natural beauty, or other components of your city or town have you become “immune” to seeing?  Put yourself in the role of a visitor, and make a list of the places that people must see if they come to your area.
  2. Why not start telling the stories about these “attractions” through your marketing materials?  Describe, market, and promote these parts of your community, and your business will benefit from the attention that occurs with your cross-promotional efforts.
  3. Target the visitors who could be coming to see these attractions.  A passive business waits for someone else to bring customers to their area; a proactive business looks at opportunities that no one else is taking and capitalizes on them.
  4. Here’s one final slap-upside-the-head point to remember: If you have a business that provides a good product or service, there are more people who don’t know about your business than those who do.  Are there aspects of your business that are extraordinary, but you no longer tell the story because you think everybody already knows about it? Every day, I see businesses incorrectly assume that everyone knows what they sell and what they offer, and every day, new people walk through your doors, and they HAVEN’T HEARD YOUR STORY. Now’s the time to look at your business anew, retell what you’ve come to take for granted, and watch as new customers come to your business because of it.

Now we regularly go and see the sandhill cranes during our winter trip to Kearney. But it never fails that when we’re there, we run into business owners who have let the extraordinary around them become ordinary. When I ask them about their business and ask them about their sales, I listen as they complain about the economy and customer traffic.

And all the while, hundreds of new visitors are coming to their city from around the world, walking around, trying to discover something to do, trying to spend their money.

Until next week,

Jon Schallert

PS: Can’t make it to Kearney this year? Watch the cranes on the Rowe Sanctuary webcam by clicking here.