Run a seasonal business

Run a seasonal business

The Elmhirst Resort in Keene, Ont., is open 365 days a year, but nearly half the 340-acre site’s revenue comes in during June, July and August. Co-owner and general manager Greg Elmhirst is constantly challenged not only to keep the resort’s summer programs popular, but also to lure in visitors during the cooler months of the year. Tapping into wisdom passed down from the three previous generations of Elmhirsts – dad Peter still owns half the biz – Greg shares his thoughts on how to master seasonal ebbs and flows

Staff smart

In winter, spring and fall, the resort still needs manpower for a wide range of tasks, so Greg makes sure his team of 43 — it swells to 55 in summer — are never idle. “We have a core of year-round staff and as much as possible we try to cross train them to work in different departments,” he says. Front-desk and office staff will pitch in for large banquets and during busy housekeeping days. No one minds: it keeps the work varied and year-round staff appreciate the regular hours.

Try new things

To lure visitors all year, the resort added a restaurant in 1981, then an indoor pool, outdoor pool and riding stables in 1996 and a health club a year later. It also keeps trying new promotions, such as the fall Wild Women Weekend, which it introduced in 2005 and includes target shooting and horseback riding. When the resort opened a spa in 2010 – it’s run by Greg’s wife, Martina Linde, a massage therapist – the women’s weekend started selling out. “We found out it just needed a little bit more indulgence,” says Elmhirst.

Be sustainable

Ecological initiatives at the resort are good for the land and for marketing, but they also help keep year-round costs down. Elmhirst installed two new biomass boilers last winter, which will lower heating bills, and more shoreline plantings will slow erosion and save time and money during spring maintenance.

Track it

Seasonal businesses must closely track cash flow to help them get through the quieter months, says Elmhirst. He also looks at data over the last five years – the number of rooms booked, for instance – to inform purchasing for the future. One thing he will not adjust, though, is the number of summer hires. “If I look ahead and there’s a lean week, then I deal with that through a sales and marketing plan to fill rooms.”

Stay in touch

Elmhirst’s customers only visit once or twice a year. The resort is well-stocked with comment cards, but to find out what visitors want all year long – and to circulate info about resort promotions – he now cultivates a strong social media presence on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. “It’s a business where you can very definitely be left behind,” says Elmhirst.

-Diane Peters / Illustration by Warren Wheeler