Thoughts about business and economic development in rural areas.


September 2007
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Archive for September 17th, 2007

It’s a matter of time…

Just participated in the 40th Annual Wo-Zha-Wa Run in Wisconsin Dells. The festival held in this tourism destination point on the 2nd weekend after Labor Day is wildly successful. Thousands of people invade the community over the weekend and every homeowner that chooses to do so can park their lawn full of cars at $5 a pop. The town is that full.

But that wasn’t always the case. I know, because I’ve run in 37 of those 40 events. In the early years, Wo-Zha-Wa (which is a Ho-Chunk term for “fun times or to have fun” was just a local end-of-season clearance sale for tourist related businesses as they closed for the season. Local service clubs ran brat & beer stands to make a few bucks which they hadn’t been able to do during the Summer because all their members were working 7 days a week to take advantage of the short tourist season which was the community’s only industry. And it was a chance for the locals to relax and celebrate the end of another hectic, anc hopefully successful, season. If several hundred people showed up that was a big deal. In fact, after three years there was a discussion about cancelling the event because of its small draw. ‘No one was going to come to the Dells after Labor Day’ was the oft repeated local mantra.

The most powerful tourism center in the entire state couldn’t create a successful event after three years of trying so what hope do any of us have when it comes to changing customer habits. Right? Well something obviously changed. But what was it? Over the next few entries I’ll share my view on what happened and why.

The first lesson learned is that everyting takes time. Just because something is a good idea or has potential doesn’t mean it will be instantly successful. Word of mouth is the key. The hot term today is ‘viral marketing’ but it’s really the same thing. But word of mouth takes time…..more time today than we might think given our belief that everything is ‘instant’ in our electronic world. Now go back to 1968 when this festival started and consider how much time it would take for word-of-mouth to work its magic, especially when you have a festival name that noone can pronounce.

By the way….Wo-Zha-Wa is pronounced…….Ah, you’ll get it. It’s just a matter of time.