When I was 22 years old, I drove from Colorado to Connecticut to start my first job following college. If you’ve ever drove east out of Colorado, you know that most people end up taking Interstate 70, which stretches for over 400 miles across Kansas.
For those of you who’ve driven this highway, no sooner are you over the Kansas border motoring east when you start seeing signs like the one above proclaiming that if you stop in Prairie Dog Town in Oakley, Kansas, that you’ll get to see a Russian Wild Boar, an 8,000 pound prairie dog, and a live 5-legged cow.
For a 22 year old like myself, starting his first career job and feeling very free and adventurous, the first time I saw this sign, I knew I had to stop. I mean seriously: Who doesn’t want to see an 8,000 prairie dog and a cow walking around with 5 legs?
Once you cross the border at Kanorado, Kansas (yes, that’s its name, and think about how few cities really have names that tell you their exact location), it’s about 75 miles to Oakley. And just to make sure you don’t forget that there’s an 8,000 pound burrowing rodent waiting for you, the owner of Prairie Dog Town placed hand-made-looking signs all along the interstate.
Now, some of you who are Kansas experts know that the Prairie Dog Town attraction is now closed, but let me clarify that their business closure happened fairly recently. For decades, this interstate highway tourist attraction remained open, so much so that any time I drove through Kansas, in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and nearly all through my 50’s, this place remained open, beckoning me with their signs to stop.
But let’s get back to when I was 22, and first decided to stop and see Prairie Dog Town. If my memory is right, it cost me $15 to get in. There were several rooms filled with stuffed animals (stuffed by taxidermists, not cuddly teddy bear stuffed animals), and many cages with animals stuffed in them. I remember one glass cage filled with rattlesnakes, and I do remember asking to see the Russian Wild Boar, which looked more like a small pig that had very little wildness about him.
Honestly, the cages didn’t interest me. I wanted to see the massive rodent and the 5-legged cow. I can share this with you now that the attraction is closed: The 8,000 pound prairie dog was actually a concrete statue. I remember protesting to the owner of the business that I had expected a massive live prairie dog, but he just kind of laughed me off as a City Boy that didn’t understand animals and pointed out that he never had said it was alive.
Which brings me now to the LIVE 5-legged cow: There were several cows out in the nearly-all-dirt pasture, but none that had 5 legs. It was easy to look at their legs from afar and see that every cow I spotted only had 4 legs on the ground. When I again protested that his signs had misled me, he took me out to a cow in the far pasture. We approached it together, and he told me that this was his live, 5-legged cow. Well, it really didn’t have 5 legs touching the ground, but it did have 4 on the ground and one long appendage hanging off its shoulder. Genetically, yes it was a leg that was horribly deformed that had sprung from this cow, but without his pointing it out, I would have assumed it was just some elongated shoulder growth, City Boy I was.
I left Prairie Dog Town a little disillusioned, feeling cheated out of $15, but moderately pleased that I had at least seen an animal oddity that I’d never seen before.
So here’s my question to all of you: In the 35+ years following my visit to Prairie Dog Town, do you think I ever stopped again to see how these animals?
Nope. Definitely not! I never stopped at that place again, even though I drove past it scores of times over the decades. One time, being conned and misled by this attraction, had caused me to decide that I’d never stop again.
My lesson to all of you is probably obvious, but I must say it: With today’s customer, you can ALWAYS get them to come in once. That’s not the problem. Getting a consumer to come into your business ONCE is NEVER a problem! It’s actually quite easy to run a nifty ad, place a creative Facebook ad or post, or use any of the myriad of social media tools that are available to your business today and it is EASY to get the consumer to come to your business. One-time!
But if you ever convince a consumer to come in your doors and you’ve conned them, or deceived them, don’t expect them back. It will be a one-time victory, but the negative ramifications of your one-time success will be devastating to your business, especially in this world of viral social media.
The sad truth is that there are business owners every day relying on 5-Legged Cow Marketing to lure consumers in for a one-time hit.
Don’t be one of them!
That’s all for this week, everyone! Have a great weekend!