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Deer camp or corporation, biz basics the same

As I See It

The hunting season for deer has drawn to a close in Mississippi, and it`s a month or so before turkey season opens.

So, right now is my time to really enjoy getting into the woods. The bugs and snakes are gone, the briars are somewhat wilted and the deer are still out in the open. The hunters have gone home so there`s no need to worry about disturbing anybody.

The past season was my first with a new club in Simpson County. I inherited the mantle of leadership last summer, and wasn`t left with much time to build the club before hunting began in the late fall. In fact, it took us until August to get the former club`s members and property removed so that we could move in. A stressful time for all concerned. But, we farmed the best we knew how and signed up a few kindred souls who were willing to bet that the future would be better than the present and had a pretty good season.

Even though deer hunting is more pastime for me than anything else – and certainly not a profitable undertaking – I am reminded that running a club is not so very different from running a business. You have to deal with the same basic elements of marketing, finance, people and production. They are the very basics that every business must address.

Starting a club and keeping members happy is certainly an exercise in marketing. Even though managing a club does not pay anything, members expect to be treated like it does. They are the customers and the customer must be kept relatively happy or, just like a business, they will go elsewhere. The landowner is also an important customer and his interests must be served as well.

Our location is not known for producing trophy deer. Were we located in the Delta or Madison County, or even Hinds County, the job would be much easier since these areas do regularly produce trophy deer.

Consequently, we must offer other amenities to make our deal competitive with the other locations. We have a very nice clubhouse facility, we’re farming fall and summer as best we know how in order to build a good deer herd and we have asked the landowner to build a fishing lake to add even more value to membership in our club.

The extra cost of farming poor soil and the fact that we have over 5,000 acres drives the cost of membership to the upper level of acceptability. The former club abused our deer herd, so we are limiting the harvest to build the herd. Thus, we have a huge tract of land, nice clubhouse and relatively few members to tote the financial freight. The dues are pretty high but so are the bills and, just as with any organization, we must have sufficient revenue to pay the tab or we will be out of business.

Managing people in a business setting requires that the company`s values be respected and adhered to or the offending employee must be replaced. The same is true in a deer club. The club establishes rules to protect the safety and promote the enjoyment of the members, and any member found lacking in commitment to the rules has to go. We want to create a family friendly environment where members don`t fear being embarrassed when they are at the club. We want to be respectful of the game laws and good stewards of the landowner`s property. Any member who doesn`t share that vision can`t be in the club. Likewise, in business, any employee who doesn`t share the company`s vision has to be replaced.

What have I learned from my one partial year as deer club CEO? A lot. I was raised on a farm and decided that the work was just too hard for me to choose farming as a vocation. It`s still hard work. In spite of the improvements in farming technology and equipment, the farmer is still at the mercy of the weather.

I’ve also learned how difficult it is to get a disparate group of members all marching to the same tune. Each one comes to the club with his own expectations of how things are going to be and sometimes those expectations are different from mine. Imposing rules on people`s hobby is a tough sell.

On the whole it has been a good season. The members were cooperative for the most part, and I think most of them will stay with the club. We made it through the season without any accident that I know of and that`s a blessing.

The payoff for me is access to a huge tract of land where I can sit outside at night and not hear anything human. No traffic. No blaring TV. Nothing but the sounds of nighttime in the woods. It`s so quiet I can actually hear myself think.

Thought for the Moment – How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn`t make it a leg.

– Abraham Lincoln

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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