End of the Season reflections…
A note about my blogs…
I have not been very consistent with my blogs. Partly because our season and life get in the way. But mostly because I am not sure if there is an audience for these blogs. Marijn and I have always been of the opinion, that when something does not add value, don’t do it.
What motivated me to start writing again, is that aside I enjoy writing, to my surprise many of our guests read these blogs and like them. They shared three suggestions and observations. One that these blogs are enjoyable to read for existing Hideout guests who have been and understand what is written about.
Secondly that I need to continue to write the way I write. One of our longtime repeat guests from Germany, Dieter, who travels the world, was instrumental in encouraging me to continue. But write in your own style, he added. Don’t clean it up too much to what is supposed to be “the correct writing”.
In this blog I would like to share some experiences from the past and look in the future.
Thank you, Dieter for encouraging me to start writing again! This blog is dedicated to you.
Nothing sadder than an empty guest ranch.
Empty cabins, parking lot and main lodge. Closed pool and hot tub. Pulling all shoes of the horses, give them a good trim, and turn them loose in the winter pastures at Trapper. All trucks and trailers parked for the winter. Empty kitchen and dining room. No happy sounds during cocktail hour coming from the bar area. On top of that all the green lawns turn brown from the frost and cold weather. No green or fall leaves on the trees anymore.
Seeing staff seasonal staff and team, whom we worked closely with throughout our season, or several seasons, leave the ranch, is not a nice feeling. Everybody deserves a long goodbye, but at the same time everybody is happy to rush home and enjoy some down time.
No, nothing sadder than a guest ranch without guests. But we could not have wished for 18 nicer guests to close our last week of the season. And taking it a bit easier, not needing to be “on” all the time is also nice for a change.
We are already starting our preparations for your 2023 Season! Thank you for visiting our ranch.
27 years of Hideout – Facing the same and different challenges
Every year on closing another season it is time to not only reflect on the season, but on the many seasons working or vacationing at The Hideout. The Hideout was founded in 1993 and opened as a guest ranch in 1994. Marijn and I came for the first time to Shell, Wyoming when The Hideout was still under construction in 1993. So, this is the 30th year of The Hideout as a guest ranch.
Please enjoy some pictures of the past….
1992 Marijn, Peter, Paula, and David
We came 13 years as guests and call The Hideout home and work for 17 years. We managed The Hideout for my aunt Paula until we bought it from her in 2017. Prior to moving from Belgium to Shell, we not only vacationed here with our own family, but I also traveled multiple times with my international corporate teams from across Europe, Middle East, Africa, and US to The Hideout. As incentive trips, team building, cross-cultural workshops, and leadership trainings. Sometimes several times a year. We conducted Leadership Workshops using Horses as a Medium, integrating the basics of groundwork, horsemanship, and Meyers Briggs personality concepts. Concepts we are still using today in the way we manage and train our teams at The Hideout, and during clinics. We organized team experiences using low stress stockman ship driving cattle in teams through obstacles on horseback. We hosted But Williams Stockman ship Clinics, Curt Pate & Parelli clinics, Amy Bowrs, Farrah Green, etc. I am pretty sure one of these seasons we will turn some of these concepts into guest activities at The Hideout.
2003 – Peter with international corporate team on Leadership & MBTI clinic at The Hideout
We have been guests, customers, investors, managers, and owners. We observed and analyzed our ranch from many different perspectives and over many years. We listened and continue to listen to feedback, suggestions, and observations of the many well-meaning and very experienced pro’s among our guests. All pro’s on The Hideout Experience. And sometimes guests have different opinions and views on what kind of guest ranch The Hideout needs to be.
Low Stress Stockman ship Clinic at The Hideout by the great and late Bud Williams.
All people who had, and have, very warm feelings for the ranch. Over the years we have seen many changes, but also many things that remained the same. And most of what we experience is also experienced by many other guest ranches and seasonal operations.
Since its founding, The Hideout saw multiple wranglers (approx. 150?), chefs (8), head wranglers (7), office staff (8), and yes many, many guests (13,500?), come, go, come back, stay away, and come back.
Benchmarking against the staff turnover in other seasonal operations, The Hideout has enjoyed a very high number of years staff and returning seasonal staff stayed on board and returned for several seasons. Of course, the entire Covid situation will no doubt impact this also. And we are still a seasonal operation, and continuously changing staff goes with that territory.
Past season we spend the evening together with guests who have been coming to The Hideout since 1997, indulging in the many experiences, changes, personalities, challenges, funny situations, they experienced. It was one of those evenings soothing for mind and soul. Not in the least because confronted with the fact we came a long way but are also getting older.
Melanie and Claire are always very excited around this time of the year. It’s Cowboy Payday, the time of the year they bring their calves to market. Looking at their happy faces it was a good Cowboy Payday. Our guests really enjoyed working Claire and Melanie’s cattle grazing Trapper ranch and White Creek Ranch. Claire also rode several days as a wrangler taking out guests, who loved riding with this old gentle cowboy, listening to all his stories. Simplicity comes after a lot of complexity.
Perfect does not exist – but we can try. Riding for the brand
It was always our goal, working for other companies and organizations, observing the many bosses and leaders throughout our careers prior to heading The Hideout, that the day we would have our own business, we would want it to be the best place to work, and Marijn and I the best employers to work for. That is still our goal. And that whoever works at The Hideout, short or long term, looks back and will conclude this was a unique and life changing experience. For some that will only become clear after some years. An experience where every day everybody tried to make it the best place ever. A place where we deeply care. Not just a place to work. Because we strongly believe that employees can only really care about the guests, horses, and organization, if they feel cared for. A place where we make a difference for the ones we serve.
We still believe that, and that is still our goal, to create a well-balanced work environment. But I believe over the years we got a little more realistic, that no matter what our goal is, no matter how hard we try, there is no such thing as a perfect organization, perfect owners, perfect leaders, perfect staff, perfect guests, and a perfect ranch. Like most other things in life, it is journey of trying to do the best we can, with the best intentions and goals. And hope that others do the same in return.
But as a guest ranch, and seasonal business working with young and nomadic personalities, we are fortunate we have enjoyed a high average of seasons / staff ratio. Staff staying or returning for multiple seasons to the same ranch. Thank you!
Many fun years at The Hideout
Our biggest 2022 challenge
This week was the end of another successful season at The Hideout in Shell, Wyoming. As mentioned earlier in this blog, for Marijn and I it was our 17th season. This year we have been going at it almost continuously since January, because we had commitments since pre-Covid.
And while we had our usual challenges finding quality seasonal staff, finding, and hiring a new chef after the previous chef to everybody’s big surprise left, proved to be one of the most challenging experiences our kitchen faced over the years. Since Covid, close to 40% of restaurant workers left the industry, with few returning. We were very happy and relieved to see Chef Tom riding in during our 3rd week of the season. Poor Tom did not have it easy. New Chefs usually come in 4 weeks ahead of the season. We work with them, prepare them, have sit down test dinners, etc. In addition to that, we keep the number of guests the first two weeks of the season low so the new chefs can work themselves in to the new situation. Not for Tom. He was thrown in from day one. Comes with this that every chef has his / her style, which will always be different from the previous chef. Repeat guests get used to the food of the chef and when a new chef comes in, there are always people who like the change and guests who do not like the change. Guests who like the personality of the new chef and people who need to get used to the change. And guests who confuse food with personality. Some chefs are outgoing, extraverts, and some are introverts. Over the years we have seen it 8 times. So, we know. And we are happy and relieved Tom signed on for our 2023 season.
A long list of projects
In the meantime, you all know that once the guests season ends, the maintenance, renovation, repair and upgrading season starts. Looking at the long list of things we must accomplish by April 2023 gives us a boost of energy. We love and enjoy working this list. We even enjoy more thinking about and seeing the happy faces of our guests noticing the upgrades.
This means Marco, Ever, Dean and I will have our hands full to get all this accomplished.
Marijn and Nina will have their hands full riding all our new horses, taking them out on the range and in the arena. Nina has a solid dressage background and will teach us some of the dressage basics this season. The basics of dressage benefit any horse. No matter the discipline. We have a couple of other experienced riders coming to help us ride these horses, as we have plenty of young horses to ride. Last week one of our clinicians and experienced horse trainer Farrah Green spend a first of many days working with Marijn and Nina starting our 5 foals. More to come on this subject.
Observations of our 2022 Guest Season
⦁ We were happy to finally see our international guests coming back. Due to Covid travel restrictions we had to keep rolling over reservations from 2018 and 2019 for our 2020 Season to 2021, 2022 and even 2023. Melanie rolled over some guests 6 times. Thank you, Melanie, for your flexibility and ability to deal with change. Always with your positive attitude and smile.
⦁ Of course, since 2018 and 2019 a lot has changed, and the pre-2020 looks like ages ago. So much has changed. And people have changed. Covid has changed the outlook on life of people. Some of our crew has left, changed. New ones are on board since several years, but to guests who have not been here since 2019 they are new. Although they have worked here longer than many others. Yes, 2019 looks like ages ago. The world was so different.
⦁ Ever increasing expenses due to inflation was a challenge for every business, also for us. We were forced to increase our pricing. Everything went up in price. And some items much more than the national inflation number. And in remote areas as the one we live; many companies took advantage to increase prices above and beyond.
⦁ This time of the year we always discuss price increases, part of this exercise is researching what other ranches and destinations are doing in terms price increases. I was very surprised to see that several ranches who historically had lower rates than us, are now pricing the same or higher.
⦁ Since 2020 we noticed a younger generation of new guests visiting The Hideout, and this trend continued throughout 2022. Also, the trend of our older generation, longtime guests hanging their riding pants up, as they are getting too old for this experience. Being in my early sixties, I also start to notice that age takes its toll. If I don’t keep riding on a regular basis, some things start to ache.
⦁ We noticed a strong increase in new guests who previously visited many other guest ranches or used to go for many years to another ranch. Most of them booked again. Many of these new guests are horse people and they appreciate the fact The Hideout is all about riding, horses, and horsemanship. They understand the changing trend in our industry to offer more non-riding activities. However, they are looking for a riding guest ranch. Towards the end of the season several spontaneously observed that our staff, owners, and horses towards the end of the season are still full of positive energy, going the extra length to make sure our guests who come later in the season, also have a great experience.
⦁ As usual guests, among whom several specialized equine veterinarians and riding stable owners, commented on how good and well cared our horses are. Even at the end of an intense 8-month season.
⦁ And guests, especially the horse owners and individuals among our guests who professionally work in the equine industry complimented us on how well trained our horses are. Especially the last three years they noticed a big difference. A proof that when everybody is on board, our AH Horsemanship process works.
⦁ In tune with previous seasons, also this season guests commented on the quality friendliness of our crew.
Our next generation
As we are getting older, we are looking at the future and what the future will bring for The Hideout.
It is no secret that one of our sons Victor would like to come work at The Hideout. This season he visited the ranch with his wife Maria, who had never been at The Hideout, nor in Wyoming. He and we were relieved that she loved the place. Victor and his brother Edward have wrangled and worked at The Hideout since they were 14 years old. They wrangled throughout their high school and college years. They know The Hideout. But we wanted them to work at other places, in other countries and see the world, prior to coming on board. Looks like Victor and Maria, currently living and working in Belgium are ready to come aboard.
More on the coming generation my next blogs.
As usual, if you made it through the end of this blog, I would like to thank you for your interest and patience. If you have questions and suggestions, please let us know.
I would like to thank all our guests, staff, Marijn, our boys, all our horses and dogs, family, friends and neighbors for their contribution in making this another great season.
Stay healthy, positive and make a positive difference,