C.E.O. to Cowboy: A New Destination for Corporate Meetings
By Susan Wade
Getting away from familiar and traditional surroundings for board meetings, corporate retreats and team building projects can make the difference between typical outcomes and sensational results.
And when it comes to getting away from traditional settings, looking outward – as in the great outdoors – is one way to set the stage for participants to think about issues in a new way and with renewed energy.
While rope courses, confidence towers and other outdoor resources have long been used for team building activities and corporate retreats, one of the latest outdoor settings businesses are turning to for such outings is dude ranches.
“The Power of Travel 2006,” published by The Travel Industry Association of America, reports bookings at guest ranches and similar facilities are up 10 to 12 percent in recent years, and that trend is predicted to continue.
One contributor to that increase could be that more dude ranches are offering corporate activities and packages, says Colleen Hodson, executive director of the Dude Ranchers Association based in Cody, Wyoming.
“Dude ranches have opened their season a little more for the shoulder season,” Hodson says. “They’re filling those with corporate meetings.”
The appeal for businesses, she says, is multi-faceted.
Dude ranches provide an escape from some stressors of the corporate world. Most dude ranches don’t offer phones, Internet access or even television in guest rooms. That means no interruptions or distractions.
“The first day or two, they’re kind of tense,” Hodson says. “No Internet service. No cell phone signal. After the second day, you ask them, ‘Where’s your laptop?’ and they tell you it’s packed away. It’s just such a different atmosphere from what they’re used to.”
People who spend time participating in dude ranch activities – many of which they only dreamed of – build confidence. “Everybody leaves with confidence,” Hodson says. “Everybody leaves pumped up ready to go.”
Besides that, many dude ranch activities, especially those at working cattle ranches, cannot be done without teamwork. Even the person who thinks he can do it all learns teamwork is necessary.
Guest ranches offer settings where people let down the pretenses of climbing the corporate ladder and drop communication barriers they have in the office.
“They get to know each other,” Hodson says. “They get to build a friendship there that they would never get to build in the corporate world.”
They also see and hear wildlife. They gaze at star-filled skies the likes of which can’t be seen in urban settings. They watch sunrises and sunsets. They relax.
What may come as a surprise to some is that they don’t have to travel to western states, such as Wyoming and Colorado, to find a dude ranch or similar facility that can accommodate corporate outings.
A few are available in Missouri and each offers a unique style and charisma for corporate outings.
At Bucks & Spurs Guest Ranch near Ava, Missouri, groups of eight to ten people seeking team building activities or a peaceful, distinctive setting for small meetings won’t be disappointed.
“They should expect something different,” says Cecil Huff, who operates the 1,000-acre ranch. “That’s what we try to offer – a taste of a real cowboy’s life in a wilderness setting using natural horsemanship techniques.”
At Bucks & Spurs, guests become cowhands who spend several hours a day on horseback participating in everyday activities of the beef cattle ranch, enhancing teamwork and communication skills, says Huff.
Team sorting in a corral is one of those activities. In team sorting, groups are divided into teams and have a time limit in which they must work together on horseback to separate a cow from a group and herd her into a pen. Another activity involves the entire group working together to herd a group of cattle from one location to another.
“They have to communicate with each other in order to accomplish the objective,” Huff says. “Besides the verbal communication, they have to be able to read the body language of the herd, their horses and their coworkers. Often what people say and what their body language says are two different things.”
Besides activities that enhance team building and communication, one of the benefits for corporate outings is getting away from interruptions and spending time in a quiet setting. Guests, who can also spend time fishing and hiking, often report feeling a sense of peace and relaxation they don’t find elsewhere, Huff says.
“No phones,” says Huff. “No pressure of a lot of people. When you look, you don’t see anything but the wilderness and the horses and the cattle.”
Turkey Creek Ranch, a 700-acre resort with “dude ranch flavor,” also offers peace and quiet along with meeting space to accommodate up to 35 people. The resort on Bull Shoals Lake near Theodosia, Missouri, has full lake resort amenities such as a pool and spa, fishing, hiking and boating.
The ranch is a unique setting for corporate outings.
“A lot of groups come to us with an idea in mind of what they want to do,” says Loretta Edwards. “We encourage them to be creative, figure out what they want to do, and we give them an environment where they can do so.”
Some supplement corporate meetings with fishing tournaments and fish fries. Others spend time hiking, boating and playing tennis. And others go horseback riding on the trails throughout the ranch.
“It’s the time when they’re not in a structured environment that the majority of them find most rewarding,” Edwards says.
For many, the activities are a way to get to know one another better without the distractions, constraints and interruptions of an office environment.
Besides the pleasure they experience from the environment, many guests at Turkey Creek find themselves more relaxed and in a better frame of mind for solving problems, Edwards says.
“It’s a way for people to do things that are out of their everyday, ordinary existence; a good way to unwind,” she says. “You can get a new perspective on things. A problem that was monumental at the office suddenly doesn’t seem so all-consuming when you look at it from a different angle.”
With the opening in summer 2006 of a dining lodge that can accommodate a meeting of about 40 people, Mockville Land & Cattle Co. near Mercer, Missouri, will be a newcomer on the list of Missouri dude ranches with meeting space to accommodate corporate outings.
Owner Glen Mock says he’s not sure how many corporate groups the facility will draw, but he does expect to see more interest in the ranch from other groups. His current guests – mostly family vacationers – enjoy the place for the same reasons businesses seek dude ranches for meetings.
“They like to get away from the high-tech, high-speed city,” Mock says.
Besides trail rides, the ranch offers fishing, hiking and “kickin’ back and relaxing,” Mock says. “We’re in the country and most of the people who come are city people.”
SayersBrook Bison Ranch & Lodge near Potosi, Missouri, offers more traditional meeting space than dude ranches, and a full cowboy experience isn’t on the agenda. Even so, corporate groups that want to enjoy horseback riding and other activities in a beautiful outdoor atmosphere will find that and more at SayersBrook, says owner Skip Sayers.
“You’ve got 3,000 acres that are all yours,” Sayers says.
SayersBrook, surrounded on three sides by the Mark Twain National Forest, has facilities that can accommodate meetings for about 30 people with breakout rooms available for smaller meetings. A nearby facility can host up to 150 people if larger meeting space is needed. For team building activities, the tallest confidence-building tower in the Midwest is a mere three miles away.
Besides horseback riding, the ranch offers a variety of activities including golf, hunting, skeet shooting, hot tubs, gyms, tennis, hiking, a machine gun range and close-up encounters with bison via covered wagon rides.
“It’s such an unusual experience,” Sayers says. “There’s nothing like it.”
(Susan Wade is a contributor from Springfield, MO)
Bucks & Spurs Guest Ranch
HC 71, Box 163
Ava, Mo. 65608
Mockville Land & Cattle Co.
P.O. Box 473
Mercer, Mo. 64661
SayersBrook Bison Ranch & Lodge
11820 Sayersbrook Road
Potosi, Mo. 63664
Turkey Creek Ranch
HC 3, Box 3180
Theodosia, Mo. 65761