After cancelling most of its events due to COVID-19, a Millarville society is counting on an online auction to engage patrons while recovering lost revenue.
The Millarville Racing & Agricultural Society (MRAS) is hosting the Millarville Experience Auction throughout July, with up to 75 items up for bid ranging from cooking classes to a hot air balloon ride.
“This is all part of our relaunch strategy,” said society president Anna De Paoli. “We established a financial stability committee to look at how we can relaunch after the pandemic and also how can we help ourselves in the long term. This is one of the first initiatives of many coming down the line to help make sure the MRAS stays sustainable in the future.”
Although the society was able to continue its popular Saturday farmers’ markets at the Millarville Racetrack – its biggest revenue generator – De Paoli said it’s on a much smaller scale with fewer vendors and fewer visitors allowed on site.
“With all of the Alberta Health Services restrictions, we are collecting a gate fee by donation only and we reduced our table fee to our vendors,” she said. “We also have to provide sanitizer and PPE, so our costs are higher and our revenues are not.”
De Paoli said the Millarville Racetrack closed for three months during the pandemic, therefore the society was unable to generate revenue from such sources as its campground and riding arena rentals. It was also forced to cancel most of its summer events and lay off staff.
“To be able to continue our operations we need to raise funds,” she said. “We still have our expenses. Insurance is a very big line item, we still have to pay our utilities, we still have some staffing, we have facilities to maintain, we still have to cut the grass and look after the building. Even though you’re not operating you still have a lot of costs.”
One of the biggest expenses, said De Paoli, is operating the Millarville Racetrack’s water treatment plant, which costs about $50,000 a year. As a result, the plant has been temporarily shut down.
“It’s very expensive to run that treatment plant, so as soon as we turn the water plant on it’s a very high cost,” she said. “We’re saving money to not have it running.”
This means no running water or flush toilets on site, De Paoli said.
Among revenue sources the society depends on include an agricultural grant and corporate sponsorship, the latter of which has been challenging to obtain, said De Paoli.
“A lot of sponsors are no longer able to support us so we’re really cutting back on expenses,” she said.
De Paoli is counting on this month’s auction to replenish about $50,000 of the lost revenue while offering something positive for patrons.
“We have been working on this for about a month,” she said. “We thought we would approach some of our local businesses and sponsors and supporters to create experiences.”
With few people travelling due to restrictions around the pandemic, De Paoli said an online auction seemed like a natural fit, with many items being experiences.
“People want to go out and do experiences,” she said. “Our sponsors and donors provided products and experiences not usually available to purchase.””
For example, participants can bid on a tour of a Medicine Hat greenhouse that doesn’t typically offer tours, a private larch hike with a Turner Valley hiking enthusiast and a motorcycle tour with MLA RJ Sigurdson.
Rather than bid, participants can opt to buy the experience, said De Paoli. Each item has a separate bid starting price and buy price, with some starting at $50 and some worth several thousands of dollars, she said.
The Millarville Experience Auction closes July 31 at 5 p.m.
To participate, click here.
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