Lockdown Economy Germany in Outdoor Education and Retreats with Amie Mignatti
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Megan Cansfield
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Amie Mignatti, a certified Nature Coach based in and around Munich, who organises nature-based outdoor programs for children, families and adults. Amie was open about the obvious challenges that the strict lockdown periods in Germany have caused for her business, which for several months was simply unable to continue due to legislation. Amie was quick to capitalise on the increased demand for her outdoor adventures and education programmes when the lockdown was lifted during the summer, and utilised platforms such as Facebook to ensure her unique service was visible to those wanting to escape into nature. Unfortunately, the current situation in Germany has meant that Amie must stop working for the time being, but by keeping her visibility on social media and utilising the powerful marketing tool of positive word-of-mouth Amie is confident that when it is possible, she will welcome back her clients and reactivate her business.
Tell us a little bit more about what you do as a business.
Amie: I run holiday programs, Saturday courses, and weekend courses for families, children, and adults in and around Munich. I take them into the forest and teach children and their parents how to make fire without matches. We track animals, I do pocketknife courses, and teaching them how to make things with wood and fire. Those are mainly my parent and child courses. I also do weekend retreats for women in nature — camping and fire and spending time in the forest. And then holiday camps, so week-long day camps for kids where they get outside, are in the forest, and mainly in the forest with fire.
That’s a really nice initiative, especially in these days when we tend to be behind a computer for a lot of our time.
Obviously, this relies on having groups together and close contact with humans, so how did you deal with the situation in Germany with the pandemic and the lockdown?
Amie: It’s been interesting because we had a major lockdown like I think most of Europe did for I think ten weeks, from mid-March to the beginning of June. I was completely shut down; I couldn’t work at all. There was just no possibility. And then things opened up. It was a gradual opening up, but because I work outside, I was able to start work back again. The idea was that we still had social distancing with the children, which is really difficult with kids. It’s difficult to enforce that. Being outside was a bit easier because they have more space to run and be free. I was able to start to work again pretty quickly, and all of my classes and camp and everything that I did sold out. Everything was booked out until the end of September. So I had a really good season!
I always said at that time that I actually profited from Corona because people weren’t travelling anymore, because Germans travel a lot, especially when the weather’s good. They go to the beach, they take the six-week summer holidays and just travel. People weren’t travelling much, and they wanted to do things outside. That was the other thing: I felt that people were inside for so much and were also quite afraid of the virus and so they wanted to be outside, but a lot of people as you said were on the computer a lot and don’t really know what to do outside. So I was fully booked for months, which was great after having ten weeks of having basically no income. So that worked!
But then we went into a “lockdown-lite” in November. I had a full November program planned and I had to cancel everything because at that time, the time period from when they announced the lockdown to when my courses started didn’t give me enough time to figure out how I could still run the courses. I figured out later that it would have been possible, but it takes a lot of digging deep because the Germans have a lot of inconsistent rules. I found what I wouldn’t call a loophole, but the possibility of me being able to work under the social children’s programs. But I had already cancelled everything, and I figured it out too late.
And now we have another full lockdown starting tomorrow, for at this point three weeks. But anyway, this is my slow season, so I’m not losing so much. But, in all of this, I’ve been asked to do a lot of children’s birthday parties, because people want to be outside, and they want to have the number of guests that they wanted to come by, like ten kids or something, and they could do that outside but not inside.
So I’ve just had to cancel a lot of things. And the birthday parties: at this point, I think I have four planned in the next month, and that will have to be cancelled as well. So in that sense, it’s been pretty tough. And I’ve had to cancel my retreats in France as well — I have a retreat in France every June, a yoga and hiking retreat, and I’ve had to cancel that as well.
So I would say it’s affected me very intensely, and then I had some really good months, some really successful months. It’s been up and down, more down than up.
Yes, I think for everyone during this period there’s been a lot of unexpected challenges.
I’d like to focus on the period in which you were actually able to get a whole client base for your business. How were you able to contact this kind of new population of people who may be in the past would have gone on foreign trips that were now more interested in going on a retreat with you or a wildlife education with you? Did you change your marketing strategy? How did you let people know that you were there and able to do an activity for them?
Amie: The platform that works most for me is Facebook. I’m American, I live in Germany, and I do everything in English, so I have a very defined niche here. There’s a lot of German programs out there, but there’s nothing in English. As far as I know, I’m the only one in Munich. There are several Facebook groups with five to eight thousand members on them for parents in Munich, so I just post what I’m doing on there. And this is how I’ve always done it, and I’ve had an amazing response through that. And then of course word of mouth — word of mouth has always been the biggest one, but new clients have come through Facebook and I guess friends of friends who book courses with me. It was very easy; I didn’t have to spend any money on marketing at all.
I think that’s great advice for anybody — visibility with the social networks is there, so use them during this time.
As you mentioned, at the moment there are more regulations going into — certainly in the Netherlands where I am now — more of a second lockdown period. How is your business going in the current climate?
Amie: It’s not. I can’t do anything.
I have some packets that I’ve put together for Christmas gifts for children that parents can give your children, which has been mildly successful, but nothing really big. I’ve made some videos for parents to be able to get outside with their kids and put them up on Youtube, but that also doesn’t bring any money, it’s just more exposure.
And also, just offering free ideas, because I don’t think at this time people need to be spending money on everything. Of course, I need to have an income, but I also think it’s just good to give them ideas to get outside because of the social impact that this is having on children and families by having to be inside all the time and not really knowing what to do. A lot of people here at least, they’ll do things, they go do activities, they go ice skating, they go watch movies, they go out to dinner. But going out into nature is not something that people just get up and do willingly; they don’t know what to do. Maybe they go for a walk, but just to really spend the day out there.
I have put together a couple of videos and shared them. But as far as any kind of income generation, I don’t have anything. I teach yoga once a week online, but that’s it. So it’s not been so easy.
No, of course not. And hopefully for you by keeping your visibility up on the social platforms and posting these videos as you said (which I will definitely link below this video so you [viewers] can check that out), hopefully, your clients will come back when they are allowed to and it’s safe to do so.
Thank you very much, Amie, for all of your insights today. It’s been really interesting to hear about a very different type of business to what we’ve heard before in these interviews on The Lockdown Economy. But as always, there are things that small businesses need help with. If you could name three things that you and your business need help within the current climate, that’s possible maybe — obviously deleting coronavirus would be excellent! — what would they be?
Amie: It’s difficult for me to say because what I really need is the ability to work! Of course, I need financial support. I have applied for government assistance, but I have not heard anything. They promised it, and let’s see. More than anything, I need to work. I need to have the ability to make money.
For me, I don’t really know what to do outside of working with children. I’m not one to be online, and this goes very much against what I offer and what I believe in. I think sometimes training in online programs or how to get things online would be beneficial, but it doesn’t really fit what I do. So I’m really at a loss as far as what I need, because the exposure is there for me, I have the clients and once I start working again they’ll come back. It’s always been like that. I also take a couple of months of the year off around this time because it’s winter, and then work again. My work is more seasonal. So I don’t really know.
Maybe some ideas of what I could do, of what direction I could go in. But online stuff is really not for me, and kind of against what I do. So maybe somebody who has ideas!
About the Guest
Amie Mignatti, an Austin, Texas native, holds a BS in Early Childhood Development and Visual Arts, is a Montessori (AMI) trained teacher, a Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher, has a Wilderness Education diploma from a German outdoor education program and is a certified Nature Coach. She runs nature-based outdoor programs for children, families and adults — with a deeper focus on women in nature. She offers weekend programs where children and families can learn outdoor skills such as fire-making, animal tracking and woodworking. Her courses are all based in nature, mainly the forest and mountains, in and around Munich, Germany and in France. She also offers women’s courses outdoors, where women can come together around a fire and connect in meaningful ways with other women.
Watch Amie’s YouTube Videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjPmBi-HYCc