West Coast Amusements is going through a major transition. Like most carnivals, the Canadian show is family owned, and as generations pass, the younger set typically steps up to run the business.
In this case, Robbie Hauser and his wife, Tarah, represent the next generation. In 2017, they acquired a unit from within the West Coast empire, which extends to multiple family members operating carnivals in western Canada. Robbie, a third generation showman, son of Bob and Wendy Hauser, and the grandson of Bingo and Jackie Hauser, the show's founder, already owned First Class Concessions, a food and game company. Now, he's taking on rides. One year after making the move, Robbie and Tarah are going through the process of upgrading the overall operation with a focus on improving the quality of midway attr
It started with the purchase of a new Frenzy, which is one of US ride manufacturer ARM's line of pendulum swing rides. It's the second one off the assembly line, according to Tarah Hauser, who married Robbie nine years ago and is now entrenched in the family business. Delivery of the Frenzy is expected in April after Eric Bates books it at the I-X Indoor Amusement Park in Cleveland. The Frenzy essentially replaces the unit's Skymaster, another ARM piece that needed extensive repairs. The decision was made to invest in a new ride over renovating the old one, which is almost 20 years old, Tarah said.
"We're due for a new attraction, and very excited to bring this excitement to our fairs," she said.
"Robbie has been working close with Mike Gill to create a spectacular light package for the new Frenzy which will consist lighting units from E-Works Pro and CMD Enterprises."
Separately, the show's winter quarters went through a complete refurbishment of the Zipper with new lights and a new paint scheme last winter, as well as the YoYo and kiddie dragon ride. The office trailer, a 1996 Otterbacher unit, has been renovated and new trucks have been purchased from Freightliner. A overhaul of the shows Berry-Go-Round was completed including replacing the original wood flooring with aluminum.
The show is working on lighting upgrades to their Eli 16 Ferris Wheel using Chameleon LED pucks from Galaxy. Additionally, Robbie is working with Chad Griffith from CMD Enterprises on a new RGB lighting system for our ARM Super Shot.
New bunkhouses are next on the list as the Hausers prepare to hire additional employees to help run the rides they now own. Similar to most U.S.-based carnivals, West Coast Amusements relies heavily on international labor to work the midway. In Canada, the show has used Jamaicans over the past four years to work concessions, and they have proven to be responsible, dependable and hard workers, Hauser said. Starting this year, the company will expand its foreign work force to include Ecuadorian nationals to work the rides.
Like in the US, labor issues affect Canadian carnivals tied to getting those international employees in time for the season, which this year starts in mid-March in Vancouver, Hauser said.
"It's definitely a struggle," she said. "There's never a guarantee. We typically submit our applications in August for the following year, but this year with the extra help we need, we submitted them in July and got approved about two weeks ago. It's always quite a concern for us come late fall. Our foreign workers enjoy seeing the country and we take good care of them. We couldn't do it without them."
As part of its operation, West Coast Amusements' labor program recently went through a compliance audit conducted by the federal government. Under Canada law, carnivals are required to provide medical insurance for all employees. In addition, West Coast pays for the internationals' flights, which can run $1,200 for a one-way ticket on short notice, Hauser said.
"We passed the audit," she said. "The carnival industry is behind on things like technology."
A key employee on the show is Steve Holt. Steve owns a mini-donut concession, which was previously owned by Robbie and Tarah. Steve manages the food on the show and is involved with the day to day operations of the show and helps with booking. "We are thankful for a great management team," Tarah said.
Last year, West Coast Amusements added three new still dates in Alberta run by Sustainival, an Edmonton company that bills itself as presenting the "world's first green carnival." The firm's co-owners are Joey Hundert and Antoine Palmer, two entrepreneurs who promote special events tied to sustainable energy. The three locations were in Fort MacMurray, Edmonton and Lethbridge, where West Coast provided the amusement attractions. Sustainival uses biofuels, solar energy and wind power to run its events, plus electricity. At one of the spots, the Ferris wheel, for example, was powered by recycled canola oil, Hauser said.
Over the course of the season, the carnival travels across British Columbia and Alberta to play events. The Hausers finish the season in early September at the Alberni District Fall Fair on Vancouver island, an event the late Bingo Hauser first played more than 50 years ago, Tarah said.
The Hausers' two children, Kelly, 10, and Kessler, 8, are in the early stages of working the show during the summer months. Kelly is already preparing to buy a shaved ice stand after saving $5,000 by working the duck pond and selling ride tickets, her mother said.
"Kelly is definitely a Hauser," Tarah said. "She's very much involved with the show. She will probably buy a new candy floss stand in the next five years. She doesn't take breaks and is outgrossing 25-year-olds. She's very business savvy ... and it wasn't something we pushed on her."
Jackie Hauser, meanwhile, Bingo's wife, is retired, and enjoying every minute of it. "She just purchased a new sports car. We love having her come out and visit. We definitely miss her out there, and our fairs do too", Tarah said.
"As 'Grandma' has retired, the thinking now is we need to get more progressive," she said. "We're going to get into electronic ticketing and upgrading our online operations, to track hours worked, our inventory and ticket sales, to get a better idea of what's working out there. In the past, we tracked hourly wages by hand. We're bringing it all to the table," she said.