The National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA) had a busy 2017. According to the outgoing President of the organization, Dominic Palmieri, NICA could not be in a better place as they make the transition to new leadership and a promising fair season in 2018. "Membership is tracking at all time highs. We are still doing a final count after we had lots of new members signing up at the 2017 International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Convention and the 2018 Western Fairs Association Convention," says Palmieri.
This year NICA focused on and made significant contributions to transfer of ownership, affordability and the cost of doing business, programming with sister organizations, establishing grassroots leadership, providing scholarships, and aligning and supporting OABA in i
ts H2B efforts.
Transfer of Ownership
Palmieri says that when NICA began 25 years ago, one of the goals of the founding fathers of the organization was to establish better policies regarding transfer of ownership in the industry. "Lots of people would build up their business and have a successful route but could not sell it or transfer it to family members," says Palmieri. NICA worked with IAFE to write up material about transfer of ownership policies-it ended up being about 6 pages long and members of NICA had the opportunity to talk about it to a "standing room only" crowd at the IAFE convention.
Palmieri expressed that the transfer of ownership document contains guidelines for fairs, not demands. "We are concerned primarily with continuity and positive guest experiences. Those are most important when thinking about transfer of ownership," says Palmieri. NICA suggests that fairs meet with concessionaires about transfer of ownership of their business and hear them out. According to Palmieri, there are a coupe of reasons it's difficult to be successful in the independent concessionaires business and there are not a lot of newcomers. "We have a very aging concession population in the fair industry. My guess is that the average age of concessionaires is early-mid 60s. It's difficult to be successful because of capitalization in the industry and the length of time it takes to secure a solid, profitable route," says Palmieri.
When writing these new guidelines and considering the topic of transfer of ownership, NICA focused on opportunity. Meeting with concessionaires about their transfer of ownership gives fair staff the opportunity to keep continuity on the fairgrounds and the opportunity to keep a strong concession partner. For the concessionaire, it provides them the opportunity to improve business, find a new buyer, or transfer the business to a family member.
Affordability...The Cost of Doing Business
At their sister organizations' conventions, members of NICA were able to conduct sessions with fair management and concessionaires about the battles concessionaires must fight when it comes to the cost of doing business.
"We've seen dramatic increases in minimum wage across the country," says Palmieri. Concessionaires are also dealing with the immense expense it takes to move from place to place. Implementing electronic driving logs into trucks in order to be compliant with the Department of Transportation is also rather costly.
Cost of goods has also increased over time and that cost of goods increase has forced price increases across the board. "Increases in cost of goods can be up to 20-30% off the bottom line, off the concessionaire's net profits," says Palmieri. Additionally, the H2B program has become expensive which increases the concessionaire's initial expenses up. Palmieri says that the new prevailing wages for are between $2-4 more than minimum wage.
Despite the prevailing wages increase, concessionaires still use H2B labor as it's hard to find American workers who want to travel throughout the season. "H2B workers enable concessionaires to move equipment safely from place to place and then most hire (local) American workers at the spot," says Palmieri.
NICA partners with its sister organizations to provide concessionaire and fair relevant programming at their conventions. Some of the sister organizations include: IAFE, Western Fairs Association, OABA, and the Florida Federation of Fairs. Pamieri believes that working with their sister organizations and providing some programming drives NICA's mission statement to be a voice in the industry.
Palmieri had the opportunity to sit on a committee that ensured programming at these conventions was relevant, thoughtful, and helpful to the business. NICA had the opportunity this year to address all 8 zones at the IAFE convention In order to give a short talk about the organization's progress and why NICA is important. "We wanted to explain to fair leaders how beneficial NICA is to their event. We want to be a part of the conversations fairs are having," says Palmieri.
NICA has councils which work similarly to IAFE zones. The goal for the councils is to help build leadership within the organization geographically. Council leaders work in conjunction with the fairs in their region and NICA. Each council has about 5-9 members and they are sure to have presence on the fairgrounds year round; many councils hep with fundraisers for organizations like 4-H and FFA, according to Palmieri.
"The goal is to plug in with fairs through our grassroots leadership. We want to be a part of each fair community, we are all on the same team," says Palmieri. Each council sends a leader to the NICA board meetings and they report on what is happening in their council area.
For the first time, NICA gave out a $2,000 vocational scholarship. The award is named after NICA's first President, Gene O'Brien. Palmieri stressed that education is is invaluable but NICA understands that college is not for everyone so a vocational scholarship can help those looking to jump right into the work force.
In addition to the Gene O'Brien Vocational Scholarship, NICA awarded $17,000 in college scholarships this year.
Palmieri again stressed that there are a tremendous amount of NICA members who rely on foreign labor from year to year. In order to help further the cause of the OABA to expand the H2B program, NICA aligned with the OABA's lobbying efforts and helped bring the message to fairs that it is important to support H2B legislation. "Many fair leaders have representation in Congress or the Senate. It's part of their sphere of influence. NICA worked very hard to have frank conversations with fair leaders about supporting the OABA's efforts and H2B legislation," says Palmieri.
Palmieri's term as President comes to an end in February when incoming President Dan Lusenhop will take over. After that, Palmieri will become Chairman of the Past President's Council for one year. He is certainly optimistic about NICA's future, "It was an honor to serve the industry, NICA has a board of selfless servants to concessionaires and fairs. Under current leadership we have an engaged board with a depth of leadership skills and potential," says Palmieri. "What the board does in the next 2-3 years will lead NICA for the next 10-15 years."