The 2018 South Florida Fair started out with some cooler weather but warmed up along the way. 2018 attendance was down about 5% from 2017 according to CEO, Rick Vymlatil. "2018 attendance is 427,005 and 2017 attendance was 448,025," says Vymlatil. "South Floridians do not like cold weather but we continued to roll on and the weather got nicer for us. Per capita spending was up on admission, rides, and food this year."
One of the things that makes the South Florida Fair unique is that they have a different theme every year and the fair team creates an exhibit or event surrounding that theme. This year the theme was "Magical Parades." "We built this theme off our successful Mardi Gras theme from last year. People loved the parades they were so popular so we really wanted to expand on that," says Vymlatil.
There was not a parade every night of the 2018 South Florida Fair but most of the days were covered. Parade themes included: Mardi Gras, 2 bike nights, "Mayor's Day" featuring 25 of the 38 municipalities in Palm Beach County, St Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year, Boat, and Football.
Some of the floats were physically the same in each parade but had different colored beads, different music, and different unites in the parade to tie the theme together. "The themes lend themselves to different things around the grounds. For example, the St. Patrick's Day parade featured people dressed as leprechauns, green beer, and green beads," says Vymlatil. In Expo West Hall the fair booked an ice show based on the "Magical Parades" theme, the show is produced by Rostyn Gudino and they performed 3 or 4 shows per day. "There were always long lines to get into the ice show, it was very popular," says Vymlatil.
Before and after the parades, the floats are on display in the Expo East Hall during the fair. Also in Expo East Hall, the fair featured student art displays based on the theme of the 2018 fair. "We give local art teachers a cut-out based on the theme. This year, we gave them a cut-out of a parade float and students make an art piece based on the cut-out. Fairgoers judge the artwork and the winners get a pizza party," says Vymlatil.
Discounted Admission Days
The South Florida Fair offers opportunities for discounted admission throughout the fair; the most successful of these promotions is $2 Tuesdays. "The $2 Tuesday idea came from a concessionaire about 2 or 3 years ago. He told us the Indiana State Fair does it. We sent a staff member to Indianapolis to check it out and decided it would be a good idea," says Vymlatil. Admission is $2 rather than the normal $15 adult admission price, every food vendor sells an item for $2, and rides are $2 a piece. "It's an inexpensive day at the fair for folks on a budget," says Vymlatil. Last year, $2 Tuesday was the 3rd best revenue day of the fair.
In addition to $2 Tuesdays, the fair offers a major senior day the second Monday of the fair when admission is $5. On opening day of the fair, they run a promotion where if fairgoers use their advance sale admission ticket on opening day, they get a free admission pass to come back and enjoy the fair. "This is an opportunity for us to front load our advance sales, hopefully folks like the fair and will come back and visit us again," says Vymlatil.
Vymlatil says that the South Florida Fair has cut down on the number of acts they book for entertainment over the years. They don't book concerts on weekends or on Tuesdays of the fair. "We're lucky that our weekends sell themselves and now we offer $2 Tuesdays promotions which draws people to the fairgrounds on its own."
Performers at this year's South Florida Fair included: Matthew West, Chris Lane, Grand Funk Railroad, Atlanta Rhythm Section, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. This year they also produced a Latin festival held on the middle Sunday of the fair featuring Latin acts from 2pm-10pm. The festival had a bunch of different genres of Latin music in order to appeal to as many people as possible. "We've tried the Latin festival for many years and just couldn't seem to get it to stick, we finally moved it to a Sunday and it's been really great," says Vymlatil.
Ground acts at the 2018 South Florida Fair included: Lady Houdini, the Stars of the Peking Acrobats, the Tricky Dog Show, Ham Bone Express pig racing, Tyzen the Hypnotist, and Dennis Lee. "This was Dennis Lee's 33rd year at the fair. We've gotten to see his kids grow up and his act change and he's gotten to see us grow as an event," says Vymlatil.
Wade Shows Midway
The carnival provider for the South Florida Fair Midway is Wade Shows. "The midway gross was the highest in the history of the fair, reaching over $4.8 Million. We had the Midway Sky Eye here, the joint venture between Frank Zaitshik and Michael Wood, the tallest traveling ferris wheel in North America," says Vymlatil. "It was its first appearance here and it did very well."
Frank Zaitshik, President of Wade Shows, described the 2018 South Florida Fair as an event with a "rough start but a great finish."He echoed Vymlatil's assessment that the weather was a bit cold for Floridians at the beginning of the fair but the weather rounded out nicely. "On those lesser weather days, people think 'there are two more weeks to go.' Although the economy appears to be improving, people are conscious of their money. Do you want to go on a day that's sunny or a day that's windy and cold?" says Zaitshik.
Wade Shows along with a select group of independents brought 72 rides to the 2018 South Florida Fair. "We're very conscious of the rides we choose. It goes to show that if you pick the right 72 rides you can play a fair of this size and still get great revenue results," says Zaitshik. "We're very privileged to play the South Florida Fair. They're great people to work with."
Livestock, Youth, and Exhibits
The South Florida Fair features a variety of livestock shows including steer, goats, rabbits, poultry, and dairy. The youth market steer and hog sale raised $450,000. The fair also features a scholarship program during which the fair gives out about 21 scholarships, around $35,000 worth during the fair. There are also a variety of competitive exhibits displayed throughout the fair "it's all the classic fair stuff," says Vymlatil.
The advertising budget for the South Florida Fair hovers around $500,000. They use all the traditional media outlets including radio television, newsprint, and digital. "We've gotten a lot more into digital than we used to, that's the reality now," says Vymlatil. "We spend about $50,000 on news print, $150,000 on television, $65,000 on billboards, about $45,000 on digital, and about $40,000 on production.
The fair team also focuses on community promotions. Some of the floats for the parade came in early and were used in local holiday parades around the county. The Fair has a "Street team" which promotes the fair at local events. At the local outlet mall the Saturday before the fair begins, they host a giveaway for a free admission tickets good any Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday of the fair if you donate to the local food bank. Vymlatil recalled that they raised 10,000 pounds of food. "We've only done that promotion for about three years now but it caught on really well," says Vymlatil.
In line with their community focus, the fair hosts the South Florida Fair kids mile which is a promotion run with the local school district. It's a combination reading and exercise program in which the kids enroll to read and run all year long. "The goal is for the kids to read a certain number of books to log running a marathon over the time. They run the last mile at the opening day of the fair. 2,400 kids ran this year," says Vymlatil.
Six years ago, the fair started working with the Citizenship Department of the government to host a citizenship ceremony at the fair one afternoon. "Over 500 people took their oath of citizenship to the United States of America at the fair with their families. I talk to other fair managers and say it's a good thing. Immigration isn't a popular topic right now but these people did it the legal way and it's really amazing," says Vymlatil.
Goals For The Future
The South Florida Fair has about 50 full time staff members. Throughout the year everyone works on the fair among other events but Vymlatil feels the marketing department works primarily on the fair year-round. "We have periodic staff meetings throughout the year, they get more frequent closer to the fair and we have one each day during the fair," says Vymlatil.
"Like everybody else we want to do better than the year before. The Parades were a big undertaking, we were all wondering 'how is this going to work out?' I think we did it right. Reception from the public was really positive," says Vymlatil.
"We're fortunate that we've got some great partners. Frank and Wade Shows continue to impress us. He's never comfortable to sit back . He always does his best to give us a better show each year. His partner Michael Wood is also fantastic. We also are appreciative for the opportunity to partner with Coke and King Lighting who are great partners for us," says Vymlatil.
The 2019 South Florida Fair will be January 18th-February 3rd.