The IAFE Convention is Las Vegas is filled with all types of educational seminars and round tables. From agriculture to ticketing to marketing and entertainment, just about every topic under the sun is covered at one time or another.
One seminar that highly anticipated and well attended was "Fairs and Carnivals - Aiming Higher for Continued Success". Participants in the program were moderator Wayne McCary of the Eastern States Exhibition, Bob Grems, manager of the Dutchess County Fair, Dan Jacobs of the Antelope Valley Fair, Chris Lopez of Ray Cammack Shows, Dominic Vivona Jr. of Amusements of America and Michael Wood of Wood Entertainment Company.
McCary opened by saying that very few fairs can survive without revenue from a carnival. He delineated some of the issue facing carnivals and fairs and noted "common sense will have to prevail in the future".
Grems opened the program by saying the current economy forces fairs and carnivals to develop stronger partnerships. If they do form stronger alliances and meet problems together, as an industry we will be able to carry through the recession.
Grems said he learned the business from Bob Coleman of Coleman Brothers Shows. He encouraged show owners and fairs to think outside the box for new arrangements, especially in light of the serious labor issues the industry was facing in New York State and other places. 18 months ago, Grems noted, all 55 agricultural fairs in New York were in non-compliance with overtime laws in the state. Fairs thought they had a seasonal exemption but this was not the case and they faced immediate compliance.
Smaller fairs are feeling the pinch and have to look at cutting hours to avoid paying time and a half. Working together, the OABA financed half of the lobbying efforts in New York. They have been able to get a bill introduced to add NY to the states that recognize the Federal Labor Standards Act and its exemptions. Only 14 states do not honor FLSA according to Grems and New York is among them.
The crisis has raised the visibility of fairs and carnivals in New York State as legislators hear from events that are in danger of closing because of New York,s non-recognition of FLSA.
Partnerships and alliances can extend to different areas of the fair, said Grems. He pointed to ideas Corky Powers of Power,s Great American Midways brought to the table when his company acquired the midway at the Dutchess County Fair.
Powers helped introduce advance sale tickets and food discount coupons to the fair while bringing in an outstanding carnival presentation said Grems. He credits the carnival and its cooperation with the fair for driving attendance at the fair calling Powers "One of our greatest assets for growth."
Dominic Vivona, Jr. was next on the program and he said the two issues most important to the industry right now were labor and transportation. Vivona, currently chairman of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, said the group had recently added "preservation" of the industry to its mission statement.
Vivona said the business had always relied on exemptions in the past. Now however, companies and regulators have to find a better way of defining working hours in a business where work and non-work hours can be easily confused.
On the transportation side, Vivona said they are essentially a trucking company, having to follow the same laws as J.B. Hunt and the other big trucking companies. There is lots of paperwork to file, log books, medical cards et al. which make compliance very difficult, he said.
Vivona estimated that a larger carnival such as A Of A spends approximately $30,000 per year operating each truck.
Dan Jacobs of the Antelope Valley Fair, speaking next, once again emphasized the relationship between fairs and carnivals and the strength of their partnership.
Jacobs said the fair has had open communication with RCS. Each party is very different. The fair is a government entity and RCS is a family business, their approach to problems and goals sometimes differ. But, like a marriage, each brings something different to the table. There is give and take and, over time, the parties develop trust and work together on problems.
Carnival problems are fair problems and fair problems are carnival problems he said.
Chris Lopez of Ray Cammack Shows said the OABA has made great strides working with the IAFE to foster stronger relationships and understanding with carnivals. He pointed to the OABA,s Circle Of Excellence program and the Best Practices Guidelines for fair/carnival relationships as examples of their efforts.
The last speaker was Michael Wood of Wood Entertainment Company. Wood is an independent ride operator and careful student of the business. "The North American carnival has a disease", Wood opened. "The disease is inefficiency", highlighting the theme of his talk.
Wood said there are two major factors affecting inefficiency. The first is hours of service and the second, ride capacity available to the public.
Taking as his example the Minnesota State Fair, an event without wristband promotions and one of the best-attended fairs in the country, he gave numerical examples for his thesis.
Wood said the MSF is open 167 total hours. The rides at the fair have a total capacity during those hours of 4,370,056. They could gross approximately $1,000,000 per day during the run of the fair. Yet the fair gross is only 3.3 million, utilizing only 28% of the available ride capacity.
Wood displayed an hourly ride gross chart which showed that the last two hours of each day were more productive than the first four. The top 15 rides accounted for 46% of the total gross of the fair.
Wood said the fair and the independent rides operators had worked together to cut out unproductive midway hours and said all fairs and carnivals should work together to look at capacity and hours of operation to arrive at the best use of assets.
During the question and answer sessions, several fairs said they had recently cut hours and even days earlier in the week from their schedule, finding the cuts to be a great cost savings without having to forfeit any revenue.