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  • Florida Strawberry Festival: Rainy Start, Record Finish
    The 2015 Florida Strawberry Festival is a recovery story - a strong finish overcame a bad start. 

    The festival, February 26-March 8, turned 80 this year and anticipation was high for this unique agricultural celebration, which up until about five years ago, had fallen on tough times. But with a change in management, content and marketing, the Florida Strawberry Festival reestablished itself as a popular, regional event. The 2014 edition was considered highly successful, including record revenues on the midway, extending what has become an upwards trajectory.

    That success suffered an interruption at the start of the 2015 11 day extravaganza that celebrates everything strawberry -more than 10,000 acres of strawberries are cultivated here, an industry generating more than $700 million in revenue. Inclement weather washed out the opening day. 

    "The first weekend was way down, we had rain and cold weather," said Paul Davis, General Manager, Florida Strawberry Festival. "The rest of the festival, we had beautiful weather."

    But once the skies cleared and temperatures rose, festival goers showed their support once again. By the closing weekend of the event, record days of 89,485 and 94,991, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, were recorded. While overall fair revenue failed to fully overcome the opening weekend losses, fair revenue and per-capita spending hit record levels during the closing days.

    As everyone the fair industry knows, the factor no one can control has the most control over the fate of a fair. Even the compulsion to top the previous year's attendance and spending is undermined when nature decides not to cooperate. 

    Belle City Midway
    "Last year was the biggest year we had at the Florida Strawberry Festival," said Charles Panacek, President of Belle City Amusements; 2015 was the seventh year Belle City Amusements has provided the midway at the festival. "This year we lost the first Saturday, it was a complete rainout. It was a good festival, but we were down overall."
    The impact of the rainy opening meant that compared to the year before, midway revenue was down by about 4 percent compared to 2014. But the final accounting is not entirely negative - the silver lining in those rain clouds is that rest of the event was strong. Last year Belle City Amusements' revenue was up 15 percent compared to 2013. Given that an entire opening Saturday was lost, the overall midway revenue of the following 11 days being down by under 5 percent indicates the robust profitability of the whole event. 

    "We made up a lot of lost ground and the final Saturday and Sunday made up the largest final weekend we ever had," said Panacek. 

    He added, "it is a very good show. The entertainment they booked really brings in the crowds, and after they leave the show they ride the rides."

    The scheduling of the headline entertainment, which is adjacent to the midway on the 6,000-seat Plant City Stadium, home of the Wish Farms Sound Stage, turns concertgoers into fairgoers. Evening shows begin at 7:30, ending by 9:30, giving ample time for post-concert, midway enjoyment. There are also separate afternoon shows, that start at 3:30, essentially creating two shifts of midway customers. Weekend nights feature Moonlight Magic - a pay one price for all rides from 10pm to 2am. "We do an armband deal and there's no gate admission," said Panacek. "Our numbers were up and the concerts drew in a younger crowd which was good for us."

    Last year, the midway added an additional Guest Services Booth, where staff interact with fairgoers, answering questions and responding to complaints and compliments. 

    "We actually get lot more compliments than complaints," said Panacek. The second booth was purposely located near the Kiddie Korral, the children's section of the Belle City Amusements midway.
    Having two locations for these booths - and stationing one near the family section - "turns out to be a real convenience for our customers," said Panacek. "More people used the Guest Services Booths this year. They don't have to walk to other side of the midway, and more people used the second location this year."

    The new guest services booth as part of the Kiddie Korral is also part of a growing trend - a rise of families with younger children among fairgoers. "We want to attract families, and we want to cater to those families" said Panacek. "It is somewhat of a trend to expand to the kiddie and family rides. We added a couple of new kiddie rides, not an exorbitant amount, but it is growing. We are seeing more parents with younger children. The families with children from six to 13 seem to be increasing."

    The Belle City Amusements midway at the Florida Strawberry Festival featured 90 rides. "We have them squeezed in,:" joked Panacek. "We're using the same space, so we always change it up." 

    Some of the rides that debuted at the 2015 Florida Straw included a Wisdom Squadron, Space Train, and Lolli Swing, Disco. Perennial Favorites are the Giant Wheel, Crazy Mouse Coaster, Spacer Roller, Magnum and the "the Moon Raker, which is the only one in the U.S., does very well," he added. 

    For Panacek, the Florida Strawberry Festival was just the fourth fair of the season for Belle Amusements. "People seem to have more money in their pockets this year. As long as the gas prices stay down, this will be a great season." 

    He added that "we gave a great working relationship with the festival personnel, from the volunteers to the paid staff and directors. They take an immense pride in making each festival better. We work together on all our promotions and our pricing."

    Modified Marketing
    Certainly, one reason the festival was able to recover from the opening day monsoon was that organizers modified its marketing. Several population segments attend this annual event. In addition, it is an alcohol-free festival, which may reduce attendance from some demographics, but combined with its top-of-the-line entertainment offerings, the Florida Strawberry Festival has gained regional popularity as a family-friendly Mardi Gras. 

    In addition, "we get a lot of snowbirds, people coming down here from the north escaping the snow and cold. People mark this festival on their calendar, it's a tradition," said Davis. 

    Festival marketing this year specifically targeted The Villages, a community north of Plant City that has a large senior and retired adult population. In addition, the festival partnered with a Christian Radio Station to market the two Christian music shows the festival featured. "We had heavy rotation on those stations and appealed directly to their fan base," said Davis 

    Billboard marketing was also increased, and the festival utilized more than 60 digital billboards to market the 80th anniversary of the Florida Strawberry Festival. "Increasing the number of billboards was the biggest change to our advertising," he explained. 

    One of the challenges for the festival is that it follows the Florida State Fair. "We have a very small window of opportunity to really promote the festival, because advertising any earlier we conflict with their marketing," he said. " This year we did do a lot more smart marketing. We made that most of that week and half window by having more focus and better targeting." 

    Last year, the Florida Strawberry Festival decided to improve the customer service component of the festival by introducing the Hospitality Ambassador Program, where trained staff walk throughout the festival and encounter festival goers, offering directions and suggestions as well as listening to concerns and complaints. These roving staff were increased to six from four in 2015, and their duties were expanding to include surveying, which included a question for future marketing.

    "We made sure to get their zip codes, to find out where people coming from," said Davis. The process of compiling responses and analyzing results was still being under way as of press times. Festivalgoers also took a lot of selfies with the ambassadors. 

    Coke, Not Pepsi
    Sponsorships also increased for this year, up 10-12 percent, which Davis partially credits with an improving economy. A big switch was that the festival's beverage contract with switched from Pepsi to Coca-Cola. "It was the first year with Coke and it went very well," said Davis. "It was a better contract and the technical aspects of the transition went very smoothly. Coca-Cola is now our official drink sponsor."

    The Belle City Midway, in conjunction with the new beverage sponsor, offered a $5 off Armband promotion for fairgoers who brought a empty container of a Coca Cola product . According to Panacek, the numbers were higher for this promotion than similar promotions in previous years by the former beverage sponsor. Otherwise, switching beverage sponsors was nothing new to this midway provider. "It doesn't affect us, we just make sure our vendors are selling whatever the product is the sponsor," he said.

    Entertainment Luck
    The Florida Strawberry Festival also boasts one of the best entertainment line ups off all the late winter Florida outdoor events. Davis pointed out that the star power of the closing concerts of the Florida Festival dramatically boosted attendance. 

    John Legend played the Saturday night, "and we got lucky because he was fresh off his Oscar Win," said Davis. (Legend won an academy award for Glory, which he also performed at this year's Oscar broadcast). The closing concert was REBA - Reba McIntyre, the country music legend and television star made the Florida Star Festival a stop on her new tour, a highly anticipated return to live performance for the country music legend, which is a build up to Love Somebody, her first album of new material in five years, scheduled to be released in April. 

    While country music tends to be a festival favorite, as the addition of Legend indicates, organizers are diversifying the musical line up. Other acts at the 2015 Florida Strawberry festival included: Alabama, Sawyer Brown, Happy Together Tour, Ronnie Milsap, Sara Evans, Ricky Skaggs, Craig Morgan, Oak Ridge Boys , Newsboys, Loretta Lynn, Boyz II Men and Parmalee. 

    Davis said that the central Florida location can be a double edged sword when it comes to talent buying and concert bookings. On the plus side, artists often tour the region this time of year to avoid the winter weather conditions in most of North America; but on the negative side,  there are a growing number of venues in competition for acts, such as casinos and other location - and the accompanying radius clauses - making the Florida Strawberry Festival far from the only stage available.

    "There are acts who love playing here and are loyal," said Davis. "But it is getting tougher to maintain that loyalty."

    Newer competition for the newer, rising stars that round up a festival's line up - is now coming from a newer touring format, the Mega Tours. "The competition we faced this year was more from the mega tours," said Davis. 

    Mega Tours are all-star line ups - essentially a package of several acts with a major superstar as the headliner, and new comers used to round out the shows. Mega Tours book stadiums and larger venues, spaces the new stars are unable to sell out at this step of their journey to stardom.

    "The problem is that the up-and-coming acts, who are just getting popular, were important to our festival," said Davis, citing as an example, Taylor Swift, who the festival booked early in her career. Her record sales and radio play was only starting to peak by the time she did play the Florida Strawberry Festival. The Mega Tour trend is now preventing those lucky  coincidences for outdoor events like the festival. 

    "Mega Tours will grab two or three of the young acts that were bread and butter for the festival," said Davis. "Just as they fly up the charts, the tour snatches them up and it is hard to compete with opening up for a huge headliner. Then the radius clauses kick in and they can't play here for six months or a year." 

    Catastrophe Averted
    The Florida Strawberry Festival avoided a near catastrophe the midway. An aluminum light pole became unattached to a fence and fell on a child, who was uninjured. The accident occurred, according to Davis, by fairgoers "leaning and climbing on a fence that could not support their weight. They kept doing so after repeatedly being told not to," he said

    The child suffered what amounted to "to a scratch," said Davis. No hospitalization was required and the midway remained opened. Safety inspectors visited the site and met with Belle City Amusement personnel as well as and Festival staff. "It was handled very professionally," said Davis. "Any accident is one too many, but this very minor and caused by human error, not a malfunction of equipment. The light pole was very light weight, and it was a very minor injury and the problem was rectified immediately." 

  • Women Leading Georgia & South Carolina Fairs into 2015
    Is 2015 the year of the woman? If Georgia and South Carolina have their way, the answer is yes!
    Probably the most newsworthy first for Georgia Association of Agricultural Fairs and the South Carolina Association of Fairs, who held their fourth consecutive, joint-convention, January 22-24, is both organizations are now headed by women.
    Hilda Thomason - manager of the Georgia Mountain Fair in Hiawassee - stepped into the Peach State's presidential chair and Nancy L. Smith, CFE, Assistant Manager, Director, Marketing, Sponsorship & Exhibits, South Carolina State Fair grabbed hold of the Palmetto State's reins. 

    It is the first time for the Georgia organization to have a woman hold the seat and only the second time for the South Carolina.
    "The woman are in charge now," joked Thomason, who also noted that she has been in the fair business 35 years. "Nancy and I are honored to have the job."  

    Smith is also one of the rare - although not the first - times an executive from the state fair heads an association made up of county and local fairs. For Smith though, fairs are an interrelated network, and the stronger the smaller fairs, the stronger the state fair. "The fair industry's roots are at the county fairs," said Nancy Smith. "That's who we are. There are a lot of hard working people at the local level."

    Smith pointed out in South Carolina, some of the county fairs, such as the Coastal Carolina Fair in Ladson, have made strides in expanding social media efforts and sponsorships. "They reached a lot of people, it was amazing what they did,"  adding that both smaller fairs and the state fair "are learning from them. The smaller fairs are using social media to boost attendance."
    Georgia has 30 fairs; South Carolina 12 fairs. By sharing a convention, these two adjacent states can save on costs of running the event, which includes better attendance by vendors and other associate members, who often do business in both states. This year, the convention attracted 469 attendees, the highest in the four-year history and featured an expanded trade show to 46 booths and two entertainment showcases.Convention organizers noted that the move to a new space for the convention -The Crowne Plaza, Atlanta Perimeter at Ravinia- provided more space and upgraded accommodations, improving the overall outcome of the event.

    "There was a lot of energy at the convention and trade show, we had excellent attendance," said Smith. "Fairs are a unique business, in that we are not in competition with each other. At the convention, the two organizations have their own business meetings, but by bringing the two organizations together, we get exposed to different ideas on how to get more people through the gates. It is really seamless how we work together."
    Jen Puente, Sponsorship Manager of the Wisconsin State Fair presented a program entitled, "Embracing Sponsorships, Lets Grab Some Extra Dough"  Martha Roth, a motivational speaker and former Missouri Fair Association Director, gave her presentation - "Just Squint" - which explored ways of looking at things differently to overcome challenges.
    Other educational topics included "Fair and Carnival Promotions", "Appearances of your Fair", "Social Media - top 20 ideas in on-line Marketing", and "Parking and Security."
    The presentation by Puente was a highlight, according to Thomason. "Fairs are interested in embracing new sponsorships, which improve the bottom line," she said. "It was very well received."
    Costs - ranging from higher insurance, new E.coli prevention measures related to petting zoos, and the continuing soar of entertainment - were much on the minds and constant topics of discussion by attendees to the joint convention. "Fairs are worried about rising costs," said Thomason. "It just costs more to put on a fair, these days."

    The higher cost of entertainment has also been increasing. "Fairs are very worried," she said. At the fair she manages - the Georgia Mountain Fair - talent costs are becoming a factor.  

    The fair attracts nationally known acts, ranging fro Ricky Skaggs to the Osmond Brothers, "but the costs keep rising and it looks like this year may be harder than last year."

    She said that fairs are considering increasing other types of entertainment, such as demolition derbies - "but you defiantly draw more with concerts and other talent."

    Another challenge for local fairs is finding volunteers to work the fair, which helps contain costs and strengthens the connection to the community. "Fair used to find a lot of volunteers through the Lions Club or Kiwanis Club, but those members are aging," said Thomason "Fairs are looking at ways to go beyond civic organizations to get younger people in the community to become fair volunteers. "

    Financial issues may have been top-of-mind for most attendees, Thomason pointed that the mood at this convention was upbeat and enthusiastic - 2014 was a good year for fairs in both states and with lower fuel costs kicking off 2015 - "Everyone was much more positive this year," said Thomason. "The economy is better than it has been, and the lower gas prices means some cost savings for fair and more money in people's pockets, which we hope they'll spend at the fair."
    In addition, both state governments have been very supportive of the agricultural industry, and in turn, the role county fairs can play. "Fairs have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on the agricultural industry," said Smith. "It is harder and harder for people to hold on to their agricultural roots or be exposed to the industry. Fairs bring people together for all those aspects of agriculture and tradition."
    New officers for the Georgia Association inaugurated at the convention included: Michael Lariscy of the Coastal Empire Fair, Savannah was named 1st Vice President and Tod Miller, manager of the North Georgia State Fair, was elected 2nd Vice President. 

    The new officers for the South Carolina Association included: President-Elect Paul Winters of the Union County Fair. Nancy Harmon of the Piedmont Interstate Fair was named the "South Carolina Fairman of the Year" and Ted Lane of the Columbia County was named the "James H. Drew Fairman of the Year" for Georgia. Both organizations voted that in 2017, the joint convention will be held in South Carolina, for the first time since this happy partnership of organizations began.

  • Revenue Up for Wade's Florida State Fair Midway Debut
    As one of the first of the larger fairs of the new year, the Florida State Fair is often seen as a harbinger. There is no one single crystal ball and fair professionals tend to look a variety of sources data for indicators of a seasons. Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows, the new midway provider for the Florida State Fair, is apprehensive about reading too much into one fair.

    But, as soothsaying mechanisms go, the Florida State Fair - the 111th edition of this event ran February 5-16 - will lead to a positive prediction. The Sunshine State event saw record days and a boost in revenue that bodes well for the industry in 2015. Or as Zaitshik proclaimed, "buckle your set belt, we're going to have a great year."

    In spite of storms early in the fair - the weather played its part and attendance responded. 

    Chuck Pesano, Executive Director of the Florida State Fair Authority, said this year's Florida State Fair "overall, went very well. The weather was good. We had two days of major rain but they both occurred on weekdays - Opening Day and the first Monday."

    Revenue & Attendance
    Fair attendance reached a healthy total of 388,830, with some very strong showings on several weekdays "Wednesday doubled in revenue and the second Thursday was up 50 percent from 2014 and for attendance, Wednesday was 40 percent above our 10 year average, and second Thursday was up 20 percent above the 10 year average," said Pesano.

    He added, "Our numbers are very preliminary, but we are projecting a revenue increase of almost 10 percent versus the 2014 Fair. Gate per capita spending increased by over 7 percent. Gate revenues increased by almost 6 percent and midway revenue was up almost 15 percent."

    This 15 percent boost in midway revenues - midway revenue was $4,399,446 - is not just a positive indicator for the 2015 fair season, but is ripe for analysis by the fair industry. The Florida State Fair has had an independent midway for the past decade, but in July, following a very public bidding process, the midway contract was awarded to Wade Shows. The question that observers are pondering is how much a factor in the uptick in business can be attribute to abandoning an independent midway model.

    But neither the question or the answers are uncomplicated. The new format is not as simple as going back to being the sole product of one carnival company. "When transitioning to a new system or provider, initial glitches often occur," said Pesano. "The Fair was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly the transition to Wade Shows actually was."

    Hybrid Transition
    In actuality, the Florida State Fair Authority coined the phrase hybrid midway - Wade supplies approximately 60 percent of the 115 midway rides, then handles all the subcontracting with the other carnival companies. (The Florida State Fair Authority had final approval of all rides, but management of the midway was entirely the responsibility of Wade)

    According to Zaitshik, Wade Shows had subcontracted about half dozen ride companies, including Dreamland Amusements, Myers Amusements, Wood Entertainment, and Jeremy Floyd, all of whom had both worked with Wade Shows and provided rides to the Florida State Fair under their independent midway format.  Big Rock Amusements and Powers Great American Midways also made their debut at the Florida State Fair.

    "All of those companies knew what we wanted and knew what the Florida State Fair expected," he said. "All of our team members delivered what they were supposed to deliver. They did a fantastic job. They understand the Wade Brand."

    Midway Upgrades
    In addition to the increase in midway spending, the "As one of the largest midway operators in the nation, Wade Shows' midway expertise and fresh perspective was an additional benefit for the Florida State Fair that was brought to the table," said Pesano. "Changing over to Wade Shows as Midway provider resulted in an estimated cost savings of $50,000 per year in rentals, employee labor and contracted services."

    According to Pesano, the contract also called for a $100,000 sponsorship fee from Wade, and from $100,000 to $200,000 spent to "improve the midway and enhance the patron experience. Wade Shows took on the financial investment to have portions of the midway expanded with new asphalt, add new rest areas, and provide uniquely Florida State Fair customized canvas for all rides and vendors. This resulted in a top-notch looking midway with great consistency."

    Zaitshik said he opted to spend the bulk of the upgrade funding up-front (i.e. this year), the investment ranged from improving landscaping to new awnings, canopies and uniforms. "It was a labor of love," he said. "We reinforced the Florida State Fair with our landscaping and other improvements because I know that in the long run it will pay bigger dividends." 

    The Wade makeover project not only beautified the entire midway, but made it more attendee friendly, adding more than 16 rest areas with large umbrellas, 40 picnic tables and 100 benches, 16 light towers and a wider midway, allowing for easier pedestrian movement and safety.

    Wade and the fair also added observation towers for better crowd control and safety. "We had a positive response to all our changes," Zaitshik said. 

    The walkway was widened to 64 feet, which "increased customer satisfaction. When people are pushed together, there can be the tendency to react negatively," Zaitshik said. "With the observation towers, security could control the crowd better."

    According to the Florida State Fair, the transition to Wade introduced 22 new rides to the Florida State Fair. Major new rides include Delusion, Centrifuge, Quasar, Frenzy, Star Dancer, Beach Shack, Farm Tractors, Flying Dutchman, and Khaos. The most popular rides however were the Super Slide, Sky Glider, Comet II, Giant Wheel, Hit N 2000 and Delusion. 

    Best Ever
    "There are a lot of fairs that may be larger than the Florida State Fair, but no carnival has been presented in a better footprint," said Zaitshik. "We play a lot of great fairs, but this year's Florida State Fair midway was as fine a midway as any other fair in North America."

    Another factor in the midway success was expanding the usual weekend only armband promotion to everyday of the fair. "Offering a weekday armband in addition to weekend armbands was well received," added Pesano.  

    The combination of new rides, midway upgrades and enhanced promotion resulted in a predictable fairgoer behavior. "People came earlier, stayed longer, spent more money," said Zaitshik.

    The 111th Florida State Fair was the second year of digital ticketing system. Last year, the inevitable glitches of a freshman program occurred, but with Wade's assistance, the sophomore year of the new ticketing system was nearly trouble free. Overall the system worked quite well, with only minor glitches," said Pesano. "We incorporated many fixes and the system ran smoothly. Having Wade Shows as the midway manager was an asset, as they are familiar with the system and use it at many other venues."

    Targeted Marketing
    The fair's advertising budget was $400,000, about the same as last year. The media mix of its advertising campaigned was divvied as follows: 32 percent Television, 17 percent Radio, 11 percent Out of Home (Outdoor), 14 percent Digital, and 26 percent Print. "In 2015, we targeted specific markets that might not otherwise attend the Florida State Fair, and increased our digital and television presence," said Pesano.

    The most successful social media promotion was a pre-fair hamburger contest, The People's Choice Burger Contest. The winning entry was the Parmesan Crusted Burger ("A twice-fried burger patty coated with a potato chip/parmesan-Romano cheese mixture until crispy. Topped with bacon, a mayonnaise-parmesan sauce and torched until melted.")

    According to Pesano, the fair licensed 189 spaces for food vendors outside the midway (22 food vendors were within the midway, managed by Wade). "Being the first State Fair of the year, many vendors use the Florida State Fair as a test market for new foods," said Pesano.

    Moving Exhibits
    The Florida State Fair supplemented its regular offerings with two emotionally moving and profound exhibits - The Wall that Heals, a traveling replica of built and by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the 9/11 Never Forget Traveling Exhibit, a high-tech, tractor-trailer that unfolds into a 1,100 square foot exhibit featuring interactive education, artifacts, news and video recordings.

    "We are grateful to have such extraordinary programming at the 2015 Fair," said Doyle E. Carlton, III, Florida State Fair Authority Chairman of the Board. "Both the Wall that Heals, and the 9/11 Never Forget exhibits represent critical eras in American History. We feel these will give an opportunity for reflection, inspiration and will strengthen all that view them."

    "As a compliment to our other diverse range of educational and entertaining exhibits, this meaningful programming targeted and brought in numerous patrons that might had not otherwise attended the Fair," said Pesano.

    Good Year
    All the numbers are not yet verified, but Pesano said that for the 2015 fair "Overall revenue was strong and should exceed the budget."

    A good year may be good enough for most fairs, but the Florida State Fair underwent a huge change that was both complex and visible. While that transition was well-thought out, the midway is the core of most fairs and abandoning more than a decade of independent management and experimenting with a hybrid midway inspired, however concealed, at least some trepidation. 

    Now that the fair is over, fair organizers are both relieved and gratified the right decision - and mindful execution of that decision was made. "The Fair's new programming and exhibits, and physical enhancements and updates including the Midway, provided Fairgoers with a unique and family-friendly experience," said Pesano.

    For Wade Shows, the success seems most based on partnership. Zaitshik: "When you do business with a fair committed to achieving a goal, amazing things can happen." 

  • PA Secretary of Agriculture Addresses County Fairs
    Russell Redding the new Secretary of Agriculture, addressed the attendees of the Pennsylvania Association of County Fairs at their annual convention, held January 21-24. There are 109 fairs in the association, and attendance at the yearly gathering was 1,600, higher than last year. Much of the reason for this turnout was that on January 20, a new governor was inaugurated in the state house. 

    While meeting the new officials may not be unusual for agricultural-based fair association members, the political situation in Pennsylvania and how it will effect that state's fairs is more complicated than the typical changing of the guard. 

    Following the elections in November, the governorship has gone from Republican to Democrat while the two houses of the state legislature also switched parties, but in reverse - both are now Republican. 

    "The secretary made a good first impression," said Harry Ruffner, Executive Secretary/Treasurer. "He said all positive words, but until the budget is created, we don't know what will happen to fairs."

    In other words, the Pennsylvania Fair Industry is apprehensive. According to Ruffner, fairs are "wobbling." The association has lost six fairs within two years, and inclement weather meant 2014 was less than a banner year for outdoor events in the Keystone State. "Rain was a big factor for many of our fairs last year," said Ruffner.
    Three years ago, budget cuts depleted government support for fairs, some which was restored. In 2013, the Association released an Impact Study that found county fairs generated $50 million in revenue (expected to reach $57 million in 2016), created 6,600 part-time and 1,700 full-time jobs, and resulted an economic impact of $126 million on the state.

    On the negative side, the Republican administration left office with a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. On the plus side, agriculture and tourism are the two leading industries in Pennsylvania and fairs are instrumental to both. "Our 4-H and 4-A programs are doing great, there's a lot of positives," said Ruffner. 
    For this year, state funding is in place, "it's the 2016 budget we will be working on," he said. While the start of the budget battle is still several weeks away, the convention also enabled the fairs to regroup and strategize. "We are continuing to meet with our lobbyist to make sure that fairs are part of the debate. We are making sure that that all the new legislators have the impact study," he added.

    The convention also featured a trade show floor with 154 trade show booths and its annual Wednesday night entertainment showcase had 16 performers. Mr. Twist himself, Chubby Checker, performed at the Pennsylvania Association of County Fairs Banquet. Inspirational speaker Chad Hymas headlined the opening ceremonies. 

    New officers for the organization include: Dr. David Reese, President and David Hallstrom, Vice President. The annual Zone Fair Awards were bestowed on: Zone 1 - Jamestown Fair; Zone 2 - Wayne County Fair; Zone 3 - Dawson Grange #419 Community Fair; and Zone 4 - Mason Dixon Fair. The Legislative Award was given to State Senator Judith Schwank. 

    The seminars and workshops available at the convention included the new Consumer Protection Program Workshop, developed by the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE) and Dr. Stephen Neel of Technical Solutions International. The program presented new information on enteric pathogens such as E.coli, and explored issues such as controlling traffic flow in all animal areas, creating proper signage, installing hand-wash areas and establishing specific cleaning protocols. "There was a problem out west and we want to avoid any problem in Pennsylvania," said Ruffner. The IAFE developed a really good workshop, which was very well attended." 

    Iowa Fairs Upbeat at Annual Convention

    Fairs are often seen as epitomizing the values of America's heartland and few states seem as synonymous with that heartland as Iowa. The Hawkeye State boasts 106 annual fairs (the population is a little more than 3.01 million), making the fair industry a major driver for tourism and agriculture. 

    "We were very blessed with good weather last year and had a good fair season," said Tom Barnes, Executive Director of the Association of Iowa Fairs and Executive Secretary of the Mighty Howard County Fair in Cresskill.

    This proactive attitude and positive feelings about the state's robust industry resounded throughout the state's annual convention, held December 12-14 at the Holiday Inn Airport in Des Moines. The turnout - 1,397 - was a near-record and included representatives from both the member fairs and the 145 associate members. 

    Last year was a banner year for Iowa Fairs said Barnes, and the upbeat attitude lasted long after the conclusion of the events.

     "When fairs have good years, it is a pretty easy for them to have positive attitude and to bring that positive energy to the convention," he said. "It can be is easy to keep that positive energy going."

    Another factor causing an upbeat attitude at the convention was the decline in gasoline prices. "With gas prices down half, that definitely makes you smile," he said. " It reduces overhead costs and makes maintenance less expensive. There's a ripple effect."  

    Iowa fairs are benefiting from a healthy agricultural industry and supportive state government. "Fairs keep the agriculture industry moving, and farming people sustain and grow fairs," said Barnes.

    According to Barnes, the state government is providing grants of up to $10,000 for capital improvements for qualifying fairgrounds. "They are finding funds, which the fairs need and is giving a boost to the fairs." 

    The convention featured several workshops, including: ADA Guidelines, Marketing & Funding Basics; Insurance Do's & Don'ts; Conflict of Interest Policy for Fair Boards; Targeting Generation ‘Y'; Livestock - This & That; Successful Promotions on a Small Budget, and Getting the Most Out Of Free Grounds Entertainment. Jessica McLaughlin CFE, Fair Coordinator of the Spokane Interstate Fair in Spokane Washington, presented her workshop Junior Youth Boards, which covered such issues as recruiting members, duties, meetings and sharing of responsibilities. 

    A related youth issue at the convention was how to increase the volunteer base for fairs. The fair volunteer population is aging, straining the operations of many county fairs, and the younger generation seems reluctant to take their place. "It is tougher to get younger folks to volunteer," said Barnes.

    The shortage of a new generation to populate the ranks of fair volunteers, doesn't does not seem to be occurring at the fair management or agricultural level. "We are seeing new faces and younger faces at the convention," said Barnes. "We have seen an influx of the younger professionals in all types of agriculture work. Veterinarian Medicine is big. Ag business is teaming with younger workers." 

    Iowa fairs are maintaining traditional attractions, and AG-centric focus, but they are also, "trying new things to attracting a new clientele, they might be into photography exhibits are take a new look at the entertainment. Fairs are refocusing on what they do," he said. 

    He added, "Every year, social media is growing for fair promotion and we talk about that at every convention. The local fairs are doing a better job with social media, and it is very cost effective promotion and brings in younger people to the fair, especially to the fairs with major name concerts."

    More than 600 association members attended the always popular Social A'Fair and Auction. This year's theme was Me & My Hat - attendees wore their favorite, funny, silly or ugly hat - 151 items were donated to the benefit auction from member fairs and associates, with proceeds going towards association promotional and legislative efforts. The Social A'Fair and Auction raised a near record amount of $28,957. 

    In addition to workshops, Round Table discussion were held, with topics including: Admission Prices, Fees & Your Exhibitors; Milestone Fairs: VIP Program at Grandstand Shows; and Fairgrounds Beautification Ideas.

    The Association of Iowa Fairs Hall of Fame inductees at the convention included: Kenny(posthumously) & Elaine Hinsch, George, Lyon County Fair; Edna Schrandt, Decorah, Winneshiek County Fair; George Moffett of Variety Attractions. New offices elected at the convention included: Rick Palmer of as the 2015 President of the Association Board; Jerry Hopperstad of Northwood as Board's 1st Vice President and Jim Sloan of Eldon as Board's 2nd Vice President. Association Directors elected to the Board were Darwin Gaudian of Primghar in O'Brien County, Jerry Hopperstad of Northwood in Worth County, Rick Palmer of Manchester in Delaware County, Jim Mohr of Coon Rapids in Carroll County, Jo Reynolds of Indianola in Warren County and Randy Beckman of Sperry in Des Moines County.

    Dave & Bonnie Tripses of D & B Shows of Lone Tree received the ‘Leo Overland Showman of the Year' award and Bob Schlutz of the Louisa County Fair in Columbus Junction, was named the Association's 'Fairman of the Year'.

    The theme of the convention was A Fair Family Reunion - while fellowship and networking were key factors for attending, this reunion also revitalized the commitment of attendees to continue the Iowa fair industry's success. 
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Butler Amusements
Desert Sky Mall Carnival
Phoenix, AZ
3/27/2015 - 4/8/2015
Butler Amusements
Arizona Mills Mall
Tempe, AZ
3/27/2015 - 4/8/2015
Belle City
Flagler County Fair
Bunnell, FL
4/1/2015 - 4/5/2015
Butler Amusements
Maricopa County Fair
Phoenix, AZ
4/8/2015 - 4/12/2015
Butler Amusements
Hilltop Mall
Richmond, CA
4/10/2015 - 4/19/2015
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World's Big Fish Fry
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4/21/2015 - 4/16/2015

IAAPA Attractions Expo - Orlando, FL
[more info..]

Annual IAFE Convention and Trade Show - Paris Hotel - Las Vegas, NV
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I.I.S.F. Gibtown Extravaganza - Gibsonton, FL
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2014 TOP 50 FAIRS
1. Texas State Fair - Dallas, TX
2. Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo - Houston, TX
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4. San Antonio Livestock Show & Ex. - San Antonio, TX
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The Industry Buzz
Showmens League of America establishes Diane Burmeister memorial scholarship

In honor of long time Showmen's League office assistant, Diane Burmeister, President Paul Kasin has established a Memorial Scholarship fund in her name. If you would like to contribute please mail checks to the office made out to The Showmen's League of America with a note 'for the Diane Burmeister Scholarship'. 

Address: 1023 W Fulton Market, Chicago IL 60607.  Or to use a credit card call 312-733-9533.

  Posted by Matt Cook / SLA on 3/27/2015
2016 IISF Gibtown Trade Show Dates Announced
The IISA in Gibtown announced the 48th annual IISF Trade Show and Extravaganza will take place February 9-13, 2016.  The show, which traditionally follows the clubs Super Bowl Sunday party, will be falling a week later then it has the last couple of years due to the Super Bowl taking place on February 7.  The trade show will be taking place during the second week of the Florida State Fair which will be open February 4-15, 2016.
  Posted by Matt Cook on 3/6/2015
Ralph Biancardi of Ace Amusements passes
It is with great sadness to report that Ralph Biancardi, co-owner of Ace Amusements of Yonkers, NY, passed away yesterday.   He has been in the business for over 40 years and was best described by his sister, Roseanna, as "a one man show who did everything.  He had hands of gold".  Ralph was 64 years old and is survived by his mother Philomena Biancardi, sister Madeline Murray of Tommy's Midways, twin sister Joanna Valentini,  youngest sister Roseanna Biancardi and brother in-law Fred McDaniel of McDaniel Brothers Shows.

Services will be held at F Ruggiero & Sons Funeral Home in Yonkers, NY (732 Yonkers, Ave) on Saturday March 7 and Sunday March 8 from 2-4pm & 4-9pm.  Mass will be held on Monday, March 9 at St. Barnabas Church in Bronx, NY at 10:45am.

  Posted by Matt Cook on 3/4/2015
Deggeller Attractions & The Arkansas State Fair sign a multi year contract extension
Deggeller Attractions has announced the signing of a multi-year contract extension to provide the midway at the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock.  Little Rock is the furthest west that Deggeller travels, trucking the majority of their show from the Virginia State Fair in Doswell.  The show supplemented its own equipment last year with additional rides from PBJ Happee Day Shows and Luehr's Ideal Rides.  Posted by Matt Cook on 3/4/2015
In our efforts to chronicle the history of our industry, we could think of no better way to further this endeavor than to interview industry pioneers and preserve their videos for posterity.


AMUSEMENTS OF AMERICA IS NOW HIRING & BOOKING for the 2015 season!  Employment Inquiries call 
Dominic:  (732) 446-7144 and for 

Concession Boing call 
Rob:  (732) 337-7748

Reithoffer Shows is now hiring a show electrician, giant wheel foreman, and interviewing ride foremen for other rides.  Please call 863-581-5334 or visit

Schantz Manufacturing has over 60 years of manufacturing award winning custom concession trailers.  Visit our web site at or call 618-654-1523.

Evans United Shows is now booking game concessions for the 2015 season!  Call Tom Evans   (816) 392-0759
 or email

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