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  • Delaware's Attendance Increase Formula: Updated Marketing, New Facilities, Bigger Midway, Sold-Out Concerts

    Fair organizers declared the 2014 edition of the Delaware State Fair successful, but no single reason can explain the positive result. The main factors were conducive weather, a concert line-up that beat the booking challenges plaguing this summer's entertainment market, a re-imagined plaza that encouraged fairgoers to stay longer and an expanded midway - and while individually each factor may not have been sufficient on its own, together they added up to a popular, thus prosperous, 2014 Delaware State Fair.

    "The fair did incredibly well in the aggregate, per-capita spending was up across the board," said William J. DiMondi, General Manager. "We are not a percentage sale fair and so our informal polling of the concessionaires indicated sales were up significantly. Everyone was very positive about this fair."

    Slow Grazing Temperatures
    He added, "there were more bodies, the meteorological conditions were favorable, which lended itself to cause slow grazing by the fairgoers, they were eating and drinking more. They couldn't help but come earlier than they usually might to the fair, and were slow to go to their cars. When we have a heat index of 105, after the show people made a beeline to their cars."

    Although late spring and early summer tended towards the wet and stormy for the Mid-Atlantic region, by midsummer the temperatures hovered in the comfort zone of the 80s. The Delaware Sate Fair saw attendance jump by nearly 25 percent - topping 282,000 - for this July event, which ran July 23 to August 1. "The biggest contributor was the weather," said DiMondi. "We had a string of ten days and ten nights, where it was low temperatures and mild weather. At night, people were wearing sweatshirts and hoodies. Usually we have boiling heat for least a few days, but not this year."

    Improved Economy
    According to Danny R. Aguilar, Assistant GM & Director of Marketing, some of the uptick in attendee numbers can also be attributed to an improving economy, which fair promotions help extend by offering discounts and other price promotions. "The concert attendance and overall gate attendance does represent a recovery of purchasing power and disposable income for fair patrons."

    Things may have improved, but money is still tight and many of more effective promotions the fair implemented revealed a sensitivity to patron's pocketbooks. Delaware State Fair promotions were underscored by offering fairgoers value.
    "With the recession it is challenging for folks to justify spending," said Aguilar. "In order to make the fair more accessible in times of recovery, we offer multiple days for admission discount, as well as discounted multi-day passes, carnival ride deals and discounts, etc. The challenge is still out there as the region rebuilds from economic hardship, however, with 3 sold out shows, and increased gate attendance, it is recognizable that recovery is in progress."

    Major promotions for the 2014 Delaware State Fair included: Pepsi Day - $2 off admission with any Pepsi Product; Food Lion Hunger Relief Day - free admission for five Food Lion (a regional supermarket chain) brand canned goods, which were then donated to the Food Bank of Delaware; Monday Ride Madness - discounted carnival ride discount available at 10 local Food Lions; Kids' Day - free gate admission for those 17 years and younger; Seniors' Days - two days of free gate admission to senior citizens, 65 years and older; Armed Forces Day - anyone with valid military identification receives free gate admission.
    Concerts Sell-Out
    The concert lineup at the fair's M&T Bank Grandstand included name acts such as Train, McClain, Keith Urban, Brantley Gilbert, Jeremy Camp, and Lady Antebellum, with ticket prices ranging from $16 to $94.

    According to DiMondi, this year's line-up and profitability were an improvement over last year, with 3 sold out shows. But considering the talent buyers' market, he attributes the success to "luck."

    DiMondi describes the situation as a sellers market, with competition and challenges as stringent as ever. "It is increasingly difficult to get big name groups and acts, especially in the country genre, because there are so many sheds and now so many festivals and only so many tours. Booking windows have tightened, and there are more radius clauses in contracts."

    The Delaware State Fair is equidistant between Philadelphia and Washington D.C./Baltimore, thus impacted by radius clauses from two vastly profitable urban markets, further complicating booking. "It takes longer and longer for confirmation," he said. "It's best if you can put some shows on sale by Christmas but now it's closer to January and February. But that is only one or two, and we are booking perilously closer to the fair date. If they are not touring, then you are into paying for a one-off, flying them in, renting equipment and instruments for their backline, but that gets cost prohibitive."

    Unfortunately, DiMondi doesn't see the entertainment market shifting closer to a more favorable buyer's climate. In addition to nationally renowned music acts, the grandstand also featured two demolition derbies. Aguilar added that the fair's "rodeo was revamped, and brought back to the main stage at the grandstand."
    Re-Invented Plaza
     The 2014 Delaware State Fair also featured the grand re-opening of the Discover Bank Plaza, which underwent a comprehensive renovation and expanding, transforming the facility into an anchor of the fair, featuring seven hours of daily entertainment and new food vendors.

    With the various agricultural exhibits - including a new Poultry building - the bedrock core of the Delaware Sate Fair, as well as attractions such as the Hollywood Circus, the Giraffe Menagerie Petting Zoo, and the Hollywood Racing Pigs, fairgoers are often lured to various parts of the fair, while missing other enticements. The Discover Bank Plaza, directly adjacent to the M&T Bank Grandstand, has been transformed into a "hub of entertainment, a friendly gathering place, a central focal point of the layout of the fair and a place to relax and grab a bite to eat," said DiMondi. "We not only renovated, but reconstructed the plaza, increasing its capacity by 75 percent."

    The selected food vendors - mainly deserts and a woodfire pizza - reflect a more laid back atmosphere compared to the antic-driven excitement of the fair. This calmer respite from the noisy, glittering fair excitement gave patrons the opportunity to pause, which in turn also achieved a needed objective of any fair- encouraging attendees to linger. "Because of our new plaza, people stayed longer at the fair, and if they stay longer enjoying themselves, they are spending more," said DiMondi.
    Donuts Delight
     The fair also added new grounds entertainment, further inducing fairgoers not to leave, including Hockey Circus Show featuring Paz, an acrobat and juggler; Junk Rock, which makes music on "found" instruments, such as trash cans and shopping carts, and Cutting Edge Dueling Pianos, an all request show. "These new acts took off, with many great reviews from fairgoers," said Aguilar.

    There were 96 food vendors, with new vendors including Chester's Tators & Gators, Georgie's Steamed Crabs, Pickle Barrel Sirloin Tips, Outlaw Fries, and Spaghetti Eddie's Homemade Italian Foods. According to Aguilar, the newest trend in fair cuisine indicates a direction away from the traditional food items. "these vendors offer non-typical fair foods that are just as delicious as their names imply," he said.

    The most popular of the newer food concessionaires at the Delaware State fair was Nothing Better, which specialized in mini-donuts. "They offered a variety of donut flavors including the hit flavor, cheesecake."
    Wade Midway Expands
    According to DiMondi, the Wade Shows midway had an increase of 17 percent in revenue and he credits the ride selection. Wade Shows featured 55 rides, the largest Delaware midway for the provider in its 11-year stay at this end-of-July event.

    "Wade played it right this year given the cooler temperatures," said DiMondi. "I'm not sure if they routed their units in anticipation of the weather, but they didn't bring the water slide or water boat rides, which people go on to cool down. The rides they brought were weather appropriate and the crowds responded."

    "We had a fantastic fair in Delaware, it was either a record or near record," said Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows. "It was the best year in the last five years. We are so weather dependent, but we got great weather, we had great rides and the fair has great management. You put those three things together, you get record revenue."

    Wade Shows increased the size of its Delaware ride arsenal for this year, including a First State debut of the Rock Star. "A very popular ride," Zaitshik said. "New rides creates excitement and enthusiasm, but also we were able to add rides, our ride capacity increased and we were able to accommodate demand. When people got to the midway, they were pleasantly surprised and pleased that the waiting times were less."

    Zaitshik added that Wade Shows just signed a new long term contract with Delaware, but adds, "We don't look at the length of a contract, we look at our presentation and we make our best presentation every day of the year and at every spot we play."

    Market Research & Implementation
    Selecting the optimum rides, food vendors and entertainment - and the unplanned pieces of luck like good weather - are all crucial components of a successful summer event.

    Delaware added another ingredient creating a cohesiveness making the whole surpass the parts. According Aguilar, while the media mix for fair marketing is undergoing the predictable shift towards increased use of digital platforms, the emphasis is on identifying the various segments of fairgoer, with an approach that "targets multiple generations through our marketing efforts. As we strategize to reach these clusters of fairgoers, we evaluate the best use of media . We still utilize the traditional print medium,  highlighting human interest stories and a full schedule of events in the newspaper. Another traditional marketing tactic we use is radio advertising; targeting similar customer segments through genres/styles of music based on radio station genre and geographic reach."

    Delaware Fair 2014 marketing began in the days following the previous year's event. At the conclusion of the 2013 fair, Aguilar implemented a comprehensive marketing study, following a review of the results from a customer survey of that year's fairgoers.

    "We researched further how our fairgoers were consuming information," he explained. "How are we reaching the most people based on their responses? With this information in tow, we strategized how to effectively divide our marketing mix and outreach to consumers over multiple platforms while keeping a strong, synergistic approach with the marketing message. We focused in on the most effective ways to reach our consumers that would yield the greatest return for both their information needs and our marketing efforts."

    In addition to targeting how to optimize utilizations of traditional media platforms, social media platforms -Twitter, Facebook, Google Ads, YouTube, etc. - were taken advantage of for what they did best:

    "Direct marketing campaigns to reach our consumers in a more personable way," said Aguilar. "With the average consumer demands for increased, personal customer relationship needs and connection to a brand, we have found that continuing to be highly interactive and present through social media has benefitted the overall social media efforts of the Fair. Consumers are looking for a more specialized experience, and interacting directly with our consumers through social media during the off-season and through Fair week promotes the customer-brand connection we are looking to have with fairgoers."

  • Winona Steamboat Days:  Lighting up the Mississippi

    Although the Mississippi River is often associated with the Deep South, its source is actually in northern Minnesota.  Wikipedia explains that it then "meanders slowly southwards for 2,340 miles..."

    Named after the legendary Princess We-Noh-Nah (who is said to have leaped to her death rather than marry a suitor she didn't love), the City of Winona, Minnesota sits amidst picturesque bluffs along the mighty Mississippi.  Ever wonder how Winona Ryder got her name?  She was born and raised in this region.
    In a very real sense, Winona Steamboat Days owes its very existence to the river.  Fred Benning, board-member and Chairman of Carnival, Parade and Vendors, explained:  "Our festival goes back before the turn of the century.  It was called other things before 1946, things such as Riverboat Days and Pancake Days.  It then turned into Winona Steamboat Days in order to honor the steamboat captains who were still alive in the area."

    Winona Steamboat Days pretty much ends with a bang each year.  Paying homage to "the  chief river of the largest drainage system in North America," the festival illuminates these  fabled waters with a spectacular display of fireworks.

    Grande Parade
    Another renowned event, the Grande Parade, was also eagerly anticipated.  Benning stated, "Our parade is second to none, including those in the Twin Cities.  We have an estimated 20,000 watching, along probably the best parade route in the country.  We have a four-lane  street that is straight as an arrow and loaded with shade trees." Benning continued, "Ours is the largest summer parade in the Upper Midwest, and is a  top-ten parade for the Midwest.  In our line-up, everything's got to have entertainment value.  People are therefore entertained for over two hours, and there's a lot of ‘Visiting Royalty' involved."

    Winona Radio reported that this year's Grande Parade featured the following:  a host of  regional High-School Marching Bands, a Commercial Units category, a Visiting Royalty competition, and a World War Two planes fly-over.

    Festivities Galore
    Benning also mentioned that Winona Steamboat Days is a festival, rather than a fair, focused solely upon entertainment.

    This entertainment includes name acts like Hairball and the Johnny Holm Band, shows like Seussical and the HoChunk Native Dancers, learning experiences like the National Eagle Center, and competitions like the Car Show Awards and the WATA Steamboat Days Tennis Classic.

    Annual preparation for all this entertainment is extensive.  Benning explained, "We start promoting it back in January, after we've gone to the fair convention and picked out some entertainment.  This is our first year with a big-name group that we paid quite a bit of money for, and it worked out well.  For the first time, we also had a minimum cover charge."

    He continued, "Our advertising budget breaks down to about a third newspapers, a third radio, and a third TV.  The biggest advertising we do is for our Car Show.  We spend a lot of money on that, and it almost requires a separate budget.  The cars come from all over the United States, and in the auction part of the show there's about a 60 percent sell rate.  They are, for the most part, about 95 percent collector cars."

    As for how it all went, Benning reported, "There was a significant increase this year.  Our food vendors were all up probably anywhere from 10 to 15 percent, and the carnival was up about 25 percent over the previous one."

    Midway gets a Gold Star
    Because Benning had felt that it was time to change carnivals this year, he researched some new possibilities before deciding that "Gold Star Amusements was the one."  This turned out to be a great choice. Benning stated, "All their rides were very clean, and there were ones we've never had before.  They have such a big show that we can alternate rides from year to year."

    The festival's website explains that armbands were $17 during advance sales and $22 at the carnival.  Benning said that "the most popular ride this year was the big gondola Ferris Wheel.  People also loved the tower-drop ride in which people were strapped four abreast.  A huge swing ride was another favorite."

    Benning also stated, "The food went really well this year.  We changed the vendor area around and made it more open.  I moved one row up on the sidewalk, and increased the distance between vendor stands.  Then we put in a lot of picnic tables, which drew a  large lunch crowd."

    He then added, "I don't get a big turnover in vendors, they want to stay.  We never duplicate vendors, they're all different."

    Growth Partnerships
    Benning is thinking of promoting the carnival to a greater extent next year because "people were in awe of it."  He added, "Our festival is growing, and is probably one of the largest around right now.  We're also able to partner with the Minnesota Marine Art Museum here in Winona."

    According to the museum's website, its mission is to engage "visitors in meaningful visual arts experiences through education and exhibitions that explore the ongoing and historic human relationship with water."

    Winona Steamboat Days also partners with nearby Elmer's Auto & Toy Museum.  Benning explains that it "has the world's largest collection of pedal cars."  Elmer's website states that this museum is located on Eagle Bluff, "which is the highest point along the Mississippi River."

    All in all, Winona Steamboat Days hasn't strayed far from its river roots.  Benning stated that it has "one of the top ten Water Ski Shows in the country, although this year the show got rained out."  Benning reminisced, "We've weathered many years here.  I started back in 1967 with the festival, and we've been creatively expanding ever since."  As the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "You can't step into the same river twice."  Make that a double for festivals...  

  • Helm & Sons creates custom Kiddieland for kids under 36in tall

    Dave Helm is the thinking man's carnival owner. He's also not afraid to speak his mind on occasion either.

    Helm, the son-in-law of the late Larry Davis of Carnival Time Shows has seen great results by developing a customized kiddieland with specially-made rides for young children under 36 inches in height.  Those kids may be too short to ride most kiddie attractions and Helm sees a significant niche to fill to prevent parents from walking off the lot with their family in tow because they feel they're not getting their money's worth.

    In early August, Colton, Calif.-based Helm and Sons, owned by Dave and Debbie Helm had two smaller, separate Kiddielands operating at the Sonoma County Fair and the Ventura County Fair. He brands them both as Cub Country.

    For the kiddieland at Sonoma County, the larger of the two spaces, Cub Country is also the name of the glass house designed to accommodate smaller tykes.
    The Ross Owens piece, the centerpiece of eight to 10 rides at Sonoma, unfolds from 28 feet to 50 feet features a lower chassis for kids to go through on their own without fear of tripping, Helm said. The space was themed with animatronic animals at an event that draws 330,000.  The show had 45 total pieces set up in Sonoma.

    At Ventura County, Helm set up a mini Baby Raiders as the focal point of the custom Kiddieland. It was themed with characters from the Legos movie and made its debut that week on Helm's midway. It was a smaller lineup at that fair with five pieces, Helm said.

    Both custom Kiddielands take two tickets for all rides, down from the three to five tickets for the bigger attractions.

    "As it stands now, the industry is not in good position to do anything to accommodate tomorrow's kids," Helm said. "We need to create an opportunity for them because there is a huge demographic that fits into that category.

    "The other day I stood outside my gate and caught a few people leaving ... young parents, 22 years old, with a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old and the younger one is screaming bloody murder because he's not tall enough for the rides," he said. "It's not right."

    "We need to improve that situation and recognize [those age gaps] as carnival owners because the fair rarely takes the initiative," Helm said. " Most fairs coast on a carnival's back and are only interested in the bigger rides to trump up what's new on the midway."

    So far, the 2014 season has been real good for Helm and Son playing its home state of California. The carnival picked up a new date, the Town & County Fair/Napa Valley Expo in Napa, Calif. "That's been a nice blessing," Helm said.

    What hasn't been so good were the three jumps of 30 hours or more from the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar to Santa Maria, he said.

    The show had 19 rides set up at Del Mar. The event closed on a Sunday and the carnival had to travel 550 miles, basically a full day of driving, to get all its equipment up and running by noon on Wednesday. Which actually meant everything had to be up by Tuesday "to let people sleep," Helm said.

    Helm is big on sleep and the increased productivity from his employees after they've had a good night's rest. That's why he moves the show on Mondays to allow his workers to catch their breath before moving on to the next spot. He's been doing it for three to four years and it has paid off.

    "I've seen the help drop off as the industry builds more larger, complicated rides," Helm said. "Teardowns of nine-and-a-half hours are the reward for working all day Sunday ... having to work until noon the next day. And drivers are driving tired."

    In Helm's opinion, there's too much at stake to potentially put his workers and his operation at risk because they're not getting the proper rest. This year, the show has brand new bunkhouses that run generators even when the there is no power at the fair or festival.

    "We have to treat them well at the bare minimum," Helm said. "I provide healthcare for the upper echelon but it's not Obamacare. We close at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday nights and go to bed by midnight. I've found tremendous success doing this and there's a lot less damage to the equipment."

    He's a believer in employing internationals and this season Helm and Son has 85 mostly Hispanic individuals tied to H2B Visas working his midway. Only two failed the show's mandatory drug testing. Two brothers smoked a joint out back and somebody saw them and reported the incident.

    They ended up being deported to Mexico. "I lost the best Zipper guy I ever had but it sent a message," Helm said. "I've had guys walk off in the middle of the night. But my turnover rate is not even a full 1 percent. On other shows, it's 7 to 8 percent."

    At its peak, the carnival has 100 workers on site, and to provide further support and promote loyalty, show officials built a 53-foot-long commissary manned by three full-time cooks. Ten tables hold 80 diners at a time and the way it's set up, the commissary can serve two people at a time, Helm said.

    It has two 47-inch televisions to satisfy the interests of the show's large Hispanic population that prefers watching soccer, while others can watch sports and other programming on the second screen.

    A portion of the trailer has a three-stage washing tank and another section is reserved for safety meetings, Helm said.

    The show hired a new safety consultant, Sergio Masdeu. Helm found Masdeu online and hired him after interviewing 19 people. Masdeu has a masters degree in industrial engineering and he performs a risk analysis of every ride.

    He's helped the carnival tremendously by dealing with the dozen state departments it must comply with in the state of California, Helm said.

    Masdeu has his own office in the show's winter quarters and travels to some of the bigger spots, including Del Mar.

    "This guy took the bull by horns," Helm said. "He's one of the best hires I ever made. Amazingly, he worked at a salvage yard and dealt with metals and paint and everything else we use in our business. He has all the background to put me in a better light. He's now helping me with the DOT."

    This year's new purchases include a Kite Flyer and seven new trucks equipped to meet the stringent air quality controls in California. The average price for the trucks was $55,000 and they should be compliant through 2021, Helm said.

    It's a sore spot with Helm because some of the trucks he replaced were only 9 years old and had been well maintained over the past several years.

    "To be told I can't use them because of their emissions was hard to swallow," he said. "I didn't want to make that investment."

    In addition, the carnival is in the market to buy a Reverchon log flume ride. The show doesn't have one and Helm feels he needs to purchase one to compete with Ray Cammack Shows and Butler Amusements on the West Coast. Both have flumes, a $500,000-plus investment, Helm said.

    "RCS took a date from me once and I told myself I would never be in that position to lose an event again," he said. "We move 58 rides not counting [a potential] flume. I already own a $400,000 crane for my four-trailer coaster."

    Helm gives props to his son David Helm Jr. for running a tight ship. David Jr. and his wife Colleen are expecting a baby girl in January.

    "From December until now, he's laid out the lot with absolute precision and met every challenge head-on," his father said. "He's 35 and in the prime of his life. He's been a miracle worker."

  • Drought, Fire & Heat Unable To Stop Cali's Blue Ribbon Fair

    Severe, state-wide drought, days of heat wave when temperatures reached triple digits, and sporadic wild fires - these challenges failed to suppress turnout and revenue for the California State Fair. Not only did the fair go on in spite of the lack of cooperation on the part of Mother Nature, compared to last year, there were more fairgoers and they spent more this year.

    The 2014 California State Fair, which ran July 4-27, saw attendance reach 740,445, an 8 percent increase over last year, which included 11 percent growth in paid attendance; pre-fair ticket sales doubled this year, enormously aided by a Groupon promotion. "We changed some promotions and we did a lot things right," said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair. "Spending was up in all areas, so maybe the economy is also a little better than last year."

    Tried & True: New & Blue
    The most popular promotion was the Wells Fargo Tuesday Kid's Day, which featured free admission for Kids and $1 rides, attracting 75,957; for the first time in more than 10 years, State Fair attendance levels exceeded 70,000 visitors on four separate days. (other than the Kids Day promotion, the record-breaking days - 7/19, 7/26 and 7/27 - were weekend days). "We had five days of triple digit heat," said Pickering. In addition, wild fires also plagued the park the days just preceding the fair and also during the fair - "during the first Kid's Day we had to close down for several hours," said Pickering.

    An improving economy may have been one factor contributing to a successful 2014 event, but the effective hedge against other adversity was an overhauled marketing approach, which included targeting younger adults and other market segments, expanding the fair's social media platform and coming up with a clever and attention-grabbing marketing theme.

    The fair contracted with a new advertising agency, according to Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair, and a key to the 2014 success was a tagline that reflected a very contemporary ironic sensibility that both celebrated and parodied fair traditions - Every day is a Blue Ribbon Day at the California State Fair.

    "Any State Fair is old fashioned, but I see this as a challenge, not a weakness," said Pickering. "You want to continue to embrace your tried and true. How do we repackage in a way that is Americana, that is showcasing what we people like about and expect at the fair, and how we use technology to present it?"

    Blue Ribbon is a universally identifiable aspect of any stereotypical state fair, but the use of it as a marketing message inspired state pride - that may have been somewhat ironic but it was pride nonetheless - in the general public, making the media coverage of the 2014 California State Fair more positive. "The blue ribbon is iconic fair imagery, and in our advertising we used with the best iconic California scenery, like the Golden Gate Bridge, Redwood Forests, the Hollywood Sign, and our California Wine country vineyards," said Pickering. "Certain members of the media think of fairs as only corn dogs and cotton candy, but the blue ribbon campaign really showed the best of all our California communities. We are the only state-wide fair."

    Young Adult Surge
    The fair, according to Pickering, geared a "State Fair by Night" marketing campaign targeting 20-24 year olds - college and university students - emphasizing "the live entertainment and the variety of food opportunities, using more psychedelic colors, through social media and targeted marketing. "The whole college buzz is what happens in the evening. The fair is fun nightlife that only comes around once year."

    The result was that anecdotal evidence shows that this demographic, "showed the biggest growth. Our hourly records show we had our biggest surges in attendance during evening hours."

    Advertising, Marketing & Social Media
    The California State Fair had an advertising budget of is $1,227,500, was consistent with last year's amount and includes both creative and ad placement costs. In 2014, the fair sliced its print advertising cost by nearly a third, going from $70,000 in 2013 to $44,000 in 2014; other old media suffered similar loses - Radio went from $144,000 to $90,000 and TV from $374,000 to $335,000 - one old medium that increased was Outdoor advertising $112,000 to $168,000. New Media, as might be expected, grew from $133,000 to $164,000. " We switched ad agencies for 2014 and our media mix shifted as we tried to attract new audiences to the Fair," said Jennifer Castleberry, Marketing Director.

    In addition, the California State Fair also ramped up its social media presence. "We used social as a way to communicate with fans and provide responses to their questions as quickly as possible," said Lara N. Popyack, Media Director.

    The social media expansion was fueled internally by a team of college interns. The fair's Facebook page garnered 108,419 likes; during the fair the team posted 162 FB posts, 362 Tweets and 66 Instagram photos. The team manned a Social Media Help Desk at the fair, so "patrons on the grounds could better post pictures. "Social media is really separate from marketing, it gets the word out and also we can track comments and feedback that better helps us refine the event," said Popyack.

    Other changes for the year was an improvement to the physical layout and a newly designed patron map. Some famed landmarks gained new monikers - e.g. the former Animal Nursery became the Baby Barn, the midway - was no longer known as Main Carnival but Magic Midway. The names were chosen, according to Pickering "because they better described where things were located. We changed the East Gate and West Gate to the Blue and Green Gate, and painted those entrances those colors."

    Another amenity was widened walkways and "20 percent more shaded seating areas," said Pickering.

    Horse Racing Revamp
    The equestrian contest component of the fair was also addressed by marketing and renovation, expanding the loyal niche of horse racing aficionados at the Golden State annual fair. "We're a racing fair, and horse racing had a rebound," said Pickering.  Cal Expo reinvested  in the equestrian infrastructure, including renovations to the horse racing barn, grandstands, pedestrian walk way and the cool down section. "We also increase our active horse recruitment, and got horses from Oregon, Nevada and Washington.  Nevada and others elsewhere never ran in Northern California before, which increased our spectators," said Pickering. "We also came up with a new color palate for the tote board of burn orange dark green."

    Pickering stated that the Butler Amusements operated the midway, which had 72 rides and "revenue was up considerably." In addition, the Toyota Concert Series - which is free with admission but has reserved seating available for an added cost, was well attended. "Pat Benatar, Joan Jett and Mercy Me were the highest selling shows," said Pickering.

    Food revenue also increased and added media attention. "The Jack Daniels Churro wrapped in bacon was a favorite, as was the spaghetti ice cream," said Pickering. He added that the Food Channel did fair cuisine coverage, and the Thin Crust pies from Cardinali Woodfire Pizza was especially popular."

    World Cup Trade Off
    Prior to the State Fair, a new, 8,000-seat professional soccer stadium - Bonney Field - opened on the Cal Expo grounds, with five matches taking place during the fair, all Bonney Field attendees gained free admission to the fair. The popularity of soccer in the U.S. is on the rise, further fueled by the fact that California is home to large immigrant and ex-pat populations from Europe and Central and South America. In July, the World Cup Soccer Championship match induced a national case of soccer fever in the United States, especially as the American Team was winning games in the early part of the tournament. The World Cup overlapped with several days of the fair, which was a doubled edged sword. "Soccer fans attending the games came to the fair and boosted attendance," said Pickering. "Soccer is widely popular in California. But that Sunday of the final game, our attendance was down 14 percent."

    The severe drought afflicting California was noticeable at the state's premier outdoor event.  The Cal-Expo grounds were able to reduce water usage by 18 percent. "To help reduce water usage during the fair, we left half of the main lagoon dry and moved our freestyle motocross show to the dry lagoon," said Pickering, thereby actually turning a negative into a positive. "There was now 360 degrees of sightlines so it was a better audience experience. We took the opportunity to pass out pamphlets and talk about the drought and water conservation."
    The California State Fair this summer was one of overcoming challenges while simultaneously reinventing the marketing message, and how and to whom that message is transmitted. For Pickering, the guiding light was the resiliency of the fair goers, vendors, fair volunteers and other who "helped produce one of our most successful fairs. Resiliency sometimes shows the strongest during adversity and this year, the state of California, through drought, heatwave and fire, stepped up to celebrate our state by choosing to spend their time and fortune to make this a successful, state-wide event."

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HEADLINES from the web
Minnesota State Fair
St. Paul, MN
8/21/2014 - 9/1/2014
Wade Shows
New York State Fair
Syracuse, NY
8/21/2014 - 9/1/2014
Miller Spectacular
DuQuoin State Fair
Du Quoin, IL
8/22/2014 - 9/1/2014
Wade Shows
Nebraska State Fair
Grand Island, NE
8/22/2014 - 9/1/2014
Maryland State Fair
Timonium, MD
8/22/2014 - 9/1/2014
Wade Shows
Cumberland County Fair
Crossville, TN
8/25/2014 - 8/30/2014

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

Annual IAFE Convention and Trade Show - Paris Hotel - Las Vegas, NV
[more info..]

I.I.S.F. Gibtown Extravaganza - Gibsonton, FL
[more info..]

2013 TOP 50 FAIRS
1. Texas State Fair - Dallas, TX
2. Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo - Houston, TX
3. Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, MN
4. San Antonio Livestock Show & Ex. - San Antonio, TX
5. Eastern State Exhibition

View Top 50 Fairs

Sponsor Wanted!

The Industry Buzz
Showmen Supplies to carry Fabbri ride parts

Showmen Supplies has reached an agreement with the Fabbri Group, an Italian manufacturer of amusement rides, to be the exclusive distributor of Fabbri amusement ride parts for the United States and Canada.

Scott Siefker, Vice President of Showmen Supplies, said, "Because our core business already revolves around the logistics of component part supply, we felt we were ideally suited to managing a ride parts distributorship to service Fabbri ride owners." When asked what would be the greatest benefit of this deal, Siefker stated, "We have 48 years of customer service experience in the amusement industry. This will be a great advantage to owners of Fabbri equipment whose business depends on having their rides in operation and not out of commission while they wait for shipments to arrive from Europe. We know that when they call they need replacement parts to be in stock and shipped quickly and we have a great history of doing exactly that."

Last month, Showmen Supplies acquired the existing US-based Fabbri parts inventory from Amusement Sales, Inc. and has embarked on an expansion of that inventory to have the most commonly sought parts readily available to Fabbri ride owners.  Confronting the task now before them, Scott Siefker said, "We'll have lots of work to do in expanding our parts database, learning the equipment functionality, and familiarizing ourselves with new mechanical systems but I know we're up for the challenge and will do a great job for our customers."

  Posted by Matt Cook on 8/15/2014
New rides for the MN State Fair
Several new attractions will be making their debut in Minnesota for the 2014 Minnesota State Fair including Reithoffer Shows' spectacular Stinger, built by Technical Park of Italy.  The Stinger will be taking the place of the Freak Out, which Reithoffer has been bringing to the fair the last couple of years.  Other new attractions slated for the fair include Myers International Midways Crazy Dance, Wave Swinger, and Monster Truck as well as the Dartron Hog Rally from Rose's Rides.

  Posted by Matt Cook on 8/8/2014
Dixieland Carnival adds KMG Experience
Billy Tucker's Dixieland Carnival added another spectacular ride to its lineup, the KMG Experience.  The Experience is one of only two traveling in the USA and previously belonged to Phoenix based Ray Cammack Shows.  The other Experience is owned by Frazier Shows, also based out of Arizona. 
  Posted by Matt Cook on 8/8/2014
Mary Vakulskas, mother of Carnival Priest, John Vakulskas passes

Mary Vakulskas, loving mother of Tom, Janet,Maria and Father John Vakulskas died July 20, 2014 in Sioux City, Iowa.

Visitation, Wednesday, July 23 3-8 p.m. at the
Christy-Smith Funeral Home
Larkin Chapel
2320 Outer Drive North
Sioux City IA 51104

Funeral: Thursday, July 24 at 10:30 a.m.
Church of the Nativity
4242 Natalia Way
Sioux City, IA 51106

  Posted by Matt Cook on 7/22/2014
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.

WINDY CITY AMUSEMENTS - Ride Help, Electrician, Mechanic wanted for 2014 season!


KMG is a leading builder of spectacular amusement rides such as the Freak Out, Fire Ball (Afterburner), Speed, Inversion (Nemesis 360), and many more.

Deggeller Attractions is now hiring ride, game, food, cdl drivers, and more.  Visit to apply.

Browns Amusements is now hiring ride help, game help, food help, electrician, and CDL drivers for the 2014 season.  Call Danny at (602) 763-1617 for more info or visit

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