Popular industry wisdom seems to be that, while fairs may not be entirely recession proof, they have a resiliency during weaker economic times due to the value of the experience.
Fairs are affordable entertainment, an appealing value for folks on tight budgets seeking to optimize this year's summer Stay-cation.
With the decline in oil and gas prices, Alberta Canada's economy continues to be mired in the doldrums, a situation compounded by persistent unemployment and the high U.S. dollar, weakening Canadian currency.
K-Days decided to increase the value-added aspect of the K-Day attendance, which included increasing the music and other entertainment by adding a stage, more community outreach to different populations by adding a 10-day Pow Wow as part of the fair in partnership with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation as well as an Indigenous Princess contest.
Value Added=Added Entertainment
The strategy apparently was effective. K-Days experienced a 2.3 percent in attendance compared to 2015, reaching 830,807. "What we are seeing is that people really wanted to provide them with value," said Mike Warkentin, Interim Director, Northland Events.
"People don't have the money to spend and they are not going to travel so far. The high dollar has really hit people pretty hard, so they are staying closer to home and they are looking for value for their entertainment dollar."
"Last year we heard our guests wanted more value for their dollar and we listened," said Tim Reid, President and CEO, Northlands.
"With our K-Days concert series we saw 20 acts over 10 days on two stages. We believe we provided tremendous value for the entertainment dollar for Edmontonians and Northern Albertans."
Fairgoers received more value because they had more entertainment. K-Days increased its entertainment offerings by adding a second stage, essentially creating what Warkentin described as a "music festival on the infield of our stadium," and also nearly doubling the amount of music entertainment for the 2016 fair.
The two stages targeted two different demographics, according to Warkentin, essentially young adults and teens, and the other stage essentially ages 25 and above.
K-Days has always had big names of mainly international stature, but this year was the first they had an emphasis on Canadian music acts, basically 18 out of the 20. The measure was not just a Canadian pride initiative, but saved costs. "The exchange made the American acts too expensive this year," he said.
The result was a diversity of entertainment, including Ria Mae, Matthew Good, The Trews, Tim Hicks, Eleven, Simple Plan, Victoria Duffield and Rachel Platten. Every appearance had a sponsor/partner with a regional radio station, further enhancing the marketing reach of K-Days.
"K-Days embraced a new formula, which was to have acts on free stages, 10 major acts for adults and 10 more for audiences of all ages," said Scooter Korek, Vice President of Client Services, North American Midway Entertainment (NAME), who provided the midway for the event. "I see in the fair industry, fairs are looking to cut down their entertainment, they're straining from the cost. But K-Days did a complete 180, they increased their entertainment, and the investment paid off. They had very aggressive marketing and an entire new platform that included both music and the midway. That's why their attendance increased."
Korek agreed that the economy is not strong and consumer confidence is low. The emphasis on value through added entertainment was an equation that helped all segments of the fair, especially the midway. "They had a great line up, Simple Plan was probably the best draw. You bring people out to the fair, and they are going to stay and go on the rides. The stay time for fairgoers was six hours, and when people go to one and often both of the free concert acts, it benefits the midway, because you get more people and more people stay. It's better for all of us. With the line up, they were drawing new people to the fair, and people from all ages."
K-Days Pow Wow
K-Days also reached out to the indigenous community of the area, partnering with the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation to put on its first ever K-Days Pow Wow, an exhibition throughput the entire event that featured various demonstrations and exhibits of First Nation culture. "They are an important community in Alberta, and we are an inclusive fair," said Warkentin.
A related first was K-day's inaugural Northlands Indigenous Princess Pageant. The pageant, launched in conjunction with the Pow Wow, "embraced indigenous culture in the spirit of reconciliation," according to K-Days press release. The first Indigenous Princess was Britney Pastion, who also goes by her indigenous people's name - Beautiful Singing Earth Morning Star Woman - is graduating from NAIT's Television program, and has worked for CTV News and REDx Talks. She will also take on some spokesman responsibility for K-Days.
"We are honored to have such a tremendous ambassador for Northlands and the Indigenous community," said Tim Reid, President and CEO of Northlands. "I look forward to working closely with Britney and members of the Treaty Six community and continuing the great work we have laid the foundation for during this year's K-Days. It is my sincere hope that we can look back in 20 years and say this is the day we are most proud of."
"I am honored to be the Northlands Indigenous Princess," said Pastion. "In the next year, I hope to be a proud ambassador of our culture and community and to help educate others."
The marketing budget was about the same as last year, according to Lori Cote, Public Relations Manager, the marketing themes used were divided into two demographics - entertainment seeking 16-24 year olds and included: 20 Concerts, 10 Days, 1 Pass; Adjust Your Altitude; Can't Stop, Won't Stop; Bring Your Own Yaaaaaaaah!; Soak in the Summer and Give 'Em Five; and value-driven 35-44 year olds with children; Where the Smiles Happen; Smiles For Miles; Share Something Sweet and Stuffed Full of Magic.
"We definitely want people to come for more than one day and we did see that," said Warkentin. "We also saw 33 percent increase in advanced ticket sales, which was both online and in a number out of outlets. We promoted the entertainment in our advertising, and people wanted to see the acts we had.
Warkentin said that social media is a growing element of marketing K-Days, mainly through Facebook and Instagram, "although we are Snap Chat more," he said.
The fair also tied into Pokemon Go, which launched on July 15th in Canada. The fair promoted its Pokemon Go promotion as "a 10-Day Lure Party at #KDAYS," and "every Pokemon GO trainer's paradise, featuring prizes and the chance to catch wild Pokemon at our onsite PokeStops!"
"We tried to capture the Pokemon Go fairgoer with promotions," said Warkentin. "We used different elements of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. It encouraged people to see more of the fairgrounds."
The Pokemon Go marketing also tied into TechLife, which features video & tabletop gaming competitions and exhibitors. Although TechLife was in its third year, the exhibit also hosted the very first Canadian Drone Racing Championship. This year TechLife also showcased Extra Life gaming tournament, with donations raised going to the Stollery Children's Hospital.
Using the fair to fundraise for local charities, as well as outreach to communities exemplified by the Pow Wow, underscored the community support K-Days receives that has enabled its success. ""We had amazing community support," said Warkentin.
"People here love K-Days and come out every year. By just providing the value we do for the price our ticket, it gives people a chance to escape their problems for a day. That is why we saw an increase in attendance, even though we are not in the best economic times."
K-Days featured 92 food vendors, which is about average for the event, according to Warkentin. While he described the cuisine offerings, mainly typical fair food, two new items that were popular "were Meat Ball Subs on a Stick by Rick Pizza and Rainbow Grilled Cheese by Tim Lizzy. We like the usual fair stuff."
He also affirmed that the trend towards inclusion of not just good, but good-for-you fair cuisine options, had reached the Canadian market. "There's definitely a push towards healthier foods, gluten free and vegan offerings," he said. "There was more fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. That is a trend I noticed."
Warkentin said that the Food & Beverage food numbers were still "being crunched," but the overall mood among the food vendors, "was very positive. People were coming for a lot of the programming we had, and they were staying and eating corndogs and going on rides. In a down economy, people wanted value, our food vendors were happy with sales."
The K-Days Stampede midway, provided by NAME (North American Midway Entertainment), featured 59 rides, including new a Himalia and Charlie Chopper, and a ground up, $250,000 restoration of the Polar Express, which has become a prized jewel of the Canadian NAME route, according to Korek.
"We had better weather for K-Days than we had other fairs," he said. "We had two days that were inclement weather, but the attendance was strong and we saw an increase in advanced sales. The whole thinking of online purchases has really taken off for this fair."
The weather was a little cool for Summer in Western Canada, in the 70s and low 60s. I would rather have cool than too hot or rain, but people are coming out. We were battling weather at other fairs, but K-Days was good. The economy is a little bit tougher here, they are wary of spending money, but the community supports their fair."