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Your Fair Can Survive

Updated on February 3, 2013
Courtesy of Western Fairs
Courtesy of Western Fairs

Redefining your Fair


The State & County Fairs will continue being huge family memory makers and attendance draws IF they are able to have the vision and courage to redefine themselves.

First, you have to understand that your County or State Fair is a business located in your community and operating twelve months every year. The Fair becomes the “County or State Fair EVENT” when the participating Carnival arrives and provides the main draw for any Fair. Add the local exhibits, agriculture exhibits, displays, market auctions, food concessions, midway games, entertainment, animal shows, clowns, magicians, kid’s shows and special ride days all make your community’s annual Fair a reality.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the Fair and the Carnival. A good carnival along with Fair management who understand the entire event can make for a very successful event. An event that benefits, the attendees, the Fair, the Carnival and the community in which it takes place, the Carnival needs the Fair and the Fair needs the Carnival to be truly successful.

Lately I have been reading distressing articles and listening to a din of pessimists and “doom and gloomers” pronouncing the obsolescence of the County and/or State Fair. The reasons they are stepping out and giving a terminal diagnosis of the Fair industry lies in several paradigm shifts over just the past 5-8 years.

One shift has obviously been the very poor economy. Some, not all, of the fairs are guilty of making knee jerk reactions to this adversity by raising gate and parking prices, raising rents to concession food trailers, asking Carnival for larger percentages shaving premium dollars and reducing entertainment (kid’s shows, walk arounds, special attractions, etc) and cutting other expenses like advertising, marketing and trying to reduce promotional ticket give a ways.

You may say this looks prudent to me! Why is this not the direction to head? It is reactionary! If the economy is in a downturn, it then follows that your customer base will have fewer discretionary dollars to spend on ENTERTAINMENT! Wait, John, you just said ENTERTAINMENT, NOT the Fair! You read it correctly and that, in a nut shell, is exactly what is causing the upheaval in the Fair industry; the definition of the Fair, itself. The old definition and/or paradigm of the Fair as an Agricultural Event with an Entertainment element NO LONGER works. It has now become an Entertainment Event with an Agricultural element. The Ag element is extremely important to the tradition of a “real” Fair but it is not enough to drive thousands of people through the gates.

By defining the Fair as an entertainment event, you will find how that new definition dictates how, where and to whom you market, advertise, promote and how you buy your entertainment.

I would like to make the following suggestions:

· If you cannot afford the large headline entertainers, buy more special attractions, walk arounds, magicians, clowns, costumed characters, etc.

· That you eliminate parking fees or at least reducing them.

· Exploring the possibility of reducing your gate fees

· Using more Social Media Marketing, time compress your electronic media exposure down to one week to ten days before the Fair.

· Buy billboards & Cable TV and run those schedules 30 days before fair.

· If you eliminate your parking fees, go up on gate fees because you can now advertise FREE parking. People hate to pay parking fees.

· Remember that the Carnivals are under some severe challenges from a host of new labor regulations, health, OSHA, etc. They do not have the margins they had 15 years ago. Be very suspicious of Carnival operators that promise to pay you some ridiculous percentage to play your event. Asking for too much might result in having NO carnival for your Fair. This has already occurred in a number of locations around the country because of the price of fuel. When it stops being profitable you WILL lose your carnival.

· Become more time efficient. Operate your fair at least two weekends in a row and go dark Mon, Tues. & Wed. You have now cut expenses and are operating during the more lucrative time periods.

· Get a sponsor for a Free Gate admission on Opening night.

· If you go dark for several days, you might want to look at selling those dark days to specific companies in your community for their employees.

· Buy some walk around costumes (Morris Costume in Charlotte, NC is pretty good) they will sell you a stock item OR can customize one for you. The nice thing about this is that you can buy a high quality character costume for $500-$1,000. Plan to get a new one each year for 5 years. Now, hire people to do the walk arounds during the Fair. For minimal dollars you can afford these wonderful characters that can interact with your customers on a daily basis. They can also appear in your TV ads, print, billboards, etc. They can also make appearances during the year at potential sponsor locations, media tie-ins or any other Fair Branding you might want to do with the Characters.

Your County and/or State Fair isn’t going away quite yet. There have been some that have closed; the Nevada State Fair in Reno, the Michigan State Fair, The Virginia State Fair and some smaller county fairs have closed or are terminal. Some of these will actually make a return and become bigger and better than before as the more progressive mind set, the visionaries and the men and women of the Carnival and Fair industry take on the challenges of surviving in a changing world. They will survive! Now, go out and make it a Fair Day


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