Lewisburg, WV - A great carnival presentation, strong grounds acts and creative packaging helped keep the West Virginia State Fair attendance steady at 195,000. This was especially noteworthy because the fair reduced operating days to 9 from the previous year's 10 days. Reithoffer shows posted a 12% ride gross increase on the midway and a new carnival layout.
The gate price increased $1 to $10 and numerous promotions and discounts were offered. One example was the Monday through Thursday $5 after 5 promotion where gate admission is reduced by 50% after 5pm.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the fair's midway this year because of an information request sent to carnivals by the fair this past year. Reithoffer Shows, the long-time midway provider, was rumored to be replaced by another company. Pierson-Jolliffe said that the fair "...never entered the official "bid" process, because of 2 things: 1) When you've worked together for 17 years, we felt they deserved a shot at improving the operation and addressing our concerns and 2) They delivered what we wanted and in the process we all learned a lot."
Reithoffer went the extra mile to provide an excellent midway for the fair said Orange Unit general manager Pal Fontana. Early in the year, an on-site meeting was held with Fontana, Nick Alberts, Craig Nelson and Pat Reithoffer III, the show's co-owner. They discussed lot layout, logistics and a new parking area for stock trucks and campers. Fontana was in touch "almost weekly" according to Pierson-Jolliffe, following up on the actual final layout. Alberts also frequently checked in about logistics including parking and waste management.
The end result was a wider, more open midway presentation with lots of additional green space and a midway filled with over 40 rides including over $3,000,000 in new rides. Making it's debut at the fair this year was the Wild Maus coaster. Other spectacular rides included the Huss Tornado, Slingshot, Drop Tower and Full Tilt. Pierson-Jolliffe called the midway "the best presentation we've ever had". Reithoffer Shows was rewarded with their first ever two-year midway contract for the fair.
Fontana said the show operated this year as his mentor and teacher, Pat Reithoffer, Jr., who passed away earlier this year, had intended. Using the show's large ride inventory, the show was designed so spectacular rides could pass back and forth between the units. "This way we can supply new equipment each year", said Fontana. "Next year the midway will be even better and the year after that, better still", he added.
The show and fair also collaborated on new marketing efforts. For the past several years, an advance sale "Mega Pass" was sold which includes admission to the fair and 12 hours of rides. This year, a new "Big Pass" was introduced, offering 7 hours of rides vs. 12 hours for the Mega Pass. This promotion was marketed more to children and was a popular addition.
The 57 food vendors also reported excellent results. Even cutting the fair by a day, grosses were expected to be on par with 2007 or slightly up. CVS offered a very successful family four pack that included 4 gate tickets, 2 ride sheets and 4 food coupons.
On the entertainment front, the fair had some big names in the grandstand including Sugarland, Alison Krauss, Montgomery Gentry, Corbin Blue and Drake Bell, The Beach Boys and Tracy Lawrence. Prices varied for the shows depending upon the act.
For free acts, the fair offered the Hanneford Circus in an open air setting, Sea Lion Splash, weeklong musical groups in the center stage tent, local stiltwalkers and a Celtic celebration on the final weekend.
Set in a rural environment and lacking a major media market close by, the West Virginia State Fair faces marketing challenges unlike those at similar events. The advent of the World Wide Web has enabled the fair to get its unfiltered message out through their website. Direct marketing efforts through sponsors are also widely used. The fair plans to make wider use of both media in the future.
The 2008 West Virginia State Fair will be held Aug. 8 - 16.