Midway Millennials is an ongoing series profiling the new generation of fair professionals. If you know someone you think should be profiled, please email us with information.
Heidi Deggeller Elsperman comes from a long line of carnival men and women; she and her brother, Andy, are currently the third generation of carnival workers in their family.
Deggeller's Great Uncle, Irvin, and Grandfather, Allen, started in the business, her Dad and her uncle followed suit. Now, she and Andy, along with his wife, Jamie, run the show together.
Heidi graduated from the University of Florida in 2008 with a degree in nutrition. "I always joke
that my degree was in nutrition but now I sell funnel cakes for a living," says Deggeller.
Her first full year working for Deggeller Attrations was 2009, although she was not a novice to the business as she had worked during the summer and other school breaks breaks prior to that time. Additionally, she spent her childhood on the road with her family attending Deggeller Midway Academy until middle school when she enrolled in public school back home.
Before deciding to work for the family business full time, Heidi tried some different things out; she worked in hospitals and pharmacies but ended up going back on the road. She came back to Deggeller Attractions at a time when her brother, Andy, was taking the reins a little more. As the bulk of her job, she works in the office alongside sister in law, Jamie. "There's always a need in this business. There's so many moving parts, you can never have enough hands," says Deggeller. Although she finds herself in the office she has never had a set title at the company and is happy to help wherever needed.
Heidi's primary responsibilities are to manage daily accounting (ticket sales), handle ride inspection submissions, annual permits, and other paperwork needed to open at a spot. She also handles all paperwork for H2B visas.
Deggeller Attractions has a pretty large in-house food and game operation so she and sister in law, Jamie are highly involved in daily food and game operations.
She works closely alongside Andy to get paperwork together for newly purchased rides. Her favorite part of the job is that she never knows what the day will bring; she is provided with different challenges each day.
Andy and Jamie have two children on the road with them and Heidi has three. One of Deggeller's biggest focuses with such a large family presence on the road is to administer the revamped Deggeller Midway Academy that she attended during her childhood. Linda Brewer is the Deggeller Midway Acadamy teacher and is no stranger to the business; she was with NAME for at least 15 years prior to joining Deggeller Attractions and has been with them the last 2 years. "She is absolutely wonderful," says Deggeller. They currently have 12 children in the school from preschool-9th grade.
Deggeller Attractions primarily acts as one unit but they split into two units for six events a year. According to Deggeller, the company prefers to stay together and they feel fortunate to have a nice route that works mostly as a single unit.
They primarily operate in FL, NC, VA, MD but mostly VA and MD. Deggeller Attractions currently operates two state fairs - the Maryland State Fair and the State Fair of Virginia. They play the VA Beach area most of June.
Heidi's father, Don, and mother, Cathy, come on the road from the Fourth of July onward full time and pop in and out during the Spring. Don does not have a hands on, day-to-day role but he enjoys being there and around his grandchildren, and gives advice when needed. He has a shop trailer he pulls around to work on his antique muscle cars. Cathy is still day-to-day hands on, and works with Heidi and Jamie in the office.
As a millennial in the carnival industry, Deggeller always looks for ways to modernize the company and stay current with the times. One of Heidi's favorite technological innovations is using drones to take overhead pictures of the Midway.
According to Deggeller, it helps to increase revenue and change the layout of the midway. She says, "Using the drone, we get an overhead view and say oh my goodness, we have a pocket here, we can utilize this space better. And the next year revenue may go up because of that change."
Deggeller also looks for ways to use smart phones in the day to day operation of the show. This past year, Deggeller Attractions tried a new outlet, Innovative Ticketing, for advance sale ticketing for one of the county fairs in Maryland. All the customer had to do was have their phone with the ticket voucher uploaded and a ticket seller scanned the QR code on their phone and they were on the way. "Instead of sending teenagers to the fair with lots of cash, the voucher just takes the place of that. From a parents' perspective it's a lot safer and better," says Deggeller.
Like many of her peers, Deggeller uses all the social media outlets and understands their value. While she makes sure to keep her sites updated one challenge Deggeller has found is that customers tend to look up the fair's or location's social media sites or websites before the carnival's. To direct more viewers to Deggeller Attraction's sites, she tries to link their sites to the event sites. Deggeller hosts giveaways and contests on social media pages like most other companies in the industry but she also works hard to come up with more creative ways to engage social media followers. For example, Deggeller Attractions has an employee of the month program. A lucky staff member wins lunch with Andy Deggeller and a gift card to Walmart. The winner's picture is featured on the social media sites; Deggeller says that advertising this promotion on social media helps to combat negative stereotypes sometimes associated with carnival workers. Deggeller also highlights new rides and spots added to the route.
While Deggeller is always looking for ways to modernize and streamline the company, she also recognizes the constants in the business and looks to the generations before her for advice; "I have such a great respect for the generations before me in this industry."
Lots of Deggeller Attractions' ride supervisors and other staff members have been with the company for decades. Heidi is appreciative of the lessons they've taught and their willingness to accept the changes that she and her brother, Andy, implement. "Whether it be technology or the way we move the unit on the road, they listen to us and I have such a great appreciation for their advice."
For Heidi, the carnival industry is truly her whole life and she wouldn't change a thing about it. She attended her first fair just three days after she was born, her family had the contract for the SC State Fair at the time. She was born during set up of the fair, and her mom flew home to have her and flew back to be at the fair. Because of her timely arrival, Cathy Deggeller almost named Heidi Carolina. "That story shows that this business is our whole lives. It's what we do," says Heidi.
Heidi says that her mom was always good about making sure she experienced everything outside of the business, she attended lots of summer camps. "Sometimes with a family business the child feels drawn to it. She didn't want me to feel forced. I love it and I know what else is out there. I love being close with our family and that our kids are together. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Heidi advises her peers in the industry to listen to the generations that have come before millennials in the industry. "Lots has changed in this industry but a lot has stayed the same. Bide your time and pay your dues and the industry has a lot to offer if you pay attention and do your part." She also advises people to be active in trade organizations. Andy is on the board of the OABA and Heidi is a showman's ambassador for the OABA. "We are involved in the OABA but there are lots of others and it is invaluable to be part of a trade organization in this industry," says Heidi.