Gibsonton, FL - The carnival industry's largest trade show had another beautiful day on Wednesday with temperature in the 80's and sunny skies for the second straight day.
Burton Brothers Purchase KMG Swing-It
The day got off to an exciting start with news that the KMG Swing-It had been purchased by Burton Brothers Amusement Company of Shirley, Indiana. The ride was brought to the show by KMG without a buyer already secured, something many manufacturers have been reluctant to do in recent years.
Roger Burton, father of the four Burton Brothers and president of the company, said they were impressed seeing the ride run and they needed an extreme thrill ride for the company. "We weren't even looking for a ride when we came here", said Brent Burton one of the four Burton brothers. Along with brothers Bradd,
Bryce and Benamin, Brent and father Roger made the decision to purchase the ride together, completing the deal this morning.
Because they did not come prepared to purchase a ride, the Burtons did not have a tractor to transport the ride back to Indiana. Not to let this minor consideration stop the purchase, the family secured a tractor they will purchase on Thursday morning.
The Burtons said the Swing-It has a capacity of 16 and moves on one trailer. The company plans to put the ride up every week. The piece was not purchased specifically as booking tool, the Burtons believe the ride will do well on its own and justify the purchase price which the family declined to give.
The Burtons operate a 30 ride carnival, playing county fairs, festivals and events in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Kentucky. The family is in their fifth generation of concession operation, starting in the business in 1852. In 1993, they started the carnival company. They also operate the games and food stands on the show
Ride purchases were not the only news at the trade show. Ride sales can also become news. Steve Lisko stopped by the MCW booth to tell us about his unusual sale of several rides to a Haitian purchaser.
"They showed up on our lot in Ft. Myers in December and I took the time to talk with them", said Steve Lisko. "They had visited three or four shows in the Miami area and no one would talk to them", he added.
In the end, the visitors turned out to be serious about the transaction. The Liskos sold their Flying Bobs, Gravitron, swing ride and three kiddie rides for use in Haiti.
Having received a good price for their older equipment, the Liskos then began to look for new rides to add to their lineup. So far, they have purchased a Hi-Lite Musical chairs, a Zipper and a Gravitron. They are still looking for a couple of additional pieces.
Steve Lisko said he operates the show through the winter in Florida where they carry up to 30 rides at major events. During the season, they travel to Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The show owns 22 rides and plays one or two events each week. Steve is joined on the show by his brothers Tim, Richard, Bob and Danny.
A visit from the CNE
Mike Knott, concession manager for Canada's premier event, the Canadian National Exhibition, stopped by the MCW booth to bring us news from our neighbor to the north. He is in town visiting the South Florida Fair, attending a NICA meeting, visiting the trade show and the Florida State Fair.
Mike said the CNE is accepting applications for new food and game concessionaires for the Aug. 15 - Sept. 1 event. He was here to attempt to recruit additional US vendors. Interested parties can get an application from the Exhibition's website at Theex.com.
An avid reader of MCW, Mike was interested to know if any of our readers were aware of logistical impediments for concessionaires coming to Canada. He said many of the Canadian events were interested in booking additional US concessionaires but so far, they had garnered only limited response. If any of you have comments on operating in Canada, please post your comments on the message board. Mike and his Canadian counterparts will be looking forward to your input.
Gloria Wilkinson was billed by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus as "The grandma who ran away with the circus". She has appeared on Good Morning America, Bill Cosby's You Bet Your Life, Extra and numerous local news features.
At age 8, Gloria saw her first circus and knew then she wanted to be a part of it. 43 years later at age 51, she became a professional clown, working children's parties and events.
At age 53, she took a group of children to the Ringling Show. She had such a great time, she asked for a job. Sent to the manager's office, she was told the company only hired graduates of clown college. "What about wardrobe?" she persisted. The manager said they did not hire outside the company for ladies' wardrobe. Gloria was emphatic and the manager finally gave her his card with a promise to consider her wish.
Two weeks later the call came from the circus with a job offer. Gloria accepted and for 12 years she never looked back. Her only experience was patching her children's clothes and sewing Halloween costumes, but Gloria was a fast learner. She worked for the show as wardrobe mistress. She sewed costumes and set pieces for the performers. She was a press sensation. In 1997 she left Ringling for the Big Apple Circus, serving in the same capacity.
When Gloria left the circus business, she took a job with Lee and Judy Stevens of Goin' Ape Productions, managing their winterquarters. She still practices her craft by doing costume work for Ward Hall.
With a lifetime of memories and stories, Gloria has turned her attention to writing a book. She hopes to share her stories and love of showbusiness with the general public.
Gloria has been active in starting a memoir group at the Gibtown Club. The group meets on Tuesdays at 1pm in the trade show building. The group is designed for retired and senior members of the circus and carnival community to share and memorialize their experiences, cut up jackpots and hopefully, record these memories for the museum.
The "grandma that ran away with the circus" wants to preserve all the stories and experiences that friends of her generation share for those who come after. "When we are dead, the memories are gone", she worries.
Continuing the series of seminars so popular with visitors last year, the IISA has prepared a full lineup of seminars during the trade show. On Wednesday at 2pm they held a game seminar, sponsored by Bob's Space Racers featuring Joe Burum of Waterloo Tent and Tarp, Jon Chesnut of Chestnut Identity Apparel, Jack Cook of Bob's Space Racers and Ron Burback of Funtastic Shows.
Joe Burum opened the session by discussing ways to make games more successful. He said that games operators must upgrade their operations and raise standards.
The biggest competition for the outdoor amusement business is not casinos or other activities so much as the television, video games and other activities that consume leisure time. We have to make the customer's experience "relevant and of value", he added.
Customers want to see clear, professional signs, uniformed employees and quality game operations. The gulf between those that strive to improve their operation and those that don't will widen, with those that do make the necessary improvements excelling in an increasingly competitive environment.
Jon Chestnut of Chestnut Identity Apparel spoke about the need to make the employees and games more attractive. The company has a large carnival supply portion of their business and they were one of the early pioneers of the importance of uniformed look for employees.
Chestnut said flags are also important to attract the customer. Citing the flagwork done by the company to enhance the look of the trade show he said flags "help enhance the look of the game and make it more exciting".
Following Chestnut, Jack Cook looked at the future of games and their viability and profitability. Cook said he started with Conklin Shows in 1976 on the "A" circuit. Since that time he says it has become increasingly more difficult for the game operator.
Lately he has been hearing reports that game revenues were down while food and ride revenue has been up. What are the problems with games? "People pay for parking, pay to get into the fair, buy ride tickets and food and then the games get their shot", said Cook. He added parents can be heard to say to children "you can ride the rides but we're not playing any games".
Cook said by making games more presentable, upgrading the look of the help with uniforms, improving merchandise and equipment the operator can return to profitability in the long run.
Ron Burback, owner of Funtastic Shows is in his 61st year in the carnival business. He started in the industry by picking up ping pong balls at the age of 15. By 17, he was driving a brand new Buick, all from his work in games. To this day, he continues to have a very good game business.
Burback said there are two ways to make money with games: 1) with the game itself, or 2) by merchandising, "selling teddy bears at a damn good price".
"How do you get people up against the games?" he asked. "By selling teddy bears". He said merchandising will get you money more than anything. People need to see what you are trying to sell them so make sure the prizes are prominently displayed. You make money when you buy the prize, not when you sell it he said.
By owning all the games on the midway, Burback relies on his merchandise to draw the players. His employees are not allowed to call people into the game. With the right merchandise sold at the right price, if one game doesn't get the money, one of his other games will. Burback said pricing is very important. In a slowdown, when costs are rising, the way to combat the trend is to lower prices and not raise them.
Burback suggested having a customer service department for games. He said he has one supervisor for every 9 or so games and they are empowered to rectify any game complaint in a way they see fit. Shows must have a place to go for complaints he said.
Burback pointed out that more individual transactions are conducted on the games than anywhere else on the midway. Games set the tone for the midway. If the customer is treated poorly, they will no longer be your customer.
Making one final point, Burback said theft has traditionally been one of the biggest difficulties facing game operations. Eight years ago, he developed a cash card system for use on rides, games and food. By using this system he was able to eliminate theft from using cash at the games.
Check back for Day 3 updates, reports on sales and information on the Florida State Fair.