|Exclusive News and Interviews
IISA Trade Show -- Day 4
Date officially changed for 2009
By Ron Weber, Editor
Gibsonton, FL - Its official!! The dates of the 2009 trade show will be moved a week later to February 10 -14. The reason for the move is the Superbowl being held in Tampa the Sunday before the traditional dates of the trade show. The extra week will give carnivals an opportunity to get set up and open in the large events going on this week and the Florida State Fair will be open all week for attendees to visit.
Attendance has "been on par with last year", said Steve Ianni, second vice-president of the IISA. From our interview with vendors so far however, buying has definitely been up.
Charlie Edens has booked a Huss Pirat at the Texas State Fair since 1978. He purchased the first Pirate for the US in that year and he has had one there ever since. During the rest of the season, the ride is booked in a park in Gatlinburg, TN; Ober Gatlinberg.
The Edens family has been in the fireworks business since 1945. One day when Edens was preparing a show the man he rented the location from had a pony ride set up in his a barn. Edens noticed the attendant was accepting cards from a Circle F milk carton for rides.
The Edens family was in the convenience store business at the time and he spoke with the manager about organizing a promotion with Circle F doing a pony ride tour of several cities in the area. Edens walked out with a contract for 8 weeks at $100 per week. Not bad money in 1958!
Eden's first real entrance into the carnival business came when he took a lady who was a good friend of his family to see her son. That son happened to be Barney Corey, who ran Cetlin and Wilson Shows.
In 1963, Corey asked Edens to purchase a sky wheel for the show. After meeting with Alan Herschel Co., he came up with a $20,000 deposit and borrowed another $20,000 to purchase the ride. He booked the ride between Cetlin and Wilson and Strates Shows.
Edens was a charter member of the OABA, using his legislative background from serving as a state representative in Tennessee to help guide the organization. He nominated friend and fellow Tennesseean Billy Baxter for the OABA. At the time Baxter built scooter buildings and cars before purchasing Cumberland Valley Shows.
From 1969 through 1974 Edens worked alongside Clyde Mulligan in Portables Rides, Inc. The company developed and sold the Saturn 6 ride. One day in Las Vegas John Vivona, a fellow founding member of the OABA, was flipping a silver dollar in the air. Edens reached over and caught the coin and said to Vivona "that's your down payment on a new Saturn 6". After a second of though, Vivona agreed and a sale was made with the $1 deposit.
Edens has purchased "14 or 15" roller coasters in his life including a Jet Star and a Schwartzkopf Looping Coaster he owned along with Matt Fontana, brother-in-law to the 5 Vivona brothers. The ride was set up on the pier in Ocean City that Edens had leased along with partner Dick Marchant from 1975 until 1985. After the season, the ride was transported on 22 trailers to the Texas State Fair where it was a top ride at the event.
Bob's Space Racers on Cramer's Mad Money
The game has a remote control so it can be operated off set. When hit, the characters yell popular phrases from the show. The mole has custom graphics and heads. Even the hammer is embroidered with the Whack-A-Mole logo.
The company is producing other custom versions like this one for corporate promotions and trade shows. Tune it to "Cramer's Mad Money" for a look at the game in action.
Wisdom Industries has their new Viper on display at the show as well as a Himalaya. The Viper is beautifully decorated and even the seats have snake eyes and face etched into the seats.
Victor Wisdom said traffic had been slow so far during the trade show but the company has sold 2 Vipers, 2 Sizzlers and a Starship so far. In addition to the new pieces, Wisdom sold several new rides from his yard.
Wisdom ticked off the rising prices his company was facing "steel has tripled or quadrupled, aluminum is 4 times higher, copper is 6 to 8 times higher and even the cost of paint has gone up because of oil prices", he said.
Despite the rising prices, Wisdom has made every effort to keep prices as low as possible, knowing that the carnival owners must survive for his business to also survive. "We are all in this ugly battle together", he said. "There are many great people in this industry, I take care of them when they have hard times and they in turn take care of me when I need help".
Fairs and Carnivals Seminar
"Change is hard", said Jim Sinclair, beginning his talk about fairs and carnivals, "relationships need to be reexamined and redefined", he added. Sinclair said change, while feared by many, was a necessary part of life and many times creates new opportunity which leads to further success.
Sinclair said transparency is the biggest issue facing our industry. "There are not too many stones to hide under anymore". Sinclair described a world where the internet makes opinions and information widely available. Blogs, websites and email can send an opinion around the world or around the block in a short amount of time. He said over one billion people were online seeking information and opinions.
Another part of the transparency is the proliferation of cameras. It is estimated that by 2010 81% of the population will have a cell phone. Reviews and reports are all going multi-media.
All of this results in a better informed consumer who will not accept a poor experience. If their experience is not acceptable, this can easily translate into future failure for any business.
Government is also getting into the act. Regulations, auditing, accounting and agency reporting all affect how fairs, carnivals and events operate. It is vitally important that events have good, complete information and accurate figures. Sinclair said the ticketing system for the Minnesota State Fair has helped with auditing and accountability.
"As an industry, we need to take a look at what does and doesn't work", said Sinclair. Patrons are more discriminating with their money. There is not an opportunity to mess around; first impressions are paramount. "If we take care of our customers, he said, our bottom line will also be taken care of".
Sinclair said if people are going out of business as a result of not being able to adapt, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Those without good operations hurt the industry as a whole. We need to be realistic about the things in our industry we need to change. "It is not enough to do things differently" he concluded, "we must do different things".
Wayne McCary, President of the Eastern States Exposition (Big E) was the next presenter. McCary is involved in the leadership of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA). He said fairs and carnivals must work together. "In the past it was us versus them, we now realize we are all on the same train", he said.
The positive part about our business is that fairs offer a real life experience, said McCary. He believes that as life becomes more computerized, more virtual and passively lived, the "real" experience of the fair experience will become that much more special.
On the down side, McCary said that attendance at fairs across America has been flat. They are dependent upon the weather. Good weather makes managers look good and bad weather not so good. We must reverse this trend and continue to grow he said because "any business that doesn't grow is an endangered species".
The Big E, like other fairs, has seen dramatic changes in competition. McCary said the Big E hired a company to do outside research for the fair. One of the questions he wanted answered was why people didn't come to the fair. The company organized a focus group to study this issue and their findings surprised McCary.
The overwhelming response from the participants was that they didn't have time to come to the Big E. This is despite the fact that the Big E is a 17-day event. Food wasn't too expensive, the gate wasn't too high, ride costs were not too much, people simply didn't have time to get there.
McCary says the Big E also has competition from two high grossing casinos 80 miles from the fair. "They suck up a tremendous amount of discretionary income", he said. Now the Massachusetts Governor is looking at adding a casino only 20 miles from the event site.
McCary said we don't have the luxury of just doing things we did in the past. We have to look at changing and adapting. By way of example, he said the Big E was having a hard time generating more revenue on weekdays. Weekday admission to the fair is $12 and he proposed dropping it to $5 after 5pm.
In addition, he adopted a coupon system used by Bob Commerford for his indoor shows. They distributed 1,000,000 coupons in a 35 mile radius of the event, hoping to drive a sufficient number of people to the fair.
After two years of the promotion, weekdays after 5 are up 248%. Revenue took a hit at the gate but they more than make that up by the increase in ride gross, concessions and attendance volume.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the fruits of the promotion is the midway and the games on the midway. "Fairs must provide an environment for carnivals to make a good living", said McCary.
McCary said fairs were living memories for the millions who attend them. It is our job, he said, to make sure they are good memories.
James Drew spoke next about the carnival and fair relationship. Jimmy is the owner of James H. Drew Expositions and a student of the business of the industry.
"Professionalism", said Drew "is the key to our business". Drew said he has seen more bankruptcies in the past 6 years than he has seen in his life. He said every major city has a small carnival with inflatables and small rides. On the other side of the spectrum are the large shows playing major events. It is the medium sized shows that are getting squeezed he said.
Drew pointed out how times change and people must adapt. He remembered sitting in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago, home of the H.C. Evans company who built most of the carnival games in the industry. They published the "Secret Blue Book" with information about how games were operated. Drew overheard a carnival owner telling his manager to give the games people "all the ride money because we'll make it back on the games".
Drew believes there is now an imbalance between rides and food. Many are leaving the ride business to operate food stands. "Imbalances don't last in business", he commented.
Drew pointed to the Minnesota State Fair where percentage rents are very low for food but grosses are the highest in the country. He said if rides percentages were equally as low, people would purchase bigger rides that gross more money and operate them less often. This is similar to what happens in Europe where families own large rides that play only a few dates each year.
Despite the difficulties, Drew was optimistic about the future. "We are all going to survive if we are professional and good at what we do", he concluded.
On tap for tomorrow - a run down of what was bought and sold and trade show wrap-up. Stay tuned.
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