Frank Zaitshik believes in the power of social media to market his carnival.
The owner/operator of Wade Shows has redesigned his website with prominently displayed links to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to spread the word on $5 discounts and other promotions. He even allows individuals to purchase ride wristbands online.
In addition, Wade Shows officials are developing a new mobile-friendly version of the site compatible across all smartphone web browsers, and a new QR code program to apply on ticket boxes, drink cups and bags of cotton candy. Customers will be able to use their mobile devices to scan those codes for coupons for future purchases and get more information on ride specials, Zaitshik said.
With the younger generation using Facebook and Twitter as their primary means of communication, Zaitshik feels it is important for one of the biggest carnivals in North America to develop a comprehensive social media platform.
"I'm more excited about the carnival business than ever before, especially with all the opportunities created by social media," Zaitshik said. "We were pioneers for originally designing a website for the customers instead of the fairs and this is the next step."
This year marks the second season for Wade Shows' Gold Access program, an premium offering for ride enthusiasts who would prefer to pay an additional fee to skip the lines on the midway. Last year, the carnival tested Gold Access at a few of its state fairs and is rolling it out on a more permanent basis in 2012, Zaitshik said.
The year's price for the Gold Access VIP card and lanyard is $10 on weekdays and $15 on weekends. For that price, depending on location, customers receive premium experience with discounts on food and concessions, preferred parking and the best seats for live entertainment at fairs and festivals.
The show most likely plans to use Facebook to distribute free Gold Access cards to the first 500 individuals to buy a wristband in advance, or for those social media users who post the highest number of "likes" on their Facebook page, Zaitshik said. The details of the program have yet to be confirmed, he said.
"It's a multi-pronged approach," he said. "We're taking small steps for mankind, slowing mastering Facebook. We do not use Twitter to the maximum. It takes people and dedicated resources to do that, but we recognize and understand the value of it."
Separately, Wade Shows is moving slowly toward implementing a cashless point-of-sale system for rides, food and games. As of early April, the carnival was in negotiations with a vendor to buy a system with 300 to 400 handheld units to scan bar codes on tickets and wristbands. As part of their research, show officials have talked with Ray Cammack Shows, Funtastic Shows and Strates Shows about their systems, Zaitshik said.
The big challenge for all carnivals using wireless technology is the mobile aspect of their business and the infrastructure on site required to support those systems, he said. Wireless access can vary widely depending on the fair and its venues.
The total investment for the software and hardware is about $1 million with most of the cost tied to the bar code readers and touch screens installed at food stands. For a show with 100 rides and 60 games, additional scanners would be required to replace the initial units with heavy use, Zaitshik said.
Wade Shows signed the Nebraska State Fair for 2013, and with the addition of next year's date in Lincoln, the carnival will be a part of seven state fairs, the most of any traveling amusement company in North America, according to Zaitshik. The six others are North Carolina, Delaware, Missouri, Florida, Oklahoma and the Alabama National Fair, the closest event to a state fair in Alabama.
"Not all of those fairs are our contracts, but they are fairs where we are the control holder or a signifcant provider," he said.
In its home state of Michigan, where the Michigan State Fair was eliminated a few years ago, Wade Shows recently signed an eight-year contract to play the Livonia Spree, one of the state's highest-grossing events, Zaitshik said.
The carnival completed its run of dates in Florida and Texas and those events held up with last year's results. At the Florida State Fair in Tampa, Kids Day produced a near record ride gross despite the threat of bad weather throughout the day, he said.
Wade Shows is in the market for another "show stopper" roller coaster to support its Pinfari RC 48, a spectacular ride the carnival purchased from Morey's Pier in New Jersey. Zaitshik has his eyes on a Schwartzkopf Wildcat, a German-made attraction.
CLICK HERE for photos from the 2012 South Florida Fair
CLICK HERE for photos from the 2012 San Antonio Livestock Show