The third day of the IISF Trade Show, run by the International Independent Showmen's Association started slow but picked up considerably in the afternoon. Today was also opening day for the Florida State Fair and many were out on the grounds making sure their equipment was ready for opening. There is a definite feeling of guarded optimism at the show this year with many attendees either planning purchases or leaving open the possibility if the right product catches their eye.
"It looks like it a buyer's season in 2013" said Jeff Swartz of Hitch-Hiker Manufacturing. Swartz said people were making up their minds this year and placing orders. This is a marked improvement from the previous few years. Swartz's company is booked through the fall of 2013 with production.
Hitch-Hiker has two trailers on display at the trade show in Gibtown where he spoke to MCW on Day three of the show. Some have lamented the lack of rides and concessions brought by manufacturers to the show over the last several years but Swartz said the business has changed over the years.
"Our buyers have dozens of choices they can make when ordering a trailer now" said Swartz. The process often takes several months, designing the trailer, ordering custom equipment and colors and choosing security and point of sale options all take time. With the tremendous number of options, a buyer now wants to design each and every aspect of their purchase so bringing a trailer to the show on "spec" is really not an option anymore. This would hold true for both rides and concessions. Instead, most manufacturers bring products to be delivered or recently sold for display.
About half of Swartz's customers are purchasing new trailers and the other half upgrading from older trailers. "The new trailers help them better serve their customers and the new technology and security systems helps them run a more efficient and profitable operation", he added.
In fact, Swartz sells about 50% of his customers a point of sale system with cash register, screen and security. About 90% of his customers purchase trailers with the tall, flashy marquee and graphics.
Actual production on the trailers takes about 6- 8 weeks, depending upon the design. Swartz meets personally with every prospective buyer and takes them through the process. He doesn't have sales people working for him because he wants to deliver exactly what he promises and as the owner of the company, he can make sure each customer gets what they ordered.
Hitch-Hiker has been in business for 40 years and they have been dedicated solely to the food trailer business. They don't build carts, game trailers or other products for the business, they focus solely on their core business of food trailer manufacturing.
Funnel Cakes, fried dough, popcorn and fried candy bars are the most popular trailers built in recent years. He has also seen his share of unusual items for trailers including frog legs, Kool-Aid and fried White Castle burgers.
Swartz is very optimistic about the future of the industry. He sells throughout the country with customers on both coasts. He makes his living exclusively from sales in the U.S, without any international sales.
Tim Noland, General Manager of Eli Bridge Company, said his company has been successful with their new park-model drive system for the Scrambler. The new drives are quieter, pose less of a trip hazard and have less moving parts. They recently delivered a new ride to Trader's Village in Houston, TX.
The company has come out with a new front-end loader car for their popular Construction Zone family ride and they have sold 6 or 7 of the Spider swing rides.
Noland said the Eli 16 and Hy-5 remain the most popular rides for new builds, especially for parks.
When asked about new products coming out, Noland said they had "a few things on the burner". Stay tuned.
Guy Sherbourne, Sr. has been in the business almost his whole life. He started at age 10 at the Oaks Amusement Park, owned by Bob Bollinger. Sherbourne would find ways to pay for a day of roller skating by helping to pick up trash and clean the park. His efforts were noticed and over the years, he worked at the rink, picked up at the picnic area and helped load and unload the rides.
Sherbourne said Bollinger at that time was one of the largest ride owners in the U.S., operating the park as well as several permanent rides at the Oregon State Fair.
About 50 miles down the rode from the park, the Eyerly Aircraft Company had been manufacturing rides. Their rides simulated aerobatic maneuvers like the figure eight for the Roll-O-Plane and Loop O Plane and weightlessness for the Spider and Octopus.
Eyerly also built the Fly-O-Plane, Rock-O-Plane, Bulgy the Whale, the Crazy Cars and Lady Bug rides as well as Midge-O-Racers. Lee Eyerly will be recognized as an industry pioneer by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association this week.
The company also helped spawn other successful companies. Frank Hrubetz, who worked for Lee Eyerly and helped develop the loop O Plane and Roll O Plane, started his own company, Frank Hrubetz and Company, in 1939. His iconic rides included Paratrooper, The Roundup, Tip Top and Meteor.
In December of 1990, Sherbourne, purchased the rights to the Eyerly products. He now services former Eyerly clients and the Eyerly equipment by providing service, parts and support. His company, now run by sons Tod and Guy, Jr., also does complete refurbishments of Eyerly Products.
The company built a new ride along the way, a Toon Car ride, based upon an earlier concept. The company works with both parks and carnivals to provide parts and service to Eyerly rides.
Guy Sherbourne and his family are keeping these rides operating at parks and carnivals throughout the country for a new generation of families to enjoy.
The pioneer award honoring Jack Eyerly will be presented during the OABA annual meeting which will be held Friday, February 8th at the Embassy Suites.
CLICK HERE to view the 2013 IISF Trade Show Photo Gallery