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NORTH CAROLINA STATE FAIR WRAP-UP AND EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH WESLEY WYATT

10/24/2006

By Matt Cook

Photo courtesy of N.C. State Fair

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The North Carolina State Fair closed its gates on Sunday, October 22nd, having had 785,956 people pass through its gates. Though the numbers were slightly down, from last year due to rain the fair did have a record Saturday attendance on October 21st.

Powers Great American Midway made its debut at the fair after an unusual selection process for the carnival. In January, the fair accepted bids for the fourth time from qualified carnivals. Only one company, Wade Shows, bid on the midway. Their bid of $3.00 per head was deemed too low and set aside by the fair. After some speculation about the fair turning to an independent midway a new selection method was decided upon. The fair put all the names of the qualified carnivals in a hat and as each carnival was chosen, they would be given the opportunity to accept the contractPhoto By N.C. State Fair at $5.50 per head. The first name out of the hat was Powers Great American who accepted the offer. The contract does provide for a reduction in the fee for new spectacular rides brought to the fair and Powers was able to reduce the contract to $5.30 by bringing the Full Tilt and the Disco.

The contract price is per paid attendee and Can Day attendee. Excluded are patrons over 65 and under 6, as well as active duty military and their families on Military Day. The carnival also did receive $1 more per advance ride sheet sold. For 2006, Powers received $2,351,550 ($235,155 more than what they would have received from last year's contract) from advance ride sheets sold. The fair received $1,154,016.70 from Powers for advance sales. They received $2,548,791.20 during the fair for 480,904 attendees paying at the gate for a grand total of $3,702,807.90.

MCW caught up to Les “Corky” Powers, owner of Powers Great American, and asked him about the fair. “It went very smooth” he said, “we had a great opening. Rain hurt us on Tuesday and Sunday but the closing Saturday was a record day.” The midway was comprised primarily of rides from Powers and Wade Shows with a handful of independents booked in including Amusements Of America with their Crazy Mouse coaster. Asked about his relationship with Wade, Powers said Wade “paid a percentage and each of us brought concessions. We had a very good working relationship with them.” The big question is whether or not Powers would be bidding should the fair be open for bid next year. When asked, he replied, “Absolutely! Why not?”.

Wesley Wyatt has been very generous with his time to MCW over the course of the year keeping us informed about fair developments throughout the year. We posed several questions to Mr. Wyatt about the 2006 fair and his answers appear below:

MCW: How did the NCSF go this year? What was the attendance? Ride gross? Gate pricing? Were you up or down from last year?

WW: Matt, the Fair went well. First of all, we had a very safe fair without significant accidents or incidents. That, more than anything, is our measure of success. We successfully completed all the improvements to the new midway, including a new building, prior to the fair. The public, through emails and phone calls, had very positive comments about the entire fair.

The attendance was 785,956, which is down from 2005 at 9,974, but still among our top five attendance years. We suffered two rain days – Tuesday and the last Sunday. In addition, North Carolina State University had a home football game the first Saturday that adversely affects us. We were however, able to set all time record attendance on Thursday and the last Saturday. We do not know the ride gross as that information is neither needed nor required through our present contract. Gate pricing stayed the same as last year.


MCW: What were some of the new promotions you undertook this year? How did they work?

WW: We worked with Etix to have online, print at home, ride and gate admission tickets. The results were mixed. There were negative comments on the cost ($1 per ticket) and on the slowness of processing transactions at the gates.

MCW: How many rides did you have at the fair? Any midway promotions of note? Powers rides looked great and Wade had many of the larger rides and amenities. How did it work having two carnivals split the work (Powers and Wade)? Did you deal with just Powers or both companies? Is the fair so big that it is a better solution for the fair to divide the work? What are the plans for the midway next year? Will the fair be bid out again?

WW: We had 110 rides – strongest and best line-up ever here at Raleigh. We worked through Powers, as he was the contract holder. He and his family were highly visible at all times moving throughout the five midway areas. All were extremely accessible and all were very cooperative. They successfully achieved quick inspections by the NC Department of Labor ride inspectors. We could not have asked for more cooperation. We still believe the best situation for us is to work with one prime contractor who books in additional ride pieces as needed. We are still recovering/cleaning and getting back in operation to lease our buildings for our year round operation, so we have not made any decisions about next year as of yet.

MCW: Please tell us about the midway improvements. One area of concern among the game concessionaires we talked with were the new planters. Some complained that their size (20’ x 40’) was too wide and funneled the people away from the games. We did observe however, many people sitting on the edges and enjoying their use. Any comments about how you came to the size decision?

WW: When it was all said and done, I think most concessions – game and food, recognized that the planters were a plus. We do plan to plant trees in the centers this winter and to disc in the stone around the asphalt & plant grass this spring. The 20’ x 35’ planters are sized to ensure mature canopy trees can survive and thrive. No other trees or other landscaping is planned for that area. The trees also meet City of Raleigh guidelines for landscaping, as we will use that area for parking event attendees year round.

MCW: There are many challenges these days for the entertainment dollar. What are some of the challenges to marketing the fair in this environment and what is the secret to your success?

WW: Well, I think we offer an affordable event experience that has something for everyone, which is what I think most fairs can say. One other factor in our favor is the intense activity we have year round at the fairgrounds, which helps the public feel comfortable visiting us in October as well.

MCW: Gate pricing and fuel prices are an enormous issue this year for customers, the carnival and concessionaires. Did you do anything differently this year to offset this issue?

WW: Gate pricing remained the same price it has been for over 12 years. Fuel prices are a concern. We did increase the mileage payments made to junior livestock exhibitors to help offset that cost.


MCW: How many food and concessions does the fair have? Who are some of your major food concessionaires and how was their business this year?

WW: We have over 180 independent food concessions. Some of the major ones include McBride Concessions, Santillo, John Black, & Butcher Boys. They all reported good years.

MCW: Do you use a paper ticketing system or an electronic ticketing system? If so tell us a little about it.

WW: We intended to use an electronic ticketing system, but unfortunately, the system was far slower than a paper ticketing system, so we were forced to go back to that early in the fair. We can see the advantages of an electronic system, but we’ll have to make sure that is quicker and easier.

MCW: What entertainment did you have this year? What was the pricing for ticketed acts? What free acts did well or didn’t work?

WW: We had a good line up this year. Both of our Christian Concerts ( Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns) sold out before the fair opened. Chris Brown (R&B) also sold out. Other artist performing this year were Jo Dee Messina, Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Earl Scruggs, Tift Merritt, Mike Cross, Little Big Town, Chris Cagle and Gary Allan. Ticket pricing was $5.00 to $15.00.
We had some really good free acts. All the acts did well and we had something for everyone to see. We had the Dazzling Mills Family, Magic 4 U, Nick’s Kid Band, Al the Artist, Circle C Racing Pigs, Little Doggies of the Wild West, Dancing Heads, Paul Bunyan Lumber Jack Show, Sara Hutto the Story Teller, Brad Bodary the Stilt Walker, Mobile Robots, Washboard Willie, Unisoghn, Frankie Faucet and the Driptes, The Bluegrass Boys and Keith Kings Stunt Bike Show. We also had a Tractor Pull the first weekend of the Fair and a Demo Derby the last weekend. Tickets were $7.00 for each.

MCW: As the country becomes less agrarian does it have an impact on your livestock and agriculture exhibits? How so?

WW: Perhaps one impact is the desire to see livestock – even it is not competition, but demonstration livestock. I think the public still demands that component of the fair.

MCW: Is the fair subsidized by the state? What is you annual budget?

WW: The fair receives no monies from the state for operations. On occasions, we do receive some repair and renovation money. Our annual budget exceeds $12 million.

MCW: Are there other things you would like to highlight? Please tell us about them.

WW: I think the effort put into creating a great new midway area with infrastructure in place to allow the carnival easy set up and operation, along with a new midway building with all public services based there and with top quality restrooms for the public would be the main items to highlight. Also our record single day attendance of 145,461 on the last Saturday. It is a credit to our staff that we kept the lights on, the toilets flushing and the trash picked up that day and all other days.

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