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Santa Rosa County Fair: Grounded in sound business

6/3/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of Santa Rosa County Fair

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Northwest Florida's Santa Rosa County Fair is quite literally grounded in sound business practice.  Rick Paschall, 2013 Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Santa Rosa County Fair Association, was excited to report that the 2014 fair will be held for the first time on its own permanent fairgrounds.

Paschall stated that the fairgrounds are being "leased directly from the county government."  He further explained "it is basically their (the county's) contribution" to the fair because "no monetary requirements" are involved.  The fair association is basically only responsible "for improving the raw land,"  which needs to be cleared and developed.  According to srcfair.com, this land is currently "under construction" and "great design ideas for the fairgrounds layout" are being welcomed.

The callPhoto By Santa Rosa County Fair is already out for 2014 volunteers.  The Santa Rosa County Fair Association is an all-volunteer 501(c)3 organization.  Paschall said "there are no paid people" within this group.  Volunteer committees include the following:  Special Events, Entertainment (Local, Grounds Acts and Main Stage), Arena (Full Rodeo), Exhibits (Judges), and Livestock.  The association estimates over 10,000 hours are donated each year.

This level of volunteerism has garnered some terrific feedback from the community.  Website testimonials include this quote:  

...just wanted to tell you what a great time we had on Saturday.  Didn't really feel like work at all...  And this one:  On behalf of my daughters, I want to thank you for doing this for them.  This will continue to encourage them to give back to their communities.

How then has a relatively small all-volunteer organization managed to grow large enough and strong enough to warrant its own county-donated fairgrounds?  Paschall says that good business sense has gone a long way to foster such growth and confidence from the county.  Six years ago, the group set out to develop "a much more efficient business model," and it has really paid off.

It turns out that these business "secrets" are based upon good old-fashioned common sense.  Paschall emphasizes that "patience is the number-one tip" that he would pass on to any fledgling organization.  As far as fairs are concerned, he cautions that a small one "cannot support a 50-ride midway - so you have to do the things that will first grow your attendance, and then you can slowly try to grow the midway up."

Although patience provides a solid foundation, it must go hand-in-hand with action.  This action should be realistically rooted in an assessment of strengths and - this could be the tough part - weaknesses.  Paschall advises, "You have to do a real truthful evaluation as to what you really have - what your current situation is - and that's not always a pleasant thing..."  He adds that fairs "don't operate on cotton candy, but on dollars and cents."

In 2013 the fair's total operating budget was approximately $130,000.  Paschall explained, "Because we're a sanctioned county fair, the Florida State Department of Agriculture provides some funding for our livestock premiums.  However, that's the only official state funding that we get."

The total advertising budget for 2013 was $17,000.  Paschall estimated that 25% went for printed materials (a combination of signs, banners and brochures), 22% for radio, 25% for TV, 5% for billboards, and the rest for sponsorships.  He said, "By sponsoring such events as a farm tour and an agribusiness conference, we get our word out about the fair at different times during the year.  We're an agricultural fair, and we're growing that piece of it."

Social media is another growing aspect of the advertising campaign.  Paschall mentioned that although they have had a Facebook page in the past, their statistics rose sharply this year from 200 to 2600 people.  He attributed this great increase to the Facebook know-how of a volunteer on the Entertainment Committee.

Paschall emphasized, "We put a lot of energy into making sure that we reached the right demographics with the right words and the right information.   Our ad package was tied in very closely with our entertainment package.  For example, we didn't just do a rock-and-roll night; we did a rock-and-roll night that was specifically geared toward 16-to-30 year-olds. That age group responds really well to the social media message."  He added, "The proof is in who shows up - and in whether they did what you thought they would do."

And show up they did...  Paschall concluded, "Generally speaking, this was our best year of the past six.  We had a 25% increase in attendance from last year (which had been an especially low year)."  Lowering the price of admission also helped.  He added, "Normally our highest price is $10, we lowered that to $8 - and we added in a Wednesday $1 day.  Wednesday is normally one of our lowest attendance days, and this year's Wednesday attendance showed a 400% increase from last year."   

Santa Rosa County Fair -Tip Top RidesPaschall reported that this year's midway revenue was also way up, "25% above the last three years' average."  Such success has everything to do with the careful linkage of entertainment,  key events and ad campaigns with specific age groups.  He further explained, "We partner  with Tip Top Rides, a family-owned midway.  We've had them for eight of the last 10 years.   We normally have about 24 rides."

Paschall also explained that young families (parents from ages 21 to 35 with young kids) are a very important midway demographic to concentrate upon.  High school kids are another.  These are folks who especially enjoy both the rides and the food.

He also stressed the importance of quality entertainment.  Paschall said, "The crowds by and large came for the entertainment and then did everything else."  Popular venues included an Open Pro Rodeo, NBHA Barrel Races, FMX Motocross, Geoff McBride, D.J. UNK, and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.

The Santa Rosa County Fair Association is certainly well on its way to proving that "there's no business like show business."  And when you're grounded in sound business practice, the sky's the limit... 

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