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The State of the Amusement Industry through the eyes of Tommy Coffing

7/1/2013

By Austin Rooney

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When looking for insight into the current state of the fair industry, experts are sometimes difficult to come by. Few people are constantly tapped into the industry, and fewer still have been associated with fairs and carnivals for almost their entire lifetime.

One such person is Tommy Coffing, the self-described "jack of all trades master of none" (laughing) of www.usedrides.com. Coffing has been involved in fairs and carnivals since he was helping out his dad on Conklin Shows in Ontario at only 7 years old. He would later travel the United States working for Conklin Shows and Deggeller Attractions, and then end up "selling fun" as the manager for usedrides.com, a website which sells everything from roller coasters to funhouses.

In his current business, Coffing said he has hundreds of customers, and gets to know a lot of people involved in the industry. Business is good, said Coffing, and he expects things to continue to improve on his end.

"It's going to be a good year, I can feel it," said Coffing, now living in the countryside of South Carolina as a U.S. citizen.

When asked about the amusement industry as a whole, Coffing was similarly optimistic.

"I think the industry is very stable," he said. "There's a lot less carnivals out there because the regulations got stricter, but the carnivals that are still operating are the cream of the crop."

If there is one thing that could impede on that stability, Coffing said he thinks it's the enthusiasm of younger Americans for the industry. Many show owners are getting older, and their children need to step up. For shows to stay a viable source of entertainment for future generations, he said people from those generations will have to step up and take over.

"Young people really need to step up and take this business by the horns," said Coffing. "They know it. They don't need me telling them. Some already have, but more need to."

According to Coffing, many of the more successful shows in the country are family-operated, simply because families all work together toward the same goal - success. He believes family-run shows will always do better than those without family involvement.

Another trend he has been noticing is the increasing number of workers from South Africa and Mexico taking jobs on most shows because the industry is having a rough time getting American labor.

"Younger people in America don't want to step up and work in the carnival business anymore," Coffing said. "Actually, there aren't many people in America that want to step up and work anywhere anymore."

One of the biggest changes to the industry in recent times was the inclusion of the internet, with most shows operating their own websites and Facebook pages. Coffing said he never would have thought the internet would work in the business, but was proven wrong. With all the good that has come out of the internet, however, he said he has also noticed some negative aspects of it.

"Some of the chit-chat on certain websites can be harmful to the industry," Coffing warned. "A lot of discussion online about accidents, different fairs, and the business come from people who are uninformed on the subject."

Since before he worked in the industry, Coffing believes carnivals and carnival workers have always been burdened with a bad image. Now, with comment sections on many websites, many of the negative stereotypes about carnivals have been reinforced by people who in some cases are not well-informed on the subject.

"A lot of these people just get on [the internet] and talk trash. Some people think they know what they're talking about and do not, which isn,t good for the industry," said Coffing. "I think all of that should go away. If anyone wants to talk about that kind of stuff they should do it in private."

Although he admits that the industry has shared a bad image for decades, Coffing said an increase in journalistic integrity might help to change those old stereotypes. In one instance, Coffing said he read reporting from five different news outlets concerning an amusement ride accident. In each case the story was reported differently, and none of the stories turned out to be true. Coffing also said he was recently approached and asked to take part in a television show about what happens when a carnival ride is repossessed. Coffing said he is trying to stay away from anything that paints the industry in a negative light, and turned them down.

"When someone breaks a fingernail at a carnival anymore it makes the front page," said Coffing. "The media is not fair to anyone in this business."

On the positive side, he pointed out how well business is going despite the recent recession. In the next few years, Coffing said he believes things will pick up again, which is good news to his business and the industry in general.

No matter what the future holds, Coffing said he enjoys being a part of the industry and still keeps in touch with many people he used to work with in various fairs and carnivals.

"I still love what I do," said Coffing. "I'm past riding rides at this point, way past that, but I still love the business."

Coffing emphasized that a passion for fairs and carnivals is mandatory for anyone looking to be a part of it, whether present or future.

"The carnival business is about making people happy," he said. "If you can,t make people happy, don,t do it."

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