Although fairs in general are big business, what really makes them work is treating customers like the guests they actually are. Because fairgoers literally vote with their feet, making those feet feel like stepping into an exciting new world that is hard to leave is what the fair business is all about.
No one knows this better than Brian Schuman, President of Fair Productions for the past 18 years. He explained: "You think of people differently when they're guests within your 'home.' You want everything clean and done correctly, and you try to make them feel comfortable. You're proud of what you're presenting to them, and you try to give them way more value than what they're expecting."
As a child growing up on Long Island, Schuman would have loved to have such a "down-home" fair nearby. After
all, the New York State Fair in Syracuse was a long way down the road. Even smaller county fairs were not that easy to get to.
As an adult, Schuman remembered that longing. Therefore,after beginning Fair Productions in 1995, he was determined to"bring some state and county-fair type events to places that may not have experienced them before." And that's how "we ended up with Aqueduct and Belmont in Nassau County..."
The "Big A Fair" at Aqueduct and the Belmont Stakes Fair were only the beginning of Fair Productions' Long Island initiatives. After that came the Nassau Coliseum Fair and the Brookhaven Fair. The Brookhaven Fair, which Schuman is "most proud of," just completed its 12th consecutive year.
What this means to Schuman is that he's been "creating new traditions" for kids that are now growing up on Long Island. These kids have what he never had: a long-running local fair that they can look forward to year after year. He happily explained, "Some kids said they've been coming to Brookhaven since they were little. We've now seen a whole first generation of kids that are coming to the fair."
Although Brookhaven has "zero visibility" from the main road, and is "completely hidden by trees" - word of mouth and expert advertising have amply spread the good word. During the 2013 fair, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine especiallyhonored Brian Schuman and Fair Productions with a public citation and this announcement: "The Brookhaven Fair is a fun-filled outing for families like no other event. After12 years, the fair's shows, rides and fireworks have become a tradition for lots of people here in the town..."
Schuman brings another special aspect of personal history to his work with Fair Productions: a remarkable background in majorcorporate and concert promotions. "Major" in this instance refers to places such as Madison Square Garden and Central Park - and to headliners such as Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne.
This extraordinary path also has roots in Schuman's childhood. He explained, "I knew somebody way back when I was very young whose father was a concert promoter, and I was very interested and intrigued with that. In my early teens I loved music and business, so I pursued concert promotion and worked in that field for many years. After producing music and other types of shows, I discovered the fair business and started promoting these fairs."
While promoting fairs, Schuman drew heavily from his wealth of experience. He stated, "From working for the top concert events of the day back in the 70s and 80s, I learned what it means to be classy. These are people who demand the right thing - you're putting on a huge show for a major event and there's just no room for error - you learn how to do things right and how to treat people the right way."
In addition to that, you learn how to reach out to communities. Because Fair Productions works with a number of fairs in very different parts of the country, there is always the need to balance standardization with localization. Whereas it might be expedient to streamline the overall process, this must always be tempered with an emphasis upon regional cultures.
Schuman stated, "I think the kinds of events we do are very localized. We pretty much only advertise to a ten-mile radius or so from where we are. Although we bring in much of the show from other parts of the country - we also try to get local vendors, entertainers, and community groups involved."
He continued, "We've even reached out to provide jobs via local organizations. We used to work with a community youth group from Queens [New York City], and provided jobs for several of the kids there. This taught these kids some life lessons, and showed them a potentially different way to live."
In fact, Schuman believes that fairs tend to succeed - evenwithin economic downturns - for the very reason that they are so localized. He explained, "Let's say a family can't afford a trip to Disney World or Universal Studios... We're an alternative - bringing the amusement park to the neighborhood, rather than folks having to fly somewhere and take a hotel room. It may not be exactly the same experience - but on the emotional level of parents watching their kids on rides and taking pictures of them, it can be very similar."
Schuman has also wisely matched his schedules to those of most fairgoers. Noting that families tend to be busiest with life's necessities during the week, he began scheduling his fairs for consecutive weekends, rather than for the usual run ofconsecutive days. For example, his 2013 Hudson Valley Fair was "open weekends - Friday, Saturday & Sunday" from May 3rd to the 19th.
Schuman concluded, "From the workers to the patrons to the carnival companies to the facilities that we work with, there's a lot that goes into making everybody happy..." This might seem like a constant "struggle and juggle" - and yet he has masterfully managed to forge new traditions while retaining the very best of those that came before.