The Paris Hotel and Casino was filled with fairs, exhibitors, and people in related services all sharing ideas, contracting for business and sometimes just discussion the season just concluded. Featured speakers, round table discussion and meeting across industries (ie. Fair/carnival, fair/concessions) kept convention attendees busy collecting information and learning from the experience of others.
Featured speakers included FFA leader Seth Pratt during the opening session, Freedom Writer Manny Scott, the keynote speaker whose story is told in part in the 2007 film Freedom Writers, and Juliet Funt, the founder and owner of WhiteSpace at Work, "a training and consulting firm that helps organizations, their leaders, and employees flip norms of business in order to reclaim their creativity, productivity, and engagement." Ms Funt's talk is entitled "Bringing More Creativity, More Productivity, More Engagement".
Roundtable discussions included topics such as The Changing World Of Advertising, Gate Promotions That Work, Evaluating Returns on Sponsorships and the Dream Big Food Drive.
Speaking of the drive, the IAFE announced the success of their Dream Big Campaign. Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe, 2013 IAFE Chairman and CEO of the West Virginia State Fair, challenged fair members to unite in a universal food drive to feed the hungry in local communities. In response, North America's fairs collected food and cash donations in a very big way, total more than 6,000,000 pounds of food for the hungry.
In other IAFE news, Jerry Hammer, manager of the Minnesota State Fair was elected to the Hall of Fame. The honor, as traditions dictates, was a surprise for the recipient and he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor at the fair, Mike Heffron, who was also elected to the Hall.
Many fairs on the floor reported good years and were optimistic about the outlook for 2014. The Coastal Carolina in Charleston, SC is one example of an event that had a great year. In fact it was the second best year in the fair's 57 year history.
The fair drew 242,000 people to the Exchange Club of Charleston-run event.
The Coastal Carolina Fair distinguishes itself by the fact that is run by an all-volunteer management, one of the largest fairs in the country to be run this way. The Exchange Club calculated that 17,600 volunteer hours were provided by the club for the fair.
Perhaps the most special aspect of the fair's operation is their devotion to charitable causes in the Charleston area. Last year, 77 charities received $800,000 in contributions as a result of the fair's operations!
The fair has a committee and formal process for choosing the recipients of the funds. The committee reviews the applications, much like a grant award, and chooses the charities that will be helped during the current year.
The Exchange Club had a large delegation at the convention including long time members Joe Bolchoz and Jerry Pitts.
Steve White of Event Marketing Corporation or EMC is another person optimistic about the future. Steve and his staff work with events all over the country to sell tickets through his client, Walgreens and their Corner Box Office Program.
White said he had some great successes in 2013. He pointed to the Great Jacksonville Fair which had an advance sale increase of 500% under his guidance this year. Another example was the Oklahoma State Fair where sales increased 25% for advance tickets in the second year of the program.
Fairs are not White's only clients however. EMC services Amusement Parks, Festival, Water Parks, Renaissance Faires, Sporting Events and Sports Teams.
White has a background as an entertainer before taking up the Walgreens advance sale mantle. He also spends some time managing two fairs on his own; the Pinellas County Fair and the Alachua County Fair.
Fr. John Vakulskas is also dedicated to the fair and carnival industry. Fr, John has a special appointment to serve the spiritual needs of fair and festival workers and thus he has been given the moniker "carny priest".
Father John visited 25 – 30 events in 2013, performing baptisms, funerals, memorial services, blessing rides, hearing confessions and providing spiritual counseling. He has visited Butler Amusements, Midway of Fun and many other carnivals and fairs.
Father usually uses the cookhouse as his base of operations when on the road. It is where he says Mass, meets with interested parties and counsels those in need.
Fr. Vakulskas' ministry is funded entirely out of donations from outside and inside the industry. He tries to visit fairs and events during the weekdays so he can get back to Iowa to service the parishioners at the three churches under his care.
In addition to his duties as a carnival priest, Fr. John leads pilgrimages overseas for people from his parishes and many within the fair and carnival industries.
February 18 – 28 he will lead a spring tour to Rome where the group will participate in a papal audience with Pope Francis. A second highlight of the trip will be an excursion to the Moser ride manufacturing facility in Ostelia, Italy where Alfeo Moser "rolls out the red carpet" for participants.
Fr. John will lead a second tour January 19 – 30 2015 to the Holy Land with an optional excursion to Jordan.
For more information about the tour or Fr. John, visit his website, carnivalpriest.com.
On the trade show floor, some old companies were new exhibitors Ward hall and Chris Christ's World of Wonders sideshow was exhibiting for the first time at the IAFE convention.
Officials said the intent of the display was to reach more fairs and events than ever before and add additional dates to their schedule, especially on the fair side of operations.
The company will be packaging the paid admission show with several free acts they provide the fair without charge, as a bonus for booking the World of Wonders. The free acts can be added to the fair's schedule listed along with other fair entertainment.
World of Wonders hopes this new way of packaging their brand of entertainment will take them to places they have never been before. Coming from people who have made a living with the odd and unusual, that is saying a lot!
Stayed tuned for Part III and our continuing coverage of the IAFE/SLA conventions.