Running the first major amusement industry event of the year means January can be very hectic, but 2014 started even more frantic than usual for Teresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary for the 46th Annual Trade Show of the International Independent Showmen's Association (IISA), which takes place the first week in February.
Coming on the heels of the end of the fair season as well as the annual downtime of the holidays, during the first few weeks of the year, fair and carnival industry members tend to be in a procrastination mode. This attitude was exacerbated by some severe winter weather conditions, which in January included what meteorologists called a Polar Vortex, further complicating the final trade show planning stages. "A lot of people wait until the last minute, but that is typical of this industry and happens every year," said Rimes, now in her 16th year as secretary. "There are some travel concerns with some of the weather in the Midwest and Northeast."
Frigid temperatures and snow storms create logistical issues for some exhibitors, particularly those transporting rides and other machinery. "Moving some of the exhibits can be expensive, and they have to decide where the closest location or one not as affected by weather conditions," she added.
Rimes expects more than 160 companies to exhibit - with more than 300 exhibits on display - and attendance to be on par with previous years. "Our show caters to the outdoor moving carnivals, state fairs, country fairs and festivals," said Rimes. "Anyone and everyone in that business comes here. We get fair managers, owners, operators, workers and retirees. We get the full pie."
According to Gloria Myers, President of IISA (her one-year term concludes with the trade show) industry members may delay but always eventually commit to this critical industry event. "As usual, we are always at the last minute, so this year's no different," she said. "We're looking for a good show and we all know it is a good thing to attend, to have the all industry get together."
The trade show floor - which has both inside and outdoor sections - will showcase the full range of carnival and fair products and services, including rides, food supplies and equipment, concession trailers, electrical supplies, insurance companies, novelty items, plush toys, and jewelry. Rimes promises new vendors in food and other categories, with the tantalizingly vague description of exhibits, "that will be very interesting," although she refrained from discussing specific exhibitors.
However, Rimes could not conceal her excitement about the "licensing wars" taking place in the Plush Toy category. "We have a few new exhibitors in Plush Toys, which has really evolved for the carnival and fair industry," she said. "The toys are not only higher quality in terms of how they are made, but the licensing has gotten really up to date. We're getting what is popular and what will be popular this summer. A lot of Plush Toys have their debut at the trade show, and there's a real competition this year for who will have the best stuff."
One distinct factor making the weeks leading up to the IISA convention more frenzied this year than in 2013 is that for 2014, the organization is premiering new educational events and attendee amenities, dramatically enhancing the overall trade show and increasing the value attending a face-to-face event. "Our biggest competition is the internet, people can order products without having to meet face to face," said Rimes. "The challenge is to make the show unique and relevant, to give them things they cannot get online."
What attendees will get that is exclusive to this convention is more than 20 hours of educational, training and issue-oriented seminars. The complete schedule and final titles of the classes was unavailable at press time, but two leading ride and midway experts - Guy Sherbourne of Eyerly Manufacturing and Patty Sullivan, of Eli Bridge Company - will lead round-table discussions that will address the latest manufacturing trends and safety issues. James Judkins, lawyer and founder of JKJ Workforce one of the leading Foreign Labor Consultant and Facilitator Firms in the industry, will forecast the Visa environment for 2014, foreign worker related issues and how immigration reform measures may impact this crucial labor segment for the industry.
"We are finalizing the exact topics," said Rimes. "The round tables are very popular, they are relevant and up to date and lead to very fruitful discussions."
For the first time, the educational program at the IISA trade show, in conjunction with the American Restaurant Association, features ServSafe ® program classes for food handlers, alcohol servers and managers. This program enables participants to meet local, state, and employer requirements. While a separate fee and preregistration is required - class size is limited - this comprehensive course, taking place Friday 10:30 am - 3:30 pm. - also includes certification for participants. "We get a full range of attendees," said Rimes. "There's a demand for the ServSafe ® training. Everybody needs it in today's market."
The IISA trade show runs concurrently with other industry events held by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) and the National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA ). The majority of participants in those events traditionally attend the IISA convention (members receive a 50 percent discount on the attendance fee). "We want to make it easier for them this year to come to our exhibitors, seminars and other events," said Rimes. "They are doing something totally different than what we are doing, but the attendees want to do both and always have. This way we can reduce their driving and make it an easier experience coming to Gibtown." A finalized shuttle bus schedule will be released at the trade show.
In addition to being the premier event of the calendar year for the carnival and fair industry, the February trade show celebrates the industry's colorful history and personalities. Gibtown, Florida is the permanent home for the International Independent Showmen's Association, Inc. - "Gibtown Showmen's Club" - a non profit private organization made up of people in the outdoor amusement industry. The original club building opened in 1966 and has expanded to be the largest Showmen's Association in the world, with more than 4,500 members from across the globe. At the trade show, exhibits include rides, food supplies and equipment, concession trailers, electrical supplies, insurance companies, novelty items, plush toys, and jewelry.
Reunions & Networking
Some benefits of attending the IISA trade show are not as tangible as the expanded educational program, new shuttle buses and one of the most extensive exhibition floors in the industry. Myers points out that the networking and opportunities for informal discussion with industry colleagues and peers may be the priceless appeal of going to Gibtown in February. "Spending time together with people in your business, who you only see once a year, is very important. You can come away with new ideas and know what other people are going through."
The biggest issue industry members are concerned about? Myers, an industry veteran, with 40+ years experience with her family's company, Myers International Midway, responded: "The economy. They say the economy is improving, but not everybody is feeling it. I don't think it is improving like they are saying it is."
Although fair industry numbers indicate a small but noticeable increase in attendance, Myer points out. "Expenses are up and many of the midway providers and concessionaires are telling me their grosses are down. People may not be spending like they used to when they come out to the fair or carnival, and not everybody's attendance was up. I don't know what we as an organization can do about that, but I'm sure it will be a main topic of conversation at the trade show."
Myer resumed the presidency of the IISA at last year's trade show. She will be succeeded by Wilbur Cooke, founder of WC Concessions, who will be returning to helm of the organization for the second time.
The event runs February 2nd - 8th, starting with the Superbowl/ Trade show Kick-off party on the 2nd (Sunday). The 5th Annual Big Hearted Jerry's Memorial Golf Tournament will be held on Monday. The main Trade Show opens Tuesday (February 4th), with opening day activities anchored by the Exhibitor Cocktail Party - 5:30pm - 7:00pm. The IISA Annual Banquet & Ball and Hall of Fame Inductee / Awards Presentation at the Carousel Pavilion takes place on Thursday. Post-show, on the Tuesday (February 11th), the IISA installation of occurs.
Rime's expectation for this year's trade show was unabashedly upbeat. "The economy is turning around and people in our industry are very positive," Rimes said. "There's a real excitement this year about some of the new things we are doing. People are optimistic, but in the carnival business, you have to be. You don't get into this business if you don't like to have fun."
CarnivalWarehouse.com's Coverage on the 2014 IISF Trade Show:
Show Preview | Tuesday Highlights | Wednesday Highlights | Thursday Highlights | Friday Highlights | Saturday / Show Conclusion News | Trade Show Photo Gallery