The 18-day Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition had what most fair managers desire: Good weather and an attendance that outpaced by several percentage points the tally of the previous year's fair. But the robust record of the 2014 edition of this distinctive South Florida event suggested developments of a larger scope than just a upbeat outcome. According to Bob Hohenstein, President & CEO, Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, the success of the this year's fair was a certain indication that economic recovery in South Florida, a region of the United States that was severely impacted by the recession, has arrived.
Hohenstein pointed out that only a few years ago, South Florida - "in terms of travel, tourism, housing, business, was slammed by the great recession" - and as result the fair suffered. Cautious optimism still permeates, but Hohenstein sees reasons in this year's fair justifying increased optimism. "Our 2014 Youth Fair went extremely well with our attendance reaching 590,000 guests or a 2.5 percent increase over prior year and 21.4 percent up over 2012," he said. "We saw very strong spending from our guests. Guest per capita spending based on the preliminary figures was up 5 percent versus the prior year."
These figures lead Hohenstein to conclude, "South Florida's economy is improving and on the rise."
A less tangible, but perhaps more significant, in terms of an improved business climate were the number of "student displays" - more than 50,000. "It was our highest number of displays," he said. These displays are essentially exhibits and other projects by tens of thousands of Agricultural students. Although the "Youth Fair," as the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition is known locally, has a distinctive focus on students and new professionals in one of the leading industries in the region, showcasing livestock and agriculture are essential to its mission. The increase in exhibits, "means that more young people are again entering the industry, which wasn't the case a few years ago," said Hohenstein.
In addition, Hohenstein pointed out that, "one of our tenets is to promote South Florida agriculture. South Florida agriculture is, like the general economy, on the rise. The recent "Great Recession" hit South Florida agriculture very hard especially within horticulture, landscape and so forth. A bounce-back is very evident however."
The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition did implement some new marketing strategies that aided and abetted the revived fair attendance, the "most effective 2014 promotion was with Sedano's Supermarkets." According to Hohenstein, this regional supermarket chain with about 30 locations, has been a fair partner for three years. "They are a tremendous partner and sponsor of the fair. They did a great job advertising the fair"
Hohenstein added that the advance sales through this chain "more than doubled. The advance sales were magnificent. As a fair, you want that that commitment by your customers as soon as early as possible. That's money in the bank."
New P*O*P Culture
In addition to the pre-sale of admission tickets and sheets of ride coupons, Sedona Supermarkets also sold the Pay One Price (P*O*P) Unlimited Ride Passes. The fair added a new twist to this wristband program, which has been in place for a few years but only as weekday incentive. In 2014, P*O*P wristbands were available on weekends. Passes purchased in advance at a Sedano's Supermarket location were $20 each for any day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday and $25 on weekdays and $35 on weekends when purchased at the gate on the day of visit.
This year's Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition's successful experiment with the P*O*P bands on weekend fair days, was launched in conjunction with North American Midway Entertainment (N.A.M.E.), the fair's long time midway provider.
"We were very, very pleased with the results generated by having the P*O*P Unlimited Ride Wristbands available on weekends," said Hohenstein. "We had been discussing this option for a few years and with N.A.M.E.'s input, counsel and so forth elected to test it in 2014. This was the first time in our 63 year history we have done this."
What long seemed counter intuitive - giving a midway incentive on weekends, the most well-attended days of nearly any fair - turned out to be an effective response to the customer's expectations for added value. As result, extended midway bargains increased overall spending. As Hohenstein explained, the weekend P*O*P wrist bands meant "that guests do stay longer on the weekends than previously as our per capita spending results show."
New N.A.M.E. Contract
According to Hohenstein, N.A.M.E. has been the midway provider for the fair "for decades," and featured 95 rides this year. "We recently renewed our agreement with them through our 2017 Youth Fair," said Hohenstein. "Midway revenue was up single digits versus 2013. Very, very pleased with the midway ride results to say the least."
N.A.M.E. rides that made their Miami-Dade debut were Backdraft, a fire-themed coaster where seven cars - holding up to four passengers each -"light up" then climb three levels before rushing down, Crazy Dance, where a dodecagonal platform rotates and the cars rock back and forth, while incorporating backdrops, a sound system, elaborate light displays and special effects and the latest in virtual-reality technology, 7-D Cinema, where participants sit inside an enhanced 7-D simulator, where spectacular footage and thrilling special effects gives them the experience of taking a breathtaking journey that traverses an array of landscapes, from prehistoric era forests to enchanted tunnels. NAME favorites that returned to the midway included Space Roller, Mark 3, Twister, Cliff Hanger, Ring of Fire and the Giant Wheel. The Kidde rides included Bear Affair, Kite Flyer, Raiders, Speedway and Teacup at KiddieLand.
New & Traditional
The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair featured 170 food concessionaires, about the same as the previous fair. According to Hohenstein, fair attendees tend towards the predictable when it comes to this fair's cuisine. "The hot items here in Miami are traditionally Elephant Ears and Roasted Corn," said Hohenstein. "The same held true in 2014."
New concessions included, Juicy's Outlaw Grill, the self-proclaimed "world's largest mobile outdoor grill" and boasts the capability of cooking 1,000 foods simultaneously, Bianco's Foods, family-owned and operated since 1981, offers Chicken & Waffles, a full Belgian waffle with two pieces of hand-breaded chicken topped off with maple syrup; The Bird Dog- two chicken tenders on a bun smothered with cheddar cheese and bacon and The Waffle Dog, A frankfurter/waffle hybrid where a hot dog dipped in batter is cooked to look like a waffle; Opa Opa Saloon, a craft beer and wine saloon, Island Noodles, which specializes in "Hawaiian Style Wok-Fired Soba Noodles," Up-N-Smoke, a Mexican barbecue, and Mr. Sticky's, a family-owned business from Amish Country that offers five varieties of re-imagined but still traditional sticky buns.
Engaging agricultural exhibits, an exhilarating midway and a diverse food court are the main components of most fairs. At this year's Miami-Dade County, it was not enough just to show up, but go above and beyond. "Absolutely The Youth Fair exceeded expectations," said Hohenstein. "I firmly believe we met and exceeded our guests' expectations by providing a world-class, clean, safe, secure and very family friendly 18 day fair."
Although no records were set during the fair, "we exceeded our prior year's attendance number, we exceeded our budgeted attendance number, we exceeded our 5 year average attendance number, and we exceeded the prior year's revenue number," said Hohenstein.
The highest 2014 attendance for a single day - 53,225 - was reached Saturday, March 22, Day 10 of the fair. In addition, mother nature cooperated. "Weather was good during our run," said Hohenstein. "We had a bit of morning rain one day, a bit of afternoon rain one day and severe thunderstorms on Saturday, March 29 at approximately 8:30 PM, but overall we were blessed with great early spring South Florida weather."
Hohenstein declined to speculate on industry implications of his fair success or identify signs that the economic rebound in Miami-Dade may be felt in other parts of the nation. "Each fair and each market it operates in is different," he said. "I will say if the fair has created and developed a great 2014 business and marketing and sales plan, has the resources, facilities and talent to execute it and is blessed with good weather during its run, the end results will be nothing but good."