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Kevin Exum's Happy World Shows expands route into Illinois & Wisconsin

5/7/2014

By Don Muret

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Kevin Exum sounds off like a veteran show owner nine years after ramping up his own operation, Happy World Shows.

"The economy's OK this year," Exum said. "We're not gaining ground or losing ground. We're grossing the same amount of money as we were 10 years ago, only expenses are ten times higher."

The Cedar Park, Texas carnival has been entrenched in its home state since February, playing dates that include county fairs and Hispanic festivals.

"Our early spring route was pretty good except for the day when it was 17 degrees," Exum said. "We caught some bad weather."

Regardless, this years events were an upgrade over Happy World's old Mardi Gras spot in Louisiana, according to Exum.

The first week of May, Happy World set up 28 rides at the Hunt County Fair in Greenville, Texas, a date the carnival took over three years ago from Talley Amusements.

Happy World's midway showcased several spectacular rides, including the Zamperla Nitro, Power Surge, Star Dancer, Gondola Wheel and Himalaya. The Star Dancer, made by Larson International, is the only portable version on the road, rotating 100 feet in the air around a large pole, according to Exum.

Happy World heads north in a few weeks where the carnival spends the summer playing dates in Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Its first Midwest spot is a Memorial Day week festival in Harvey, Ill., a south Chicago suburb. The show plays quite a few small festivals in towns such as Cicero and Seneca, Ill., before gearing up for Winnebago County Fair in Pecatonica and the Jo Daviess County Fair in Warren.

The carnival's Wisconsin spots include the Mishicot River Fest, the Flambeau Rama in Park Falls, the Marquette County Fair in Westfield and the Kewaunee County Fair in Luxemburg.

Another Happy World fair date is the Scotland County Fair in Memphis, Mo.

The show fields 30 overall attractions and can split into two 15-ride units, Exum said.

Exum's father Gerald Exum ran Sun Fun Shows and his son's first industry job was running the merry-go-round for dad. Years later, Kevin Exum worked for Murphy Bros. Expositions, one of the industry's most influential shows, and served as Jerry Murphy's general manager for six years.

In 2005, Kevin Exum took the 14 rides he owned and formed Happy World Shows after purchasing Crabtree Amusements' second unit. Those assets included rides, ticket boxes, generators and Crabtree's entire Texas route.

He also brought over several longtime Murphy Bros. employees, including general superintendent Richard Dueberry, office manager Maggie Elaine and marketing and promotions executive Steve Lenz.

Exum's family also plays principal roles. Kevin's brother Alan Exum runs one unit. Alan's daughter Haley Exum manages her father's office trailer.

There could be another potential family member joining the business as well. Kevin Exum recently got engaged to Lynn Eustaquio, a woman he met in Texas. They hope to get married in 2015, his fiance said.

"I was the most eligible bachelor in the carnival business," Exum said. "I had a good run."

On the concessions front, Adam West books games with Happy World. The same is true for Todd Keenan, formerly with the old Royal West/Inland Empire carnival. Tracy Westmoreland, another independent, operates five food trailers.

The show uses some international labor, hiring about 25 Hispanics for the season. He anticipated those workers will join the show before its Midwest run, Exum said.

Like other carnivals, Happy World is going through the process of upgrading many rides to LED light packages. Exum found a supplier called Northern Star LED of Houston that provides the same quality product at a fraction of the price of other lighting companies.

Happy World pays $3 for the same light that others charge $10 to $12 for, Exum said. Flood lights cost $55 compared with $170 elsewhere, he added.

"They deal in volume," Exum said. "Carnivals are not their main business. They are mainly suppliers for warehouses and parking lots. At the same time, they don't feel the need to rob everybody."

Ticket prices are $1 and it takes three tickets for kiddie rides and five tickets for the larger attractions. Armbands cost $25.

Happy World anticipates making some new ride purchases in the fall, but like many show owners, Exum is playing it close to the vest and would not divulge what he was looking to buy.

The same held true for some key dates Happy World books in tandem with other shows.

"I can't tell you everything," he said. "Then I'll have others gunning for those spots."



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