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Skerbeck Carnival excels with online advance sale ticketing
Show adds Larson Fire Ball

6/4/2014

By Don Muret

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Skerbeck Brothers Shows has seen an uptick in business this year as the carnival enters the heart of festival season in its home state of Michigan.

Sonja Skerbeck, whose husband Jamie Skerbeck runs one unit, has seen increased spending for those events that pull a regional audience, she said. The public seems to be absorbing the cost of price increases on unlimited wristbands without too much resistance.

After many years of holding the line on ticket prices, Skerbeck Bros., depending on the event, has raised its price on single-day wristbands from $20 to $22 on the weekdays and $25 on weekends. Some events have pushed the price even higher, she said.

Driving the increase in part has been other shows such as North American Midway Entertainment increasing its wristband prices for events it plays in northern Indiana.

Some of Skerbeck Bros.' dates are not too far away from NAME spots, so in some cases, the public has already been exposed to those increases, according to Skerbeck.

The same thing has held true for the megabands, the armbands good for unlimited rides throughout the course of a special event. Skerbeck Bros. has increased its price to $75 at some festivals compared with the old advance sale price of $60, she said.

The show's Larson Fireball, a piece new to the Skerbeck midway, has driven business in general. The Skerbeck family purchased the ride from Jeff Brady's old Playworld Amusements.

The Fireball is considered a spectacular attraction and its upside down motion attracts plenty of attention from kids and young adults, which makes it conducive to playing the multitude of street festivals the show books annually, Skerbeck said.

One aspect of playing Michigan that's not so good this year, though, has been the poor condition of state highways after a brutal winter in the Midwest. One of the carnival's trucks ran over a pothole and dropped an axle on the way from New Buffalo to Kalamazoo, she said.

"We had a long, cold winter and the state legislature is working hard to get the roads repaired," Skerbeck said. "Unfortunately, we're looking at a potential fuel tax increase to pay for it. What are you going to do? The roads are in bad shape."

It doesn't help the show's balance sheet that fuel prices typically increase around Memorial Day, she said.

To combat some of those issues for which the show has no control, Jamie Skerbeck developed an redemption system to scan barcoded tickets purchased through the companys web site that has helped generate advance sale revenue over the past three to four years. He bought a book on computer language and wrote the software program by himself.

The technology works similar to buying concert tickets online, Sonja Skerbeck said. Patrons can buy megabands through the carnival's website and the receipt they print at home contains a bar code to be scanned and redeemed at the event.

The advantages are it speeds up redemption on the midway and gets people in the habit of spending money ahead of time, she said. It also provides a point of data collection for tracking individual spending and repeat buys, Skerbeck said.

This season, after tracking a few events, show officials have seen about one-quarter of its online advance sale come from repeat buyers.

"It's fast, easy and there is no fraud," she said. "The most important thing is for it to work at an outdoor environment. We are a business on wheels and create a entirely new infrastructure every week. The technology is flowing above ... and we are creating a network as we go from spot to spot."

In addition to the Fireball, the show refurbished its Venture Critter Track and it now works fantastic, Skerbeck said. The Alpine Bobs and Scooter have all new canvas tops.

Help is a challenge for Skerbeck Bros. as it is for many shows. The carnival does not use international workers, something it does by choice.

"We use an old-fashioned American workforce and we're always looking for maintenance personnel and truck drivers," Skerbeck said.

The Skerbeck family owns all of the equipment distributed among two units and most of the food and game concessions. Jamie, son of Joe Skerbeck, runs one unit. Bill Skerbeck, Joe's brother, manages the other unit.

Joe Skerbeck's sister, Cindy Koleff, and her husband Tim, own games and have traveled with the show for many years. Rai Campana is the carnival's game concessions manager. Campana books a glass house and machine gun on Jamie's unit with his partner, Eva Cartwright, a spry 90 years old.

New dates this year include the Hazel Park Homecoming in Detroit, a date formerly held by Big Rock Amusements, and the Battle Creek Balloon Fest, formerly played by Miller Spectacular Shows, over the Fourth of July.


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