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Spending Jumps at Oklahoma State Fair

10/29/2014

By Timothy Herrick

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In spite of some rainy weekend times,  the 11-day Oklahoma State Fair - September 11-21 -recorded attendance of about 900,000, about the same as last year, but had significant increases in revenue, especially for midway and food sales. 

Certainly one conclusion is this fair is doing something right, but another implicit judgment is at the Oklahoma State Fair, people are spending more and perhaps more people paying the fair more than one visit to fully partake of this end of summer celebration of everything Sooner State.

Economy & Weather
The economy is also one, although very qualified, factor. "We feel the economy is as strong as it ever was but we were not hit as hard by the recession as other parts of the country," said J. Scott Munz, Vice President, Marketing & Public Relations. "We had a downturn, but it never really hit attendance. If people are spending more than the previous year, the economy must be healthier."

The weather was cooperative, sort of.  "The weather was mostly good, we had a few bumps," he said. "The Fair opened to good weather that lasted only one day.  The second day of the Fair, a Friday, saw rain and unseasonably cold temperatures. The weather rebounded for the weekend.  Due to the hurricane coming out of Mexico, the weather for the second weekend was predicted to be bad but fortunately the weather pattern stayed way south of us and the final weekend was held under sunshine and blue skies."

Because the weekend weather predictions were dire, Munz feels this may have pushed attendance up on that Friday because people felt this may have been their last chance to be part of the annual event. "The second Friday (September 19) was a record Friday day for the carnival. More people came out on that Friday because they wanted to makes sure they got to the fair because of the forecast for the rest of the weekend," said Munz. 

Midway Revenue Up
That day was also a record Friday for rides. The Oklahoma State Fair Midway, by Wade Shows, had what said Frank Zaitshik, President/CEO, Wade Shows Inc., said  "... was our highest Friday at the fair." 

He added that overall, the Oklahoma State Fair midway had a "record breaking year."

In addition, the fair reported that on-site sales for the carnival increased by 17 percent, and the advance sale unlimited carnival ride armbands, distributed exclusively through Walgreens, grew by 35 percent. "Our Gold Access program tripled in sales, it was our third year in that program and the enlightened management understands the value of putting the customer first," said Zaitshik. "We are constantly improving our advanced ticket sales."

Zaitshik pointed out that the Oklahoma State Fair shaved off a few days of their event, which has eventually  increased revenue for the midway. "The fair has grown by leaps and bound, since the change in the format," said Zaitshik. "Many fairs are going from three weekends to four weeks,  but they went from three weekends to two, and that was the right decision, our revenue has gone up well into the seven figures."

The extra weekend can act as "weather insurance," said Zaitshik, who admitted he wasn't crazy about the idea when it was first implemented. "But in hindsight, it is a better fair than it ever was. Every day is a special day." 

The Oklahoma Midway featured three Wade Roller Coasters - the Comet II, the Spinning Mouse, and the Crazy Cat as well as the Delusion and the Huss Rainbow. In addition, Wade Shows showcased their coalition partner, Michael Woods, with the Magnum, Remix and Magic Maze, "we had a powerful team. This year was possibly our finest presentation."
 
Bacon Bonanza
The Oklahoma State Fair featured 125 food booths, not including the midway food booths on the carnival.  Food sales increased 7 percent, again outpacing an essentially flat attendance, indicating that people were spending more in this fair. "Contributing to the food gross was the return of the discount coupon book, sold through local non-profit groups and also on-site," he said.

A dizzying array of Bacon concoctions dominated this year's  new food offerings, including: Bacon Explosion Sundae -  Vanilla ice cream smothered in bacon bits and caramel sauce, topped with a mound of whip cream, sprinkled with more bacon and a cherry - Honey Bun Bacon; Bacon Bloomin' Onion; Deep-Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll; Caveman Turkey Leg - Giant Turkey Leg Wrapped with 1 lb. of Bacon and Bacon Wrapped Jack Daniels Churro. "Bacon is always popular at the fair, but in the last two or three years, we've had a lot more bacon products," said Munz. He added that the three most talked about food items were the Bacon Cheese Curds, the Caveman Turkey Leg and "the Deep-Fried Giant Gummy Bear on a Stick."

Perennial favorites were cream puffs and a local favorite, the Indian Taco.

In addition, the fair modified its layout of the food vendors, adding more open space and seating. "There were continuous food vendors, but each one was serviced by a table and picnic places," he said. 

The new design encouraged lingering. "People didn't feel they had to keep moving, if they wanted to stop and enjoy their corn dog, there were more opportunities for that."  

Social Media Matures 
While weather is always key, Munz emphasized that a dominant factor increasing revenue for the fair was taking social media marketing more seriously. "We are moving away from the traditional media, and social media is reaching younger people," said Munz. "We've been involved with social media for three to four years, but this year we hired employees who's primary responsibility is social media. We realized you cannot use social media to its fullest with just a part-time employee or a volunteer. You need a trained professional now." 

The Oklahoma State Fair Facebook page has 55,000 "likes" and 15,000 twitter followers. YouTube and Instagram are also crucial components to their social media presence.  While this new platform is expanding for the fair - and is usage is evolving - Munz is aware of the social media's unique aspects.  "The key is the suddenness, you want to post with frequency and relevancy, but you don't want to inundate," he said. "If you can engage fairgoers in relevant comments, you can have a valuable exchange."

One of the contests conducted via social media was voting on favorite fair foods - it was formatted as a "favorite four competition." It began in back in March (which dovetailed with March Madness, a similar competitive format). "We got people thinking about fair foods, which are foods they can only get at other times of the year, like funnel cakes and corndogs," said Munz. 

For those scoring on their laptops or smart phone, the record showed corn dogs winning. 
 
Anniversary Concert
The highlight of the music series was the Charlie Daniels Band, performed at the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Xtreme Bulls Tour at the Jim Norick State Fair  Arena. For Daniels - "The Devil Went to Georgia" may have made him a star, but his heart belongs in Oklahoma. He and his wife Hazel marked their 50th wedding anniversary on the stage - turns out they married in Oklahoma and Hazel was born and raised in Tulsa. 

Jerrod Niemann also perfumed with Xtreme Bulls. 

"Charlie has been here before, his anniversary brought us extra publicity, "said Munz.

The fair's free concerts, featured on the Chickasaw Entertainment Stage, include Colt Ford, Kansas, Easton Corbin, La Authentica Banda Jerez, Elvis Extravaganza, S.O.S. Band, Grand Funk Railroad and Beatlemania LIVE!

According to the Munz, the free shows brought out some diehard classic rock fans. "With Kansas, the night was cold, but the crowd was fantastic, people came out wearing gloves and ski coats. Beatlemania LIVE! also drew a lot of people. It was the 50th anniversary of their  (the Beatles's)  Ed Sullivan show appearance. The Beatles are always popular, but the interest in the Fab Four was top of mind this summer."

He added, "the S.O.S. Band, was our Urban night, and the crowd was huge. It was our largest crowd for the Summer" 

While Munz credits Dave Snowden of Triangle Talent for booking a successful line up, this year was challenging. "It  constantly is a sellers market, some acts are ridiculously raising prices, and you have to fight with other venues," said Munz. "I started in Vegas (at the annual IAFE Convention & Trade Show) last year for this year. In the last couple of years, it has gotten harder, and you get in bidding war. It used to be more of a buyers market."

One of the main challenges is gauging popularity in the post-record label collapse world of streaming music and iTunes downloads. "Popularity is hard to gauge, it is not as tangible as it was in the days of traditional radio, where you knew who had a hit and could put butts in the seats."

Selecting the optimum headliners in the ever changing music industry landscapes exemplifies the challenges a fair manager faces - how to retain the traditional feel of the fair which draws people in every year, while also keeping it new and exciting so new fairgoers are recruited. "We've been here since 1907, and as much as you want to keep it fresh and keep from getting stale, you want to build on traditions," he said.

Exemplifying how he finds this balance, Munz cited two exhibits that delighted Oklahoma State Fair attendees in 2014. A first for this fair, the Extreme Raptors Show - a bird exhibit, and the Zoppe Italian Family Circus, which is a traditional single ring circuses. "You want those traditional elements, and you want new offerings that are variations on the theme," he said. "You want to come up with a that mix that satisfies the old customers and intrigues the new." 


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