The Antelope Valley Fair - technically still known as the Antelope Valley Fair & Alfalfa Festival, which ran August 15 -24, saw a modest increase in attendance and revenue for 2014. The Antelope Valley Fair had an attendance of 195,700, an increase of about 3 percent over 2013, with revenue up 3.4 percent. But the uptick indicates that this rural fair has remained on a steady growth track, despite a soft local economy.
The fair takes place in Lancaster, located in northern Los Angeles County (about 75 miles north of Los Angeles), an area known as the high desert, which is still suffering from a sluggish business climate. Unemployment is about 17 percent, and especially during the height of the recession, "people were struggling to save money and things were tight," said Debbie Smith, Deputy Ma
The 2013 edition fair saw things turn around for the fair and it was a "banner year, after a few lean years." She added that attendance and revenue were up in the double digit percentage range over 2012. For 2014, even though the increases are modest "they were headed in the right direction, but it followed a very, very good year," said Smith.
Because the high desert economy is still not as healthy as one could hope, there was trepidation that last year may have been more of a fluke fair than a new normal. A small but steady increase indicates that the growing strength of the Antelope Valley Fair is sustainable. "The fair did exceed our expectations," said Smith. "We wanted to meet the same numbers as last year, but given that we went above those numbers, we are very pleased."
Given this scenario, it is even more remarkable that the midway ride gross was up 10.4 percent, outpacing increases recorded at both the admission gate and other fair segments. The RCS midway, in their 5th Antelope Valley Fair, featured 55 rides, including 25 kiddie rides, 45 games and 10 food. It seems the that the main factor in getting this boost in gross sales was the quality of the presentation. "They do a beautiful carnival, the best in the nation," said Smith. "They have an excellent, family run midway, keen on safety and customer service."
Familiarity also seems a factor fueling RCS ride growth. The Antelope Valley fan base for RCS has expanded year in and year out. "People are use to us," explained Tony Fiori, Vice President of Marketing, RCS. "We have been here for five years and they've adapted to our midway, there's more anticipation every year. We've proven ourselves to them."
In addition to building upon their base of support, the advanced sales wristbands were expanded to include additional outlets, "the fair keeps getting better and they do a terrific job with their marketing," said Fiori.
Pre-Fair $20 wristband were now valid daily (except for Saturdays), and the fair added an additional local supermarket chain selling the wristbands to three existing supermarket chains: Albertsons, Von's and Vallarta Supermarkets. "This year, for Vallarta, the $6 Pre-Fair Admission tickets and $20 Pre-Fair Rides wristbands were sold via individual cashiers and customer service booths," said Wendy Bozigian, Marketing Manager. "Additionally, we had other smaller local businesses help sell the tickets, George's Cleaners, Edwards Federal Credit Union, etc."
According to Fiori, Elegant Splash, a children's water ride, "was very popular, and our Grand Wheel is always a favorite. The G-Force roller coaster was probably the number one."
Overall, Fiori describes Antelope Valley as "a strong, medium sized-fair. The fair and the carnival, are hitting on all cylinders and they are getting the promotions right," said Fiori.
Drought & Marketing
One worry for all fairs in the Golden State this year was the severe drought and mandated water usage restrictions. That threat proved to be a minimal factor affecting the fair. The drought "has not really impacted the fair, except the cost of water is higher," said Smith. "The drought has been ongoing, and drought is not new to California. People are learning to conserve water. We are using more arid landscaping. We have less lawn, and our water usage has gone 40-45 percent."
The fair's advertising budget is $240,000, with billboards and bus-sides and other mass transit ads on the rises. Three radio stations had locations at the fair as a trade-out advertising, that included airtime on radio and some live broadcasts for added promotion. The fair expanded its presence on social media, with 4,000 more likes this year than last. "We used Twitter and Facebook in a big way, and we are seeing a big bump in younger people attending the fair. These are people who don't read the newspaper and that's how we reach them.
Social Media was emphasized in this year's marketing for the fair's paid concerts. The paid concerts tickets generally ranged from $15 - $ 75; headliners included Kool & the Gang/The Commodores; Montgomery Gentry/John Michael; O'Jays/Keith Sweat and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as ain Hispanic night featuring: Espinoza Paz and El Coyote y su Tierra. To boost its paid concert series, the fair offered a VIP pass for some shows, which included backstage admittance, a chance to meet the artists, a limo ride to and from the fair, and a VIP past on a lanyard. The most VIP passes were sold for Lynard Skynard.
"We stepped it up significantly with our Social Media activity on the Fair's Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter accounts," said Bozigian. "We created a Backstage Blowout Sweepstakes where we awarded three pairs of backstage passes to three sets of winners per the six nights of concerts. In addition to the backstage passes the winners were given Gold Circle seats, including dinners on the Director's Patio and VIP parking. All the entrant had to do for a chance to win was "like" the Fair on Facebook. This promotion was hugely successful. For the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, over 4,000 people entered."
The concert series generated about $544,927 in gross sales (not including pre-fair $6 tix amount). Smith added that building a concert line-up this year, "was a little more difficult. We only have a window of six days to have shows, and routing has to be done very quickly. We can put our tickets on sale as early as April or as late as June."
She added that this year booking decisions took longer than usual and it was more of a sellers market when it came to entertainment booking. As a result, promoting the concert series began in late instead of early spring.
The free music stages featured local bands the Vallarta Supermarkets Variety Stage and local dance companies' performances on the Camacho Auto Sales Community stage. In the fair's Cornoa Cantina venue, tribute bands predominated, including "Metallachi," a heavy metal mariachi band, "Night Moves" - tribute to Bob Seger; Generation Idol - a salute to Billy Idol, and "Garret Wilkins & The Parrotheads -- a salute to Jimmy Buffet.
The Antelope Valley Fair heavily promotes opening day, with free admission and parking. "Opening Day is historically our biggest day, and historically it's the end of the summer," said Smith. "People come back to the fair, because they see what we have to offer and we have other events, like our Rural Olympics, that have a following."
Rural Olympics is a signature event of the Antelope Valley Fair & Alfalfa Festival, which feature different competitions using farm machinery, such as a Harobed Race - a tribute to the Alfalfa industry that is still enshrined in the fair's name, as the Antique Car Potato Race. "These events are very popular and keep the roots of the fair," said Smith.
The Antelope Valley event featured 32 food vendors, with revenue up 10 percent, generating about $1.2 million, according to Smith. The boost in food sales, Smith attributes to the weather. "People didn't go home as soon as the concerts ended, it was not too hot and they stayed longer at the fair."
Funnel Cake Outreach
Asked what fair cuisine was the most popular were Funnel Cakes from Mike Davis's Toucan Enterprises, using as evidence her own informal survey. "At the end of the night, we were at the gates and everyone it seemed was taking home wrapped funnel cakes, I don't know if they were the biggest sellers, but they sold a lot and were the most popular take home food."
The reason Smith actually gathered visual evidence of funnel cake to go was that she was part of a new fair promotion that enlisted fair executive staff to more directly engage with fairgoers - "Good Nighters."
According to Bozigian, " various departments sent people out to the Main Gate at later evening shifts to say good night to Fair attendees. The activity was as first resisted until people started participating and enjoyed the interaction. The exchange of information provided us with insight as to how many plush animals were won in the carnival, what kinds of food were being taken home." Bozigian agreed with Smith that the most popular food was funnel cake.
Increases in attendance and sales may be the surface achievement of this year's Antelope Valley Fair, but more long lasting results may have been accomplished by the outreach initiated by the "Good Nighters" program. Shortening the distance between executive staff and fairgoers - the end-users of the product fair organizers produce - creates a practical opportunity for useful data collection about what customers thought worked best about the fair.
Augmenting this new outreach initiative is the fact that the executive staff were clearly identified. All staff during the fair had to wear buttons and wristbands reading: "You Matter to the Antelope Valley Fair".
The Good Nighters program and "You Matter" put us in direct contact with our customers," said Bozigian. "Wearing the wristbands/pins tied the staff together with a common message for our Fair attendees."