As the first major carnival industry trade show of the year, the 47th Annual Trade Show of the International Independent Showmen's Association (IISA), which takes place the first week in February, is seen by many as kicking off the year. While attendees include a cross section of industry professionals - including fair managers and other industry professionals - the show's core group are carnival companies, midway providers and concessionaires.
With its calendar date early in the year and the networking opportunities created by having so many midway providers together in one place at one time, the IISA is a way to both take a pulse of the industry and look for forecastable signs of the year ahead.
So far, so good seems to sum up the positive outlook surrounding the impending IISF Trade Show.
The 2015 IISF Trade Show comes on the heels of what most consider an upbeat year for the fair industry, "I think the industry is very optimistic going into 2015," said Wilbur Cooke, the president of the IISA (his term ends with the 47th Trade Show). Cook, founder of WC Concessions, is a 3rd generation showman who first entered the industry in 1982. An independent concession contractor, his clients include Reithoffer Shows, Shamrock Shows & Amusements, and Blue Sky Amusements.
"Last year was a good year for most fairs and most carnival companies," said Cooke. "We are always going to put on a better trade show each year, we are always going to do as good and better than last year. If you are in the industry, this is the place to be."
"Gibtown has better than 75 percent of carnival owners in North America in attendance," said Jeff Miller, Manager- Carnival Markets, Chance Rides. "It is the best place to see everybody in the industry."
For Chance Rides, the sustained health of the fair industry enticed the company to return as exhibitor in Gibtown. Miller, who has more than 25 years in the industry and has attended this event nearly every year, was hired in late 2014 to head up a new effort by amusement ride manufacturer to expand its outdoor amusement market, with the IISA's trade show being its 2015 debut.
Miller said the industry hasn't been this upbeat about business for many years, and noted that the economy had improved and most midway providers "had a very good season."
He added, "It is our first booth in Gibtown in many years. We haven't built any new carnival rides in a while, so we are excited about our new equipment. We also have a lot of product in the carnival market. We are looking to rejuvenate this market."
Lower Gas Prices
The company's return to the carnival industry showcases an old classic modified specifically for the fair industry - the new one-trailer Freestyle, which Miller describes as similar to the Wipeout, but it's new, more consolidate design makes for easier transportation "and decreased cost. It also has a higher degree of slope to the ride."
Other famous Chance Ride rides that Miller will be representing at the Gibtown event include: the Zipper, Pharaoh's Fury and the Century Wheel. "There are a lot of Chance Rides in the industry, and we will be selling parts and generally reintroducing our selves to the fair industry," he said. "This is the show to do that."
Augmenting an up-trending year is the more recent steady drop in fuel costs. "In the short term, the industry has been given a rebate because of the lower fuel costs," said Miller.
Reports of prices at the pump dropping below $2 per gallon - prices not seen for decades - has given the industry a sunny outlook as they gather in Gibtown. Not only has this lowered a crucial component of overhead costs for carnival companies - the rising cost of fuel has been a constant gripe of carnival companies for years - but now the feeling is that these lower prices will be sustained, resulting in a positive attitude among attendees.
"The gas prices may put more people in the buying mood at the show," said Cooke.
He added that the lower pump prices were not really felt until "September or October," thus most fairs were not able to feel the direct benefit last year. But, "if the prices stay low like they say they will, that will have a big effect on fairs," said Cook. "Carnival companies will have less overhead costs and consumers will have more money to spend."
Family Ride Growth
The two main features of the Gibtown event are the seminars - which range from educational workshops to town hall meeting type discussions of industry issues - and the exhibition floor. More than 20 hours of seminars are being planned, and more than 160 companies will be featured on the exhibition floor of the IISF Trade Show. "We are just getting all exhibitors together," said Tom I. Arnold, who is with Arnold Amusements and is the Exhibition Floor Manager for the 47th IISF Trade Show. "There are some new rides and new game companies. There are some new food trailers, and some new stock for prizes. Carnival companies are looking to replenish the stock."
Arnold emphasized that that by taking advantage of the opportunity for colleagues and competitors to meet and network, fair professionals will be able to see for themselves what will be popular this season.
"This is the largest trade show for the carnival companies, and vendors come here to show off what they have that is new and exciting," he said.
One trend among midway providers that may be more evident at this year's trade show is a new interest in family rides. "I've noticed that midway companies are upgrading their family rides, where parents can ride with the kids," said Arnold. "Families want to be together at the fair, parents want to ride with their kids. I've noticed more demand for family oriented rides where the parents can rid with their kids, that maybe a trend among ride builders."
"We hope everybody comes to the show," said Teresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary for the IISA. Plans for the seminars and exhibition floor were still being finalized as late as Mid-January. "We do have a few new exhibitors, and we are having more seminars, because our members requested it."
The "Gibtown Showmen's Club" is a non profit private organization made up of people in the outdoor amusement industry and since opening its original club building opened in Gibtown in 1966, it has expanded to be the largest Showmen's Association in the world, with more than 4,500 members from across the globe.
Midway rides may take center stage at the show, but exhibitors include vendors of food supplies and equipment, concession trailers, electrical supplies, insurance companies, novelty items, plush toys, and jewelry.
The exhibition floor will be open: Tuesday, February 3rd 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM; Wednesday, February 4th 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM; Thursday, February 5th 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM; Friday, February 6th 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM and Saturday, February 7th 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM.
The festivities began Sunday, February 1st with its annual Super Bowl / Trade Show Kick-Off Party, and on Monday February 2nd, the 6th Annual Big Hearted Jerry's Memorial Golf Tournament. Other announced events include an Exhibitor Cocktail Party - 6:30pm - 8:00pm, the Jamboree dinner, and the IISA Annual Banquet & Ball, featuring the Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Presentation ceremonies. Post-show, on February 10th, the IISA Installation of new officers takes place.
With an industry more optimistic about business and the year than a year ago, combined with the recent decline in fuel costs, Rimes expects the 2015 IISA event to be noticeably larger than last year.
"This will be a great show," she said.
2015 IISF Trade Show Coverage