The Pensacola Interstate Fair - October 16 - 26 - turned 80 years old in 2014.
Celebrating 80 Years of Magic & Fun was the fair's marketing tagline and according to Don E. Frenkel, General Manager, the magic was all good.
"We had a beautiful fair, the weather was good, hardly any rain and temperatures in the 70s," said Frenkel. "We really couldn't ask for anything more."
According to Frenkel, final attendance figures are still being tabulated, but attendance was above 420,000, which he said slightly exceeded attendance for the 2013 edition of the fair.
The 2014 Pensacola Interstate Fair recorded several high-attendance days, increased overall revenue and record spending on midway.
The Reithoffer Shows midway was the largest midway - and with the most new rides - in the carnival company's 20+ years with the Pensacola Interstate Fair. "We had 66 rides and had our biggest gross," said Rick Reithoffer, CEO of Reithoffer Shows . "We were up 22 percent over last year."
The fair may be celebrating its 80th year, but the increases in attendance and revenue extend more recent trends. "They've had three year of steady upswing," said Reithoffer. "Don Frenkel and his crew have done a better job each year. We were up 24 percent. We had a record year. "
"We had a very special fair for our 80th anniversary," said Frenkel. "Our promotions worked well ,we had a great carnival by Reithoffer Shows. The weather was perfect, the turnout was good and our promotions were effective."
He added that the advanced ticket and wristband sales, through a partnership with Walgreens, had the highest sales in the fair's history. The most emphasized marketing objective of the 2014 fair was to remind consumers that the fair has lasted through several generations.
"A lot of folks either had not been to the fair, or had not been back to the fair in years," said Frenkel. "A lot of people came to show appreciation just for the fact we are still here."
Competition has grown over the eight decades the fair has existed but the popularity of the fair has persisted through changing times. "Being on the beach, there are a lot of festivals and there are other venues with big name entertainment," said Frenkel.
"The economy being what it is here, there are many things that have died off here, but we have survived for 80 years and that is a testament to our support and continued popularity."
Local Hero: Chloe Channell
It seems both ironic and fitting that one of the highlights of the 80th Pensacola Interstate Fair featured one of the youngest pop stars to come out of Florida in recent years.
The 14-year-old country music singing phenomenon, Chloe Channell was one of the stars of last year's music contest television show, America's Got Talent, skyrocketing her to fame. Channell, born and raised in Pensacola, performed at the fair on Tuesday, October 21st.
Frenkel said that the night of the concert - which also coincided with the fair's first Ladies Night (4pm-6pm, women get in free) - was the biggest Tuesday in the now long history of the fair. The Pensacola State Fair concerts are free with admission, with seating at the 5,000 capacity grandstand on a first come, first serve basis. Channell was standing room only, "a tremendous night," said Frenkel.
Having already a few years experience as local celebrity, Channell has played the fair before and remains loyal to her roots. But also, her booking exemplified the now all too rare sweet spot for booking entertainment: An artist with a strong local fan-base, significant national exposure that makes her popularity on the rise, yet her price still affordable. "We booked her immediately, she has a built-in audience here," said Frenkel. "You want the up-and-coming talent, and you want them before they get too expensive for the fair. Channel has always been loyal to us, so that helped a lot. It was very special to have her."
Frenkel said that talent buying "has always been a seller's market," but added that he feels the line up this year, which included Craig Morgan - "who people really turned out for," said Frenkel, as well as Edie Money, David Nail, The Eli Young Band and The Drifters - for Senior's Day.
The 80th anniversary concert selection "was a good line up, it seemed to work out this year, we were able to get name entertainment and fit into their routing."
The fair also holds off from promoting specific shows until September, about a month before opening day, so booking a show closer to the concert date is not as much of an issue for this fair. "We can promote them earlier, but the first press release about the shows are sent in September," he said.
"We're not selling tickets, so we're not under the same pressure to advertise the shows earlier than that."
The fair is adding non-musical nights to hedge against the increasingly competitive talent booking environment. In addition Bull Riding, the fair booked the Gator Boys. "They were supposed to come last year, but had to cancel because of a special taping for Animal Planet. We were able to get them this year at a good price, they're bigger than ever."
Just as Channell's appearance on the Pensacola stage indicates that local appeal sold well at this interstate fair, vendors with regional roots were also highlight. The fair featured 120 vendor stands, about 100 food purveyors and the remainder sold merchandise. But this being an election year - Florida, a state where election controversies are not new, had an especially heated Gubernatorial contest - local and state-wide candidates also bought booths to campaign on the Pensacola event.
"The candidates want to spend face to face contact time with the people at the fair," he explained. "We had a lot of county commissioners and other local candidates and congressional folks. This year, there was a lot of disenchantment, so I think the politicians came out in force."
Frenkel said that the exhibitor turnout is nothing unusual for the Pensacola Interstate Fair. "It was an off year election, but there are a lot of local seats up. When it's a presidential election, they take more booths."
Not only is the fair an optimal place for candidates to meet and greet constituents - and what better all-American photo op than a state fair - the timing of the Pensacola event - late October, ending days before election day - is particularly effective. "We're one of their chances to meet people," he said.
While Frenkel declined to comment on which political party had the most popular booths, he said that the food sales were high, although the fair uses a flat rate fee structure and had no way of accurately measuring sales.
"Every vendor I talked to was happy, and because our attendance was up and the weather was good, the food revenue is bound to be up. I saw constant lines."
Frenkel noted that Funnel Cakes by Kevin McGrath, a Florida-based concessionaire "were huge sellers, funnel cakes are a fair staple but they seemed to be doing a great job this year. His family does wonders with those funnel cakes.
A new dish for fair gourmands was the Roast Beef Sundae by Baglio's Concession. The item resembles its name - a dinner version of the ice cream desert - layering slow-cooked roast beef with mashed potatoes and brown gravy, adding shredded cheddar cheese and a cherry tomato on top for the "sundae"look. "The Roast Beef Sundae was very popular from a local vendor, it had a very creative presentation and was really good,"he said.
Frenkel added, "we had the fried Twinkies and other typical fair food. There's nothing new under the sun. But the more popular food at this year's fair came from the local vendors."
Bright & Shiny
Like many fairs, the centerpiece is the midway. The Reithoffer Shows midway had a stellar presentation, underscoring the achievement of 80 years of fair tradition for this Sunshine State autumn celebration. "Reithoffer Shows went all out for our 80th," said Frenkel. "He had all new LED lighting and several new rides. It was attractive and exciting and you could see it in the crowds. "
The Reithoffer Shows midway was brighter than ever: 85 percent of the midway is illumination by LED lights. "I love the beauty of the LED lights, our midway was brighter than ever, it is a more exciting midway," said Reithoffer.
Reithoffer called the LED lights a "win-win," - "you don't have to screw in light bulbs every week, they save on labor and maintenance, and are more energy efficient, you need less generator."
The Reithoffer Shows' midway had a brand new Mega Pass that was very well received, and a midway that included "five brand new rides, two Giant Wheels and three music rides," he said.
New rides included: Air Race, Magic Maze, Gravity, Rio Grande Train, Circus Train and Crazy Outback, adding that the Super Himalayan ride was probably the most popular.
The fair has an advertising budget of $200,000, about the same as last year, about 8 percent of the fair's $2.5 million budget, said Frenkel.
The media mix did not differ much from last year's allocations. "We are doing less print and television, but their advertising is now also tied into online advertising. We also did more billboards this year. We start the billboard advertising around the 15th of September."
Facebook was the fair's main social media platform for its 80th anniversary event. "We ran more teasers this year on Facebook, also starting in September.
Fair organizes and other stake holders are still crunching the final numbers, but Frenkel said, "I think we had a record or near record year."
This year's experience has also reinvigorated his confidence in the fair industry. "I think the fair business is doing great," said Frenkel. "Fairs offer an American Tradition that you can only get at the fair, a family friendly entertainmentenvironment. Society needs that outlet for families."
For Frenkel, the Pensacola Interstate Fair is ready for the next eight years. "We had beautiful weather, hardly any complaints and no troubles. The fair business has its ups and downs, but the downs are mainly because of weather."