When good weather, lower gasoline prices and an improving economy combines with such fair essentials as effective promotions and programming, you get what happened at the 103rd South Florida Fair - January 16 - February 1 - higher per-capita spending and increased midway revenue.
While the fair has yet to release final and official tallies, Rick Vymlatil, CFE, President/CEO South Florida Fair & Palm Beach County Expositions, Inc., declared the fair, "One of the best in our history."
Although precise attendance figures were not yet available , fair organizers are reporting they are pleased with the results so far. Vymlatil said that it was "too early to report a number but we are consistently in the 500,000 range," and mor
e significantly, he added, "Speaking from a perspective of revenues, we had seven record days for admission revenue and seven record days for ride revenues."
Perhaps most importantly, weather was more cooperative."We did lose nearly a half day to rain on our middle Saturday which is traditionally the most heavily attended day so that will definitely hurt to some degree," he said. "By contrast, we lost the entire second Thursday last year and that did not happen this year. Other than the rain on the first half of our middle Saturday, the weather was generally very good but the second week of the fair was very cool. That said, the Florida Sunshine was very prevalent during our fair."
This better meteorological outlook was accompanied by a more upbeat economic atmosphere. Gasoline prices were down by nearly 50 percent compared to 12 months ago and the Florida economy is moving in a positive direction. Fairgoers came to the South Florida Fair ready to spend. "Generally I believe that the economy has improved for people in South Florida so I hope that trend is true elsewhere in Florida and the US," saidVymlatil. "Gas prices are down considerably and it appears that more people are back in the workforce."
As one of the first major fairs of the year, the fair industry tends to look at the South Florida Fair as an indicator of the season ahead. Aware of the canary in the coal mine role his fair plays, Vymlatil offered this opinion: "If dairs continue to be aggressive and creative with their marketing and public relations and the weather is pleasant, I believe this will be a great year for our industry."
Midway: Crazy Good
The 2015 edition of the South Florida Fair was the 10th anniversary of the Wade Shows midway and the first year of a new three year contract signed last year, "We have a great relationship and we have had continual increases for 10 years",said Frank Zaitshik, President, Wade Shows.
While the South Florida Fair may consistently be good for Wade Shows, "Crazy good" is how Zaitshik describes the 2015 event. According to the South Florida Fair, ride revenue was up 19 percent, reaching a record $4.628 million. Both the revenue and the increase in revenue over the previous year's fair set records for Wade Shows. This success Zaitshik mainly attributes to this decade-long partnership between the South Florida Fair and Wade Shows. "We are a powerful combination," said Zaitshik. "Both of us do what we do and are awfully good at what we do."
Their secret to the success of this collaboration is a mutual attention to details. "There are a whole lot of little things that go into the fair and together they build into a big things," said Zaitshik. "Customer satisfaction translates into return visits and increased spending."
Zaitshik noted two other factors - lower gas prices and an improved Florida economy - that also shoved instead of nudged per-capita sending upwards. "I do not believe that bad economic times really hurts attendance," said Zaitshik. "In tougher economic times, tradition brings the people out to the fair, but they don't spend. This year spending was higher. The decreases in fuel prices and a better economy is reflected in the increase in per capita spending. "
The Wade Shows midway at the South Florida Fair featured about 80 rides, debuting 10 new rides at the fair, said Zaitshik. The Kiddieland section was upgraded with the new Monster Truck, Beach Shack and Happy Swing. Other rides having their South Florida Fair debut included Khaos, Speed and Delusion, and a new generation Gravitron - themed Centrifuge.
Midway promotions included Gold Access, a VIP Experience available throughout the fair and featuring a VIP Lanyard and distinctive wristband.The fair also held a Ride-A-Thon - admission and rides cost $10 with a coupon obtained from the Fair's website.
Zaitshik noted that the fair had expanded "some marketing strategies. A food bank drive on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, was very effective. The push was on complimentary admission on those weak days."
"We offered a variety of promotions including a "buy one get one" admission promotion on Wednesdays but the most significant promotion is very likely the fact that we distribute about 10,000 free admission tickets that are good only for anyTuesday, Wednesday or Thursday," said Vymlatil.
Actually, most of the promotions offered by the fair may were not new, but in place for two or more years and the positive ramifications have finally kicked in "While this plan is in its third year now we are finally seeing that a significant number of these tickets are being redeemed," he said "Three of our record ride revenue days were on either a Tuesday or Wednesday."
Vymlatil added, "one other promotion that we've had in place for several years now is tied to our advance discount ticket program. If a person buys a single adult admission in advance and uses it on opening day, they receive one additional admission any other day of the Fair.
This has made our opening day, a Friday, one of the strongest weekdays of the Fair."
The advertising budget for the South Florida Fair is $400,000, with a media mix of: 25 percent - TV; 12.5 percent -Print; 25 percent - Radio; 12.5 percent - Billboard; 12.5 percent- Production; 8 percent - Website, 4.5 percent - other. Social media was also expanded this year, with "More content, daily hashtags, co-promotions with media reps social media sites, and contests," said Vymlatil.
The Coca-Cola Stage at the Party Pavilion -is the main stage for the fair entertainment, which included Hawk Nelson, Sanctus Real, Josh Thompson, Hinder, Foghat, the Country Gold Tour, Puddle of Mudd, and Da + Shay.
Food revenue was also up, according to Vymlatil. The fair featured 120 food vendors, with highlights tending towards local and/or exclusive vendors. Larry Sivori, who has been a South Florida Fair food vendor for more than 35 years, returned with a new twist on the perennial fair-fave donut burger, the "Philly Cheese Steak Donut Burger," consisting of Philly steak meat (shaved rib-eye) and a fresh - never frozen - burger topped with two different cheeses, grilled green peppers and onions - served of course, between two Krispy Kreme donuts.
Another vendor, Angela's, served giant mozzarella cheese sticks - four ounces of cheese on a stick dipped in a batter and rolled in breadcrumbs, then deep-fried. Hot Wisconsin Cheese, which served a selection of Wisconsin cheeses, added showmanship to their presentation by hand-cutting 40-pound cheese blocks in front of customers as part of their food preparation.
The South Florida Fair always has what organizers call "an official theme," which is essentially an annual attendance enticing , multi-faceted exhibit in the 80,000-square-foot Expo Hall, the largest facility on the fairgrounds. Last year, Big Apple was the theme, but this year the official theme was "South Florida Fair 2015 featuring a Las Vegas Exposition: A Jackpot of Memories," and through video mapping, the fair created a virtual Las Vegas by dynamic projection of images of iconic Las Vegas skylines and landmarks. In addition, a complex sand sculpture recreated playing cards, poker chips, Caesars Palace and the Circus Hotel. The Fountains of Bellagio were likewise reconstructed using a Liquid Fireworks synchronized to music and set before a 40 by 20 foot backdrop of the Bellagio Las Vegas hotel. A Las Vegas themed ice skating show, produced by Rosstyn Ice Show, entertained audiences three times daily.
Perhaps no Last Vegas tribute would be complete without acknowledging the legend who sang that city's theme song - Viva Las Vegas. Elvis Presley was celebrated this year with the Private Collection of the King on Tour, which features one of the largest private of collections of Elvis Presley memorabilia (outside of Graceland), and is first time that the collection has been available as a mobile museum, a 53-foot, customized $500,000 unit with hydraulic side pullouts.
Other Elvis events included free admission on January 20th, for anyone dressed as Elvis, and on January 29th the fair hosted the next to the final round of the Elvis Extravaganza National Competition - an Elvis Impersonation contest (national finals were scheduled to take place at the Florida State Fair in Tampa).
In addition to turning 103, an annual display featured at this 17-day fair reached a milestone. The model railroad layout in Heritage Hall maintained by the Palm Beach Model Railroad Club celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.