Good weather, near record attendance, and healthy ride and foods sales - the 2014 State Fair of Louisiana - October 23-November 9 - was a successful event, and also showed the economic comeback for this area has been steady. "Weather was nice, attendance was up and spending was up," said Chris Giordano, President & General Manager, State Fair of Louisiana. "The 2014 State Fair of Louisiana was one of the best ever. We really couldn't ask for a better fair."
Weather of course is a major factor determining how successful a fair will be and for this 14-day event (the fair is closed on Mondays & Tuesdays) mild temperatures and only one day of rain contributed to its success. "The weather was very good," said Giordano. "We got 13 of 14 days. We lost one Wednesday due to rain. All other da
ys were very nice."
21st Century Record
According to Giordano, fair attendance increased 6.8 percent over 2013. The final tally was approximately 455,000, which as Giordano describes it," is a record for modern times at State Fair of Louisiana. Larger numbers were reported back in the 1970's and 80's."
While this area may have suffered an economic downturn in more recent decades, but in the post-Katrina, post-Great Recession era, the Shreveport-Bossier region area, with the revitalization of the domestic energy industry, has seen a comeback. "The economy here is recovering," said Giordano. "Spending at the fair was definitely up, with record attendance and a record carnival ride gross, I think people feel better about their disposable income."
He added, "I feel per capita spending was up," but because of the structure of the fair, this increase is mainly anecdotal. Concessionaires are all booked "on footage... they are not required to give us gross amounts," said Giordano.
Nonetheless, informal reporting indicates that not only were more people at the fair, but they were spending more money. Giordano said, "our concessionaires reported record years."
Stay Longer, Eat More
The State Fair of Louisiana features approximately 80 food vendors. "All the food concessionaires did well," he said. "People were staying longer at the fair."
The weather encouraged people to linger on the fairgrounds and when they linger, they eat. New fair cuisine included: Swain's Pizza on a Stick, which include Cricket, Scorpion and Worm Pizza, Porky's, Aunt Edmoe's Chocolate Chip Cookies, which included Cookie Dough Parfait, Fried Cookie Dough and, Fried Cheesecake. "Fried deserts were very popular this year," he said. "People come out to the fair for fried foods."
However, he added that hot food items tended towards the "usual" fair staples: corn dogs, funnel cakes, pizza, shrimp on stick, gator on stick, cinnamon rolls, stuffed peppers, hamburgers, sausage, and barbeque.
A more precise accounting could be taken at the midway, which also benefited from mother nature's cooperation. . "The carnival ride revenue was up by 9.3 percent from 2013," said Giordano, adding the record carnival ride gross reached $1,400,000. "We had a record midway, the weather had people stay longer at the fair and they rode more rides."
The midway was provided by Crabtree Amusements, Inc. and featured 60 carnival rides. New for the fair this year was the Vertigo, Viper, Tractor Ride, Dune Buggy, although the top grossing rides were the fair's standbys: Giant Slide, Grand Carousel, Gondola Wheel and Power Ride.
In addition, "the midway layout was changed somewhat and the layout of rides was also changed," said Giordano. "It was more comfortable and had easier access for customers."
While more consumer confidence may have helped boost the fair, fairgoers responded most to price promotions. "Our most effective promotion is Dollar Thursdays at the State Fair, said Giordano. For the consecutive Thursdays of the fair, parking, gate admission and carnival rides were a dollar.
Each Thursday, beginning at 3:00 pm (10/23, 10/30 & 11/6) were Dollar Days. Parking was $1 each, Gate Admission was $1 each and Carnival Rides were $1 each. Other promotions included Free Fair Day -free parking and free gate admission on Wednesdays, Thursdays & Fridays from 10am - 3pm and half-price Wednesdays, beginning at 3pm, Gate Admission is $5 rather than $10 and carnival ride wristbands are $15 rather than $30."
Advanced sales were a record this year, said Giordano, which also indicated both a resurgence of interest in the fair and a value-oriented customer. "We also sell discounted admission tickets online and at Brookshire's and Super 1 Foods grocery stores and these sales also increased this year."
Even more robust sales-wise were group sales and corporate parties. "This has been growing for us," said Giordano. "We have one sales person now dedicated to this segment."
These sales range from steep discounts or free tickets to companies having an actual outing, a kind of team-building experience. One large group books about 200, have seating in a tent, catered food and a two hours of midway time. "Employees are looking forward to having their fair day every year," said Giordano. "It's a nice break for them, after the end of summer and before the holidays start."
While some food vendors gripe that the onsite catering cuts into their sales, "most of the employees and their families stay longer at the fair and will try some of the fair food," said Giordano. "Fair food is part of the fair experience and the corporate parties only last a few hours. We do not get a lot of complaints and some vendors like it, because it brings more people to the fair."
More companies seem to be adding a free ticket to the fair as an employee-perk. "It's affordable and the employees like it. We are seeing it grow, as one company does it, another company adds it."
According to Giordano, the fair's advertising budget is $200,000 (the fair's annual overall budget is $1.5 million), an amount that has not increased or decreased in recent years. "We have kept a steady mix of outdoor, television, radio, print and online," he said, adding that there were no changes in those allocations form last year.
Like other fairs, social media usage has been growing, although perhaps more modestly than other fairs. "We have been using Facebook and Twitter primarily," he said, and while there were no "new" specific social media promotions this year, "In advance of the State Fair we held several contests giving away State Fair ticket packages. During the State Fair we used social media to promote the various events going on at the State Fair."
Family Friendly Acts
The fair is has a reputation for its free entertainment offerings. New acts this year Welde's Big Bear Show, Star Cristy's Alaskan Malamute Show, Cowboy Boot Camp and Shel Higgens, a sword swallower. Ground act stalwarts include: Hollywood Racing Pigs, Ms. Steveana's Friesian Horse Show, Welde's Big Bear Show, Rock-It Robot, T Dallas The Fire Guy, Nick The Escape Artist, Jim's One Man Band, B-Xtreme Breakdancers, and Rhymin' Simon "The Pedaling Poet. "We focus most of our entertainment dollars on family attractions," he said. "Circus Hollywood has been here for several years and draws huge crowds for every performance."
The fair's concerts are free with gate admission, appearing on a stage just off the midway. With competition from new facilities and casinos, booking name headliners is not economically feasible, instead the focus is on regional draws. "We mostly book local and regional acts that are not too expensive," said Giordano. "Our Largest show was Frank Foster, which had 3,500." Other popular acts included Wayne Toups, Cole Vosbury, T.K. Soul. Hispanic Heritage Day, which featured latin music, was a very well attended event, he said.
The fair also features a livestock show and rodeo, but perhaps the most attention grabbing competition is the Annual State Fair Cheerleading Competition, sponsored by Spirit Celebration. The event gives national television coverage and is held the opening weekend of the fair. Autumn fairs with schools in session can find that attracting young people is a challenge, but the squads, their families and schoolmates, turn out in droves to fill the 10,300-seat multi-purpose Hirsch Memorial Coliseum. "This has become a high profile event," said Giordano. "It gets more people every year, both participants and spectators."
Giordano has been at the helm of the State Fair of Louisiana State Fair since 2006, succeeding his father, Sam Giordano, who was president and general manager of the State Fair for 14 years. Sam Giordano died of heart failure in May 2006. The younger Giordano worked for his father at the Fair for 10 years, serving as assistant general manager for the last five years of his father's life.
The 2014 edition of the State Fair of Louisiana was one of the most successful of the younger Giordano's tenure. "The fair exceeded our expectations. People love coming to the fair because the food, the rides, and the family atmosphere you can't really get anywhere else."