"We are #1" was the theme of the 98th Annual Virginia Association of Fairs (VAF) Conference, January 8-11, at the Omni Resort's The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia. More than 500 attended the event, representing 51 fairs.
The reason for this confidence is that the fairs in Old Dominion are coming off a robust 2014.
"Overall a good year for most fairs, attendance was even up," said Sam Long, president of the association and President/Director - Field Day of the Past, Richmond. He added that the reasons included that "Fairs and Festivals are stepping up their game and providing newer things for attendees to see and do."
The economy in Virginia is also starting to see some recovery, or as Long described it, as "less stressed."
In addition, he said that while the cost of "family entertainment stabilized," it is still high. "Entertainment has skyrocketed and a lot of Virginia Fairs will cut back, and we don't know how that will affect the bottom line. Each fair is different. Fairs have got to have entertainment, it's what brings people through the gates."
Long himself moderated one of the convention's Round Table discussion - 'How You get Sponsors'. Other Round Table Discussions included: 'Thanking the Sponsors'; 'Scheduling Your Grounds'; 'Communicating with Local Government.' 'Agriculture-Current Status and Future Challenges' hosted 'Digital Brand Management: Social Media Strategies' 'How to Structure a Safety Program for your Event' and 'Working with Fair Volunteers'
The convention had a more high-tech feel this year. CrowdTorch, one of the VAF's conference sponsors provided an online application designed for the attendees Smartphone', which included daily schedule; vendor list, and speaker list.
According to Long, the VAF's embrace of technology - perhaps delayed by standards of other fairs - will continue. "There are plans in the near future to explore better email communication and marketing with our members, and to perhaps establish a social media existence," said Long. "All of this, in turn , will make the VAF more transparent, and better communicators to all of our membership."
The 2015 VAF Board of Directors and officers, starting their term this year, in addition to Long, included Brian Mancini as Vice President, the Dinwiddie County Fair, Dinwiddie, Essie Berry of Madison County Fair, was named Secretary , and Dr. Sexton Burket - Russell County Fair, was named Treasurer. Other directors included: E. D. (Danny) Byrum, Isle of Wight County Fair, Tom Eshelman, Shenandoah County Fair, Patti Knight, Orange County Fair, Kenneth Reynolds, Washington County Fair, Brenda Rich, Fauquier County Fair, Ellen Shaver Shank, Augusta County Fair, Allen Sherman, South Central Fair, and Mack Wright, Jr., Caroline County Agricultural Fair.
Winners of the VAF Communications Award were Franklin County Fair, Isle of Wight County Fair; and the Russell County Fair.
In addition to a one day trade show featuring 50 exhibitors, the 2015 Talent Showcase featured Circus Stella, Michelle Nixon & Drive (Bluegrass), Mark Crawford Williams, (Country) and The Chase (Rock and Roll).
The VAF also instituted the first Hazel Staley Award. According to the association, "Staley was well known from the [International Association of Fairs & Expositions] to the local Fairs. You could always call Hazel with any question or problem, no matter who you were... if she could help, she was happy to share her knowledge. It is that spirit which the VAF will be recognizing, as well as her contributions to the fair industry and the VAF, with the Hazel Staley Volunteer Award. Each year a fair volunteer will be granted an award to help defray the expense for that individual to attend the IAFE Convention in Las Vegas."
The 2015 Fair Person of the Year Award was presented to Tom Eshelman - General Manager, Shenandoah County Fair and the outgoing President of the VAF.
One topic that was on the minds of many attendees was the need to increase the volunteer workforce at Virginia Fairs. "At our conference, fairs are getting more worried about looking for volunteers for their fairs," said Joye Wood, Administrative Services Coordinator, VAF. "Without volunteers you can't run the fairs. How do you find volunteers? You have to know your community. All fairs strive to recruit quality volunteers."