The Dixon May Fair - which ran May 7 - 10 - turned 140 years old in 2015 and is considered to be the longest continuous fair in California, according to Patricia Conklin, CEO. Attendance - about 60,000 - Conklin estimates to be up at least 5 percent from 2014, making it one of the more successful of the Spring county fairs held in the Golden State.
"We had a great fair," said Conklin. "We had constant lines and no trouble. Gas prices are down and the economy is a little better, people came out. We put on a safe family fair. We had very good weather and our marketing paid off."
Dixon is about 23 miles from Sacramento, the state capital, and located in Solano County, the heart of the state's almond and walnut industry. The fair
is an annual tradition of the 38th District Agricultural Association (agricultural fairs in California are organized by Agricultural Districts). The marketing theme - "Nuttin' But Fun" - tied into agriculture-centric content of the fair, but the marketing itself had a new, matriarchal focus in 2015.
"We targeted moms," explained Conklin. As a basis for this marketing direction, she cited marketing research that showed "mothers are the decision makers in families on where entertainment dollars are spent. Mothers are the ones who are the internet and social media deciding on activities."
This year, the Dixon May Fair jumped on this "Mommy Marketing" bandwagon - it helped that the fair's closing Sunday was Mother's Day - and rode it to success. To reach this young mother demographic, the fair utilized KE Spencer & Com, an "Event Marketing, Advertising & Publicity company," based in Newcastle, Calif., which made the most of the modest $30,000 advertising budget.
"Our budget is spread thin, however we are fortunate to have long-term relationships with our media partners who go beyond what we can spend and with great community support," said Karen Spencer of KE Spencer & Com. "One of our radio partners sends 70,000 emails to their group of fans from multiple stations who have signed up for the weekly service to learn what is going on in the community."
The change for the fair to implement Mommy Marketing was based on market research. "We determined that the demographic for the Dixon May Fair is ages 25-54 skewed to mothers, who tend to make the decisions for family entertainment," said Spencer. "They are looking for family friendly entertainment and educational content as well as value."
Spencer added that to "reach this demographic/psychographic we not only use traditional broadcast and print media to reach them, we have increasingly used highly targeted online advertising. We use digital outdoor signs, billboards and banners, radio, tv, newspaper, and magazines. We have a Facebook page that is active for about a month prior to the Fair."
While the fair cast a wide regional net, through digitized marketing, the focus was narrowed specifically reach the intended consumer, and by extension, her family. "We are able to zone in on mothers in specific geographic areas and with interests such as home lifestyle, gardening and cooking," said Spencer. "We use a digital service that partners with the major web search engines to reach mobile and desktop users as well as the online capabilities of our media partners."
The new marketing approach also helped to convey the new image of the Dixon May Fair, which recently replaced big name entertainment as a focal point for drawing fairgoers. Instead of having stars on its grandstand stage, the fair's focus is on content for the entire family. "We've been away from big name concerts, we used to have big names," said Conklin. "But now we stripped away those things and went back to reinventing ourselves into a family fair, where parents come with the kids, and enjoy our live-stock, quilts, face-painting. People like to slow down and come an enjoy the fair because we are value-added entertainment."
As its sole big name entertainer, the 2015 -Dixon May Fair featured Martha Davis &The Motels - the Motels were an 80's New Wave act whose hits include: "Only the Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer." Other, more local music acts included John Jordan, the Madison Hudson Band, The Time Bandits and the Delta Rockets Whiskey. All concerts were free with fair admission.
But unlike the shows of just a few years ago, 2015 Dixon May Fair concerts were held in areas other than the grandstand. This faculty now showcases Bull & Bronc Riding, presented by West Coast Rodeo Company, Maxx Kakl Motorsports, Truck and Tractor Pulls, and Destruction Derby. These events were $20 (the Derby $25), and they all sold out; this sort of popularity was a rarity when the same facility hosted music acts.
With the rising cost of booking and presenting headline entertainment - and the growing uncertainty of how well an act will draw - many fairs face the dilemma the Dixon May Fair confronted on whether to keep booking acts or to replace headline entertainment with other alternatives. The Dixon May Fair scaled back their concerts and expanded other options and the results have only been positive. "Our attendance is the same, it did not drop off when we switched," said Conklin. "Another difference is, that with the concerts, people would come and go after the show was over. With the motorsports and derby, people stay at the fair. They ride rides and buy food. The fair is an added-value to their ticket purchase."
Perhaps one reason this new approach is succeeding is that spectator sport entertainment draws a new audience to the fair. Festivals and other music venues proliferated in the area, and instead of trying to compete, the Dixon May Fair changed its game by offering consumers an alternative. "Competition increased, we have music festivals around the same time, so now we go after a different audience, "said Conklin. "We use our grandstand as an outdoor arena."
Mick Brajevich, President/CEO, of Butler Amusements, who has provided the midway for Dixon May Fair midway for more than 30 years, pointed out that that the headline entertainment was enabled by state funding during more robust times. "The state cut the funding, they haven't given these fairs the money to subsidize name entertainment," he said. "A lot of California fairs had to make adjustments. With the Dixon May Fair, we've been doing it for three decades and the last three years have been great. It's never been a big fair, but the attendance hasn't decreased because they no longer bring in big rock stars. We've only seen the attendance grow."
The Butler Amusements midway at the Dixon May Fair featured 21 rides. Onsite ride gross was on par with last year, showing a small increase, but according to Mick Brajevich, President/CEO, who manages the midway at the fair a repeat was an achievement. "Last year we had a record year, we were up 11 percent, so I am happy with our performance," he said. "It's a nice county fair, the manager and staff do a great job bringing people in. The motor sports have a great following. There is a parade, they do a big 4-H program, it's a small community but the fair is very well attended, the prices are reasonable, and there's a lot of participation from the community."
The most popular rides at the fair were the Giant Wheel and Wacky Worm Coaster. Responding to the effects of Mommy Marketing, half the rides (10) of the Butler Midway at the Dixon May Fair are kiddy or family rides "Usually, maybe about a third of the rides are kiddie rides," said Brajevich. "The fair has a lot of families."
In addition, the layout of the fairgrounds lends itself to two distinct clusters of amusement rides, which also reinforces the fair's emphasis on catering to the preferences of mom. "The midway is split into separate areas, so we keep the big rides, like the Gant Wheel, Thunderbolt and Cliff Hanger together," he said. "Then there's the children and family rides, it works out nicely."
There were 30 food vendors at the Dixon May Fair. Deep fried concoctions are not as prevalent at this fair; according to Conklin, the most popular food item was a local vendor, Rolled Taco. "The Rolled Taco stand always had a line, he did very well," she said.
Like all California fairs, the major 2015 challenge is how one copes with the drought. New and more severe restrictions have been mandated, and fairs must find creative ways to comply without inconveniencing fairgoers. At the Dixon May Fair, new restrictions meant no washing concession stands, water rides, or use of hoses for washing livestock. "We were already gearing up our water saving measures, the fairground put up permanent plants, and water restrictive landscaping," said Conklin. "There's not much else we can do.
Have the measures been effective? "Our water usage has gone down, we can tell because recent water bills are less," she said.
The fair also took the opportunity, through signage and exhibits, to disseminate information about the crisis and what California residents can do to ease its impact. Conklin said, "the biggest challenge is not saving more water at this point, but educating the public about the water shortage and drought and they can do."