Midway Millennials is an ongoing series profiling the new generation of fair professionals
Asking why. For Marina Zaitshik, Office Manager for Wade Shows, often the difference between millennials and older midway professionals comes down to how they respond to that single word question.
Many Gen-X and Baby Boomer fair professionals prefer a pat answer: because that's the way we've always done it.
Zaitshik takes a different approach. "I think my generation is more open to questioning why things are done a certain way," she said. "A lot of carnival people take that old-school approach, we've always done it this way. But there is a reason behind what we are doing, creating a midway, which is ultimately for customer satisfaction."
It seems nothing frustrates Gen-Y more than, instead of striving for something better, relying on the same old/same old. "We are here for the fair managers and for the fair customer," she said. "I feel we have to keep thinking of ways things can be done better. If things can be done better, if rides are always in the same place and the midway looks tired, I like to ask why we have that ride there, or why we are bringing the same ride back when its not been popular."
The purpose is not to ask why for the sake of questioning, but "to think of new ways to keep things fresh and the customer satisfied."
Having a young eye and new opinions has also led to a more relevant midway. "We had graphics that were old, for Indiana Jones and I suggested that we change it to more current image," she said. "We replaced it with The Avengers."
Aside from updating the midway's pop culture references to Ultron from the Temple of Doom, another attribute of Gen-Y is their inclination towards teamwork. "I feel we are more open to collaboration," she said. "We like to work together to complete goal. You are seeing this in society all the time."
Zaitshik, 20 years old, is the third generation Zaitshik to take up the carnival profession and never considered another career path. "My parents insisted that I didn't have to do this, that I could do anything I wanted to. But this is what I wanted, because I love the business."
Her earliest midway memory is riding around the midway in a golf cart with her father, Frank Zaitshik. "He would point out things that were wrong or out of place, details no one else would see. I definitely have learned this business from my father."
It seems her childhood, working part time as a teenager with Wade Shows, was really just an apprenticeship leading to her present management position. "I have gotten a hands-on education," she said. "My goal is to continue with Wade Shows and carry on the family tradition."
As Office Manager, Zaitshik manages ticket sales and midway operations at the fairs on the route, but as part of the management team of Wade Shows, she has already exerted an effective influence in marketing the company, increasing the social media presence of Wade Shows, especially Twitter and Facebook last year. She clued in the rest of company management of optimizing Facebook likes by running more promotions, which led to more promotion direct to the fairgoer.
"We have our biggest following in Michigan, were we do a lot of events," she said. "More and more people know the Wade Shows brand through Facebook, and that is bringing them to the fairs."
The formula is simple, she explained: "When someone likes our page, their Facebook friends see that and find out about our page. When we run contests, it gets that person to get more people to like our page."
She added, the best prizes "are the free wristbands."
But the part of the Carnival business is she gets most excited about is the (Request For Proposal) RFP process. In recent years, Wade Shows expanded its route by adding several large fairs, including the New York State Fair, the Florida State Fair and the Nebraska State Fair. The RFPs required were extensive, with fair expectations for midway modifications higher than ever.
"I've been part of the proposals, helping to write and brainstorming," she said. "The biggest thing we do that differentiates us and the fairs love is the beautification of the midway. In Florida, we came up with branding their midway as the "Thrill-way" so they could tie it into their Fresh From Florida brand, and we added nice touches, with the graphic designs and painting stars on the pavement."
The direction Zaitshik hopes the RFPs will lead the fair towards is rounding out the Wade Shows route with bigger events, mainly of the state fair caliber size. "My biggest goal now is improving our route and booking better fairs."
According to Zaitshik, Wade Shows can be at a large state fair, with 80-90 rides, or play smaller events where the attendance may be cut by more than half, with a resulting smaller revenue, but the overhead expenses, especially labor costs, remain almost the same. The route improvement Zaitshik hopes for is "booking more state fairs back-to-back," she said. From Late Summer through the Fall, larger fairs dominate much of the Wade Shows calendar, and Carnival Warehouse spoke with Zaitshik just before what she calls their State Fair season.
"It is a very busy time, you are always on the go," she said. "It seems the seasons builds towards those few weeks."
Of course, the weekends are obviously the most hectic, with the early weekdays being a time to catch up with planning the next year's season, with upcoming RFPs often the focus. Although she wouldn't disclose potential future clients, she admitted there were several being considered. Even in this high-tech age, internet research is barely a factor. "It's almost all word of mouth," she said. " "The network of carnivals and fairs is pretty tight, we usually find out what fairs are seeking proposals before the announcement is made public."
While finalizing the actual RFP and articulating concepts into the required format often occurs during periods when a fair is not at full-steam, developing those concepts usually takes place not in a boardroom, but on the midway. "The best ideas come when you are outside and looking at your stuff, while you are talking about the RFP," she said. "You don't have to sit down to brain storm together."
Millennials may still be in the minority among fair professionals, but Zaitshik is very aware of being a member of another midway minority. "Women are definitely in the minority on the midway, and some of that might be because some of the manual labor requires physical strength," she said. "But we do work as a team. I don't feel there's really any discrimination."
But whether it is mainly due to age or sex, Zaitshik is honest about now being part of Wade Shows management. "It does feel weird sometimes when you have to tell people who are older than you what to do, but we all have a job to do and we respect each other," she said. "To be a boss you have to be down to earth, and not think you are above any other employee. You have to be willing to do anything, even if it is something like putting plants out in the pouring rain the night before an event. If needs to be done, that's what you do."