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San Mateo County Fair's Matthew Cranford: Where success meets opportunity


By Linda Van Slyke

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Matthew Cranford has been Manager of the San Mateo County Fair since 2009.  This year's theme, "Where tradition meets innovation," could have also included "Where success meets opportunity."  Due to his outstanding history of success, Cranford is about to embrace a new opportunity as CEO of the Stanislaus County Fair.
Past to Present
Cranford said that his love of the Festival and Events field began at a young age.  He explained, "It started in college.  I got a part-time job doing tables, chairs and set-up.  It clicked for me and came very easy.  I got the big picture and enjoyed doing things for people to have fun.  I was 19 at the time."
"I learned the back of the house, dealing with clients and vendors oPhoto By n how to get their set-ups the way they desired while still meeting the requirements of the facility.  I learned early on how to say no without saying no."
"You can rephrase your "no" phrase into an alternative statement that clients have no problem accepting and moving forward with.  You learn this over time.  I've learned by watching others, and have had some great mentors who taught me so much about customer service."
"Although the customer's not always right regarding code and regulations, you can learn to understand how the client sees it.  The client wants a great event, a great experience, a great turnout.  You can then do your best to help make that happen."
Cranford's LinkedIn page gives much additional information about all that has prepared him for success. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from California State University-Stanislaus (so in a very real sense, he will soon be going home).
Cranford said that his formal schooling in Business Administration gave him "a great all-around foundation."  This solid financial training later proved to be invaluable during periods of major state budget cuts.  Such training also provided a familiarity with business plans, payroll, balance sheets, trends, revenue, etc.
He is also "a Trained Crowd Manager with the International Association of Venue Managers Fair (IAVM)."  In addition, Turlock Journal reports that Cranford is "a Certified Festival and Events Executive with the International Festivals and Events Association."
Before working at the San Mateo County Event Center, Cranford had been Event Attendant at the Modesto Centre Plaza for over ten years, and Operations Manager at The State Theatre in Modesto, California for two-and-a-half years.  These positions afforded him a wealth of experience in event setups, client relations, and the overseeing of concerts and films.
Present to Future
Cranford's years with San Mateo further enhanced his overall expertise.  This year's Fair recently ended, and included such luminaries as Jefferson Starship and The Charlie Daniels Band.  In fact, there was a concert each and every night of the nine-day run.

A June 18th press release stated that the 2015 San Mateo County Fair "exceeded sales projections and revenue in all departments from carnival to food and beverage averaging an increase of 20-30% from the previous year."
All this despite "a 5% dip in attendance from 2014," which was attributed to a combination of factors: a rainy "Free ‘til Free" day on Wednesday, plus the Warriors games.  

Cranford also mentioned a former "drastic change" of fair scheduling "from mid-August to early June."
He stated, "I learned a lot about grassroots marketing from that date change.  It takes a three-to-five year plan to really get the word out there.  We took a big hit the first year of the change.  A more directed and targeted media approach got the numbers back up."
"During this process, we learned more about our demographics as well.  We carefully considered those people who spend money on food, beverages, games and rides, and have therefore been able to expand and increase our paid revenue at the fair.  We also looked at who's coming to the fair and who's not."
San Mateo County Event Center's Senior Vice President Chris Carpenter was very pleased with the 2015 Fair's overall statistics.  The same press release included this quote from him:  "We've exceeded our revenue markers on all departments...  I'm very proud of our team..." 
With these accolades, it's no wonder that San Mateo's Fair & Festival Manager, Matt Cranford, has been unanimously chosen to replace Stanislaus County Fair's soon-to-retire Chief Executive Officer, Chris Borovansky.
Turlock Journal offers this quote from Borovansky:  "I'm elated the board has found a candidate as strong as Matt.  He'll be a great fit with a tremendous board of directors and staff." Cranford, in turn, describes Borovansky as "a very accomplished CEO with a history of making great changes and progress."
The two CEOs will have the golden opportunity to work with one another and ensure a smooth transition.  

Cranford's start date at the Stanislaus County Fair is August 5th, and Borovanskywill continue serving until August 31st.  Cranford especially wants to align with what Borovansky has "put in place, as well as with his vision going forward."
Matt is also excited about expanding upon year-round options, explaining that "one of the challenges is to find events that can come in and allow you to put funds back into capitalimprovements."
Giving Back
Amidst all of this forward motion, Cranford has also made the time to give back.  LinkedIn reveals that he is a published author, having written articles on 4H/FFA projects for independent exhibitors and wheel-chair accessibility at fairs and events.
For practically five years now, he has been a Group Leader for Volunteering Events.  This has entailed working "with a group of high-school students that spend time each year volunteering in the community with various groups like Second Harvest Food Bank, Ronald McDonald House and Save the Bay."
Although Cranford will certainly miss his many close associations within the Bay Area, he is excited about his move back to the Central Valley.  "I've got roots there, friends and family.  I'll only be 20 minutes from my daughter at that point."

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