Cooperative weather, improved marketing and innovative entertainment promotions combined to continue the upward trend of the Delaware State Fair. The 2015 Delaware State reported its 2nd best 10 day attendance, with more than 311,000 fairgoers, up more 10 percent from last year.
"We had a fantastic fair this year and by most measurements, the best fair in recent memory" said Bill DiMondi, General Manager. "It's great when plans come together accompanied by a pretty healthy dose of fair-friendly weather not marked by extremes in heat or dangerous storms."
While there may be no single secret to success, the Delaware State Fair worked on improving the fairgoer experience, adapting to new talent buying realities and more effective use of digital marketing.
When it came to enhancing the fairgoer experience, Danny R. Aguilar, Assistant General Manager & Director of Marketing, focused on alleviating congestion. "We wanted to fairgoers to have a good lasting impression of the fair," said Aguilar. "We improved flow to the fair, even added a road and worked with the fire and police department so we had a better flow of traffic, we improved the traffic patterns to folks to and from the fair in a timely matter."
The fair also added more shuttles from remote lots to the fairground entrances. These were tractor-drawn shuttles, but through a partnership with Hertick, a regional car dealership, 20 pick-up trucks were used. "We wanted the fairgoer experience to improve, so no one was waiting long for a shuttle."
The 2015 Delaware State Fair's Summer Concert Series in the M&T Bank Grandstand showcased entertainers, including rising stars like Meghan Trainer, Casting Crowns and Josh Turner, as well as a sold out Demolition Derby.
According to Aguilar, while concerts at the fair was successful, talent buying is more challenging, and the fair moved away from a country music concentration. "We have two new country festivals in Delaware this summer," said Aguilar. "That is a lot more competition. We've been around 96 years, and the festival model is very different than the fair model, and we stay focused on what works for us. We were able to find affordable talent, but it gets more challenging every year."
The fair found country music alternatives and new marketing techniques to promote them. Casting Crowns, the Christian rockers, initiated a Christian night for the fair. To maximize the impact of this venture, the fair "partnered with very strong Christian Radio Stations and did co-promotions, and it was an excellent turnout," said Aguilar. "We were able to target a new market for us."
The fair also added a Craft Beer Festival with classic rock stalwarts Grand Funk Rail Road. The event featured general admission, tickets that could be redeemed for a 6 oz. beer, and seating areas allowing attendees to sample different beers, listen to classic rock and enjoy the fair. More than 60 different brews from 20 regional breweries, including three Delaware brewers. "We hit a home run with the Craft Beer Festival," said Aguilar. "It was a great model, we got to form new partners with the breweries and we partnered with the Delaware Department of Agriculture, who tied into the message that these were local producers. It was a great promotion."
The new entertainment alignment was generally seen as effective. "We had our second best year we've had at the Delaware State Fair," said Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows. "That speaks to the fact of the really great job they are doing with promoting the fair. It was really no secret that due to amount of competition from concerts both before and after the fair, they had to change directions and to some degree their entertainment line up. We had different headliners and a wider variety of music and they were able to draw good crowds, which shows how well rounded the Delaware State Fair is."
The Delaware State Fair has an advertising budget of $160,000 and, like most marketing allocations by fairs, "we've transitioned a lot of money into digital. We are able to better track the ROI with online advertising, and see which websites had the most click-through and make decisions based on that, and make decisions faster. We saw an overall increase in our web traffic this year because of our digital advertising."
Online advertising, with its instantaneous ad tracking and ability to switch ads and websites allowed better targeting fairgoers. For instance, when Classic Rocker Bryan Adams was selling poorly, "we shifted ad dollars away from radio ads and increased our spending on Meghan Trainor. It was a generational issue in reaching the target audiences."
He added, "Radio is still very important, but it is very difficult to track."
In addition, the negative impact from a last minute cancellation by Little Big Town was minimized with the new digital focus. "We were able to shift dollars to promote other artists, and our demolition derby.
Analyzing new metrics and using them for to make marketing decisions both before and during the fair has become a growing aspect of Delaware State Fair marketing. "The information you can get now is only as good as your willingness to use it," said Aguilar. "We've pulled back in some areas like print, but spent more on social media, such as ads on FaceBook and Google, and we've become more aggressive with Twitter." Aiding and abetting the online focus of the 2015 marketing strategy was the second year of the Fair App, which grew to more than 14,000 users.
For the Wade Shows midway, gross revenue exceeded $1.1 million, up 6 percent from last year. Zaitshik noted their online presales went up and credited the fair's new marketing strategy.
"We are pleased that the fair positioned itself to grow that relationship which was a good direction for us," said Zaitshik. "That marketing effort was effective, they have a good relationship and distribution partner with Walgreens."
Zaitshik noted another promotion - the 4th annual Food Lion Hunger Relief Day, where fairgoers exchanged five Food Lion brand canned goods for free admission to the Fair on Monday July 27th - more than 19,000 pounds of canned goods were collected then distributed to the neediest families. "It was one of our best Mondays at the fair," said Zaitshik. "The Food Lion promotion was well received."
The Wade Shows' Delaware State Fair midway featured 56 rides and was similar to the standard touring unit of the 2015 edition of the carnival company's ride inventory. "We brought back the Extreme after three or four years, which was 'extremely' popular," said Zaitshik. "With our large ride arsenal, we try to mix and match. The Might Mouse was probably at the top of the list of popular rides and our new Monster Truck ride was a big hit."
One of the hilights of 2015 is fuel costs are nearly half what they were a year ago. "When it comes to purchasing fuel for our trucks, those costs have been reduced and we've been able to invest those savings back into the midway," said Zaitshik. "With the hired trucks that we use, most of those companies are keeping their rates the same as last year, so we haven't a savings there."
According to Zaitshik the combination of lower fuel costs and an apparent boost in consumer confidence has made the 2015 season very satisfying. "Things have been very good for us this year, fairs has been going well, and a lot of fairs are having near-record," said Zaitshik. "Fairgoers are spending more."
At the Delaware State Fair, anecdotal evidence indicates that not only were consumers eager to attend, but ready to spend. The fair featured abut 250 vendors, 150 of which were "straight sales", the remainder being food. "Gator bites were very hot," said Aguilar. "Bacon wrapped chicken was very popular, although that wasn't new. Pizza on a stick was new and that was very popular."
Vendors are on a flat-fee basis, so fair organizers were unable to track sales. "But food and retail straight sale vendors were very pleased with their sales. They had a good fair."
"This year's Fair will certainly be one to remember as we reflect back on the great weather, staff & volunteer's hard work, and a community that circles the calendar for the end of July for a trip back to the great entertainment and fun a fair provides," said Ron Draper, President of the Delaware State Fair Board of Directors. "The Board of Directors are incredibly excited with the success of 2015 and are hard at work with plans for the 2016 Delaware State Fair."