No matter what the event, Mother Nature must have her say. And she certainly had plenty to say during this year's National Peanut Festival of Dothan, Alabama. There was an unprecedented 8 inches of rain in the area at that time.
Board President Jason Rudd explained, "We've never, in our entire history since 1937, had to shut down our fairgrounds completely for a whole day. This year, however, we had to do so on our first Sunday."
Never Say Die
Nevertheless, the festival picked right back up where it left off. Rudd stated, "We have 25 volunteer board members that stepped up to the plate and made sure everybody was taken care of. When your back's against the wall, you just have to try harder, and our boa
rd decided that we weren't going down without a fight."
The challenges were many. Rudd elaborated, "As with most fairs and festivals, we rely on grass parking lots for our guests. We have 85 acres of grass parking, and were forced to close both of our outside lots. We met to come up with alternatives, then decided to hire tour buses for shuttle purposes."
Rudd continued, "Yes, it is costly to put together such a service, but we knew it was in the best interest of our fair, and our guests were depending on us to come up with a solution." Just how costly was it? According to WSFA 12 News, organizers "spent over $100,000 for buses to transport guests to the festival."
Although this is certainly expensive, paving the parking lots could be far more costly. As Rudd recently told Dothan First: "It would be about a million dollars to pave the areas needed out here, and it's just not feasible to do this with a one percent chance of rain even happening. We just happened to fall into the one percent this year, so we were just unlucky."
Rudd added, "We've never had this issue before; in fact, we generally rent water trailers in order to keep the dust down. Needless to say, we didn't use them this year."
Challenges didn't end on that first Sunday. Rudd explained, "We were able to secure enough buses for the following day, but because of continued rain and misty cold weather, we had a low turnout that Monday."
"By Tuesday more buses became available, and masses of guests turned out. This caused heavy congestion of the main highway located adjacent to our fairgrounds, causing inbound traffic to slow down. On Wednesday we tried a better bussing route that brought the crowds on some back roads into the fairgrounds. This cut our shuttle time in half."
Rudd added, "By the end of the week, we were able to open up our 33-acre south parking lot. Our shuttle bus count was up to 40 charter buses on the last Saturday, which is always our busiest day."
"Although the carnival revenue was down 10 percent, and our overall decrease is expected to total about 20 percent, we still managed to accomplish quite a bit this year. We have more than 300 volunteers that help make our festival succeed even when the weather is so uncooperative."
"Reithoffer does the carnival and brought two new Super Spectaculars. The Galaxy roller coaster and the Music Express were both big hits. Reithoffer graciously extended their hours for the midway rides most evenings, which tremendously helped us to manage our outbound bus-traffic crowds."
"Approximately 20 non-profits in our food-court area extended their hours on our last Sunday.
Most of them therefore made up for their losses from the previous Sunday. They depend upon this revenue from the fair to help sustain themselves throughout the year."
"We tried two major things this year that went really well: We invested in a new gate-ticketing system that includes bar codes, scanning upon entry, and online at-home printing. Reithoffer began offering a microchipped card for the rides in lieu of paper tickets. We're becoming more progressive and automated in our ways of doing business."
Marketing and Promotion
Rudd stated, "Although we spent the bulk of our advertising money on traditional standards such as TV and billboards, we beefed up our social-media efforts with continued daily updates. Our Facebook page offered a quick way to convey details about traffic conditions, and our local radio stations helped with that too. There was a definite team effort by the local media to keep people informed on the best ways to get to our fairgrounds."
"Even though our Kindergarten Day on Monday got postponed until Wednesday, we were still able to entertain about 2,000 kindergarteners on site. They got to visit with all of our fairgrounds entertainers, which included the Rhinestone Roper, the Wild West Show and our Racing Pigs."
"On Tuesday we entertained over 3,000 Special Citizens and their helpers with free rides and a private concert with Shane Owens, a local favorite. On Thursday we hosted over 3,000 Seniors with free admission, ferris wheel rides, a concert, plus our grounds acts and performers."
WTVY.com reported that Saturday's 72nd Annual National Peanut Festival Parade "featured more than 160 entries, including marching bands, beauty queens, local political figures and much more." Rudd added, "Our mile-and-a-half parade route was packed as usual, and the weather for it was perfect."
And were there peanuts around? Yes, and plenty of them! This herbacious legume can be found in everything from soup to, well, nuts. In fact, it's why Dothan proclaims itself to be "Peanut Capital of the World."
Rudd explained, "Our soil type makes for a better peanut, which in turn makes for LOTS of peanut butter. Every guest is treated to complimentary peanuts as they enter each gate. We have about ten vendors who specialize in peanut products, as well as a premium show building that incorporates peanut displays."
Rudd and his dedicated team have already begun preparing for the 2016 festival, which will be held on November 4th through the 13th.