The fair industry has lost one of its most endearing and super-sized personalities. Anthony "Tony" Fiori Director of Marketing for Ray Cammack Shows inc. (RCS), passed away on November 18th in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 64, after a long illness.
Like many titles used in the fair industry, Director of Marketing as a title is only tip of the iceberg of the array of duties Fiori performed, both onsite and in the home office.
Fiori was long considered the "face" of the RCS, interfacing with fairgoers, fair managers and boards, subcontractors, the press and the community at large.
"Tony would say that fairs are forged on relationships with our fair partners and Tony made that happen," said Annie Kastl, Executive Director of Games, RCS.
After the news of his death was known -a memorial service was held in early December at a building on the Orange County Fairgrounds, attended by more than 400 - within the fair industry, the steady outpouring of condolences shocked Kastl."I never realized how many friends he had," she said. "His forte was people, he war a real people person. He was as comfortable with the CEO and he was with a janitor. I never realized how many friendships he formed and his interest was all across the board, he dabble in food, picked games. He had a passion for our company and our industry second to none."
Fiori was born and raised in Sonoma County, part of the long-time Fiori Restaurant family of Occidental. He attendedSanta Rosa Junior College where he studied Business and Marketing and was the starting center on the state championship football team, and after school working in the family restaurant business, he joined RCS, the largest carnival in the Western United States, in the 1980's. After rising through the ranks, he became the Director of Marketing in 1988. Among the many innovations he oversaw was the transition to a paperless midway and the expansion of the social media promotional arm of the company. This disposition towards out-of-the-box thinking, however started with his earliest days with the fair industry.
First Water Carts
Charlene Leavitt, the daughter of Ray Cammock and now co-owner with her husband, Guy, of RCS, recalled with amusement the coincidence that she met both her future husband and Fiori on the same day. Both men had just begun workingfor RCS, and both would remain part of Charlene Leavitt's life. "Tony became one of my best friends. He was big, larger than life. I do not how we are going to replace him," she said.
Although Fiori did work other jobs off and on, his first full-time gig with RCS was operating the company's first water cart. "That was new back then, selling bottled water," said Leavitt. "It was very unique at the time.
Now water is sold every where, but Tony was one of the first who saw there was a market for those plastic bottles of water on the midway"
Director of Marketing was a newly created position for Fiori, and like the water carts, it was a breakthrough at the time.
Marketing had long been part of the carnival company business, but midway providers targeted marketing their product and services to potential clients. It was typically low-key and an afterthought. Fiori realized that carnival company needed to expand their marketing reach to potential fairgoers.
"Fair marketing to customers used to be done only by the fairs and not the carnival," said Leavitt. "He came to us and talked about how marketing could be done by our company. He created promotions helped both the carnival and the fairs, and doing more partnerships with the fairs in terms of marketing, and the promotions we can do together with the fair. Almost every carnival company does this now, but at the time it was very unique."
Daniel Mejia, who manages the Social Media Marketing of RCS, worked with and was mentored by Fiori for the past five years and credits his influence for changing his college major, from Theater to Communication.
Together they moved RCS into the age of social media and online marketing. "I showed Tony Facebook and he showed me marketing. Social Media is just a tool, and he saw how that tool could be used to reach more people. He taught me a lot about marketing and we built on what he created at RCS."
Not all of the education was built around getting the message out and growing a consumer following. "He taught me a lot of life lessons, not just about the fair. He taught me about being a good worker, a hard worker, and representing the company in the best way possible to everyone at the fair," said Daniel Mejia.
The most practical lesson Daniel Mejia said Fiore taught him was how to work at one fair while preparing for the next. "When we switch fairs, he taught me that you have completely different followers and you have to plan for these specific audiences," he said. "You have to begin transferring to the other fair half way through the current fair, and you have to know what you are doing. He made it simple and not confusing, developing a lot of contests and prizes for social media and promotions as well as what rides and food carts will go where. He taught me how to work two fairs at once, and how to create a really fun family environment on two different midways.
Everybody Knew Him
Dale Coleman, Vice-President of Los Angeles County Fair, who has known Fiori for more than a quarter of century, describes his relationship as both personal and profession. "Tony was a real character, and really was the face of RCS, which I believe is the best carnival operator in the country. He was a bigger than life personality. A lot people in this business can be gruff on the outside, but Tony was like a big Teddy Bear," said Coleman. "He was full of life and really knew this business. He was a person who you liked to be around, funny and fun. He was definitely a larger than life guy. Everybody knew him, he drew people to him."
RCS is unique in the fair industry. The company's season runs about as long as other midway providers, but due to the fact the midway are for fairs that run for several weeks - four and five weekends, RCS personnel basically live in a town for weeks on end, year-in and year-out. "He always made acquaintances outside of he carnival," said Kastl. "You would meet people in his office and turns out they're from a restaurant that Tony's been going to for five years. He knew the dry cleaner, the best grocery stores. He made friends in every town we played, he was very "Italian" in that way."
Longer stays can also mean more issues that require resolution. "When you had disagreements - they weren't really arguments, maybe sometimes mini-arguments - you never left feeling angry with him," said Kastl. "He had passion for his feelings, but there was never a misunderstanding."
Coleman said, "You always knew where you stood with Tony. I always liked the way he was willing to make things work whether or not he agreed with what you were doing.
For example, an annual negotiation between Coleman and Fiori was the number of rides and other midway layout issues . Coleman said the typical give-and-take scenario was the midway company wanted more rides and the fair was looking to cutback. "You had to really know your stuff too to argue your position, because he knew his. But the difference with Tony is that he always saw your side of the argument, and respected your side, even when he had a different opinion, and he could be very opinionated. When you respect and like someone, and that feeling is mutual, than you're more likely to figure out common ground."
When there was agreement, there was no better midway executive to be on the fair manager's side. The LACF fair recently modified its fairgrounds, which required moving the midway to a more centralized location, a move Fiore was a supporter of. "He saw how it could bring in more revenue for the midway, so he was on board with the move and gave a lot of very useful opinion and guidance," said Coleman.
"Tony was very loud, very Italian, a character," said Nancy Bishop, co-owner of Bishop Amusement Rides. The company plays other events, but most of their season is spent as a subcontractor for RCS. "There's no comparison with RCS and other companies, because of their attention to detail and their desire to be the best and the safest, they are finest amusement ride company in the U.S. Tony was the face of that company, he was more than a liaison between the fair managers and boards and the midway. Nobody was a stranger to him, he could talk to anybody. I don't really know if you can replace a Tony Fiori."
Fiori would sometimes work promotions with the subcontractors, and made sure to publicize their latest rides. "There were times when a local TV news crew wanted to do a story on one of our new rides, and he would set that up, sometimes having to be on the grounds and ready for the cameras at 5:00 am."
What RCS personnel may miss the most about their beloved colleague was his open door policy - which was not just about his welcoming personality and ability to have one-on-one interactions with any staff -but the fact every day on the midway started with a literally open door. Most mornings on the midway Tony would actually have his door open and be blasting music, often dancing and always singing.
Not only did the fact he lacked some vocal abilities - "I wouldn't say he had a good voice," Kastl chuckled - but that only made his daily performances more endearing. "One of the things every morning on my walk to my office, I would see his door swung up and Tony dancing and singing," she said.
His musical tastes tended towards Old School Classic Rock, Blues and Reggae. "He loved the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Bob Marley and Van Morrison," said Audra Mejia, an RCS employee and Fiori's girlfriend.
"Everyone has told me what they missed, that singing every day. He would play the music loud, it would be blaring away. He just loved music, he loved to sing."
Daniel Mejia (Audra's son), agrees that the absence of his daily serenade magnifies the loss for the entire RCS company, but admits. "He did not have a good voice, but that never stopped him," he said, adding "his favorite song was Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. He would turn his music on in the morning, dance around the office, and sing. Every morning he was a rock star. He always loved his music with his morning coffee."
Audra Mejia added, "Tony was just stellar. "It don't matter what happened, come rain or come shine, whatever was the problem, he fixed them. With his friends and family, he always took the time and if they had a problem, he made it his own and fixed the problem. He was the rock of our company."
In addition, Fiori was involved with marketing programs at the University of Arizona, working the annual Spring Fling. According to Charlene Leavitt, this is a fundraiser for and by students that would bring "rides, a food wagon and he mentored students who were getting their marketing degrees. A director of student affairs that now runs the program was mentored by Tony."
Fiori not only gave back to the Arizona community, where RCS is based and Tony lived, he also helped under-served populations in the communities where the carnival company bivouacked for its long fair midways. Informally known as "Tony's kids," RCS will go to local children hospital and give out plush toys to the young patients. "He would did this at every town we play," said Charlene Leavitt. "He started this on his own. He didn't do things for recognition."
According to an official RCS press release: Tony's greatest joy was his family, his children, his grandchildren and equally his carnival family. Tony was preceded in death by his parents, Edna and George Fiori, Sr. He is survived by his partner Audra Mejia & her children Daniel, Seth & Victoria, his brothers George (Susan) and Steve (Linda) Fiori, sons Gino (Shelly) and Nick Fiori, stepdaughters, Adrienne Weintz (Jody) and Cheri Mariani, stepson Mel Rodela (Ramona), grandchildren Cole, Chase, Jacob, Mayci, Nolan and Markus, wife Sharon Fiori, and many loving aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The family sends thanks and love to Guy and Charlene Leavitt for their friendship and support.