Mike Williams, founder and head of Farrow Finance, knows the carnival industry from the inside out. In starting the new company, he declared: With over 40 years of hands-on experience, I am now available to help others succeed.
Having worked summers for Farrow Shows while attending Mississippi State University, Williams dove right into the industry after earning a degree in computer science. During his 1975 senior year at college, Williams had been asked by owner Ernie Farrow to come and run this Jackson-based carnival company. Love was also in the air, in that Williams married Mr. Farrow's daughter.
By 1982, Williams had purchased the company. As he explained to The Clarion-Ledger, "Bac
k in those days, we did business in about seven or eight states, in the South and Midwest." Under Williams' expert leadership, a great expansion would soon take place.
North American Midway Entertainment (NAME)
Williams afterwards became the CEO of North American Midway Entertainment (NAME). In 2008, The Clarion-Ledger reported that NAME was "the world's largest portable carnival company with more than $3.5 billion in equity." It was then based in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
Multi-faceted NAME had grown out of Farrow Shows, which had begun as a small family-run business. A giant leap forward occurred in 2004, the year that "Williams and Fred Rosen of Ticketmaster put together a deal to buy four amusement companies."
These companies were backed "to the tune of nearly $100 million" by The Cypress Group, "a Manhattan-based venture capital firm." But the bucks didn't just stop there. Williams later "added two more carnival companies," resulting in a 2008 total of approximately 3,000 employees.
According to the NAME website, North American Midway Entertainment "was recently acquired by Townsquare Media, LLC." Their press release now states that Townsquare Media is "a leading diversified media and entertainment company." Williams' creation continues to evolve in new and exciting ways.
North American Midway Entertainment has been hailed as being "family-oriented but in a modern, big-business way." It had been "the first ever, the first of its kind" to "buy a carnival and issue new stock in the parent company so the owners stay with the companies and they continue to manage and run the operations."
These days, carnivals are "big business." Most have a chief financial officer and contribute a lot in taxes. Mike Williams was at the forefront of this "big business" movement within what has now become a thriving industry.
Williams, who has now moved on to lead Farrow Finance, recently explained, "When I was CEO of NAME, I was also a private investor in a finance company that did a large majority of the loans in the carnival industry. When I retired from NAME, it was a natural transition for me to create my own finance company since I'd been doing financing for about 14 years anyway."
"It's been fun, and I've been able to talk with a lot of people in the industry and get to know them well. What we bring to the table with Farrow Finance is not just financing, but also what it takes to run a successful carnival operation."
"Over the last several years, some of my clients have elected to not only use our company as a finance tool, but to also get operational advice from my years of being in the industry and creating the largest successful carnival operation in North America."
Williams continued, "Today's banking industry is completely different than it was 20 years ago, as far as federal regulations are concerned. The banks now require much more detailed information from you than they did in the past, and the loan requirements are much more stringent than they were back then."
"Not only that, banks generally don't have a real good understanding of our industry. They don't realize, for example, that it's a seasonal industry which can be greatly affected by the weather."
"Another thing about banks is that their loan officers all have a board to report to, and it's the same for a lot of the finance-company officers. They usually have to go back and get loan approval from a board of directors, but with Farrow Finance it's just me."
"I have a real good understanding of the people I do business with, and I'm betting on them. These are the people out there every day who are sacrificing themselves for this industry. I want my clients to be very successful; it's a joy to help people improve their business."
"One of my clients asked me to review his operation and financial books. I spent the day with him, walked the midway, looked at his equipment, and spent a lot of time going through the books. I was then able to bring him recommendations that would improve his bottom line."
"Last year, a new client had asked me to come and help him buy a carnival. I helped him to negotiate the purchase price and save quite a bit of money on that transaction, and also assisted him with the funding. He's doing really well with it now."
Farrow Finance has three employees besides Williams. According to the website, the following specialized services are offered: Financing (support and advice regarding "new equipment purchases, improvements and expansion"), Asset Lending (a loan or line of credit "secured by inventory, accounts receivable and/or other balance-sheet assets"), Working Capital Loans (for "short term expenses such as wages, repairs and maintenance"), and Financial Advice (the "only finance company in the amusements industry" with such a wealth of this particular expertise.
Williams stated: "I remember well the early years as I was growing Farrow Shows, trying to balance proper business growth and manageable debt. It was a challenge." He then assured industry members: "Whether you want to purchase a Lolly Swing, Giant Wheel or a carnival, I'm happy to provide the most personal, confidential advice and financial assistance to accelerate your company growth and accomplish your long-term goals."