A severely wet autumn, with residual effects from a tropical storm, hampered many late autumn southeastern fairs, and the 2015 Coastal Carolina Fair in Charleston, S.C., was no exception. Four days of the 11-day fair had rain, with the expected negative impact on attendance. Fairgoers numbered 184,205 compared to 229,177 in 2014.
This dip continues a trend of weather-related decline in attendance, according to Joe Bolchoz, Director of Media & Public Relations for the Coastal Carolina Fair, who noted that in 2012 and 2012, attendance was 230,000-240,000. The 2015 edition of this late-season fair was a temporary setback for a growing fair, which had a solid-marketing plan and a regional economy on a steady upswing.
"When people came to the fair, they were spending money," said Bolchoz. "The economy is strong. Boeing has moved to the area, and there are surrounding industries they're dependent on, and so the economy is better, people are moving here, there are good paying jobs. Volvo will have a factory here too."
The Friday and Saturday where the weather was clear, had near-record days with attendance reaching 46,000 and 54,000. "It was one of the biggest days we ever had, with more than 10,000 cars parked," said. "Even with the bad weather, "initial revenues look good," said Bolchoz. "The midway had more than $1.4 million gross, we're definitely a ride destination. Food is strong but not as strong at the rides. It is a good fair for rides."
"The fair is extremely progressive," said Rob Vivona, General Manager, Amusements of America, who has been the fair's carnival company for more than 60 years. "They are always improving the fair, the property. They brought in new advertising this year that was very effective. It was the second year for it and they really have a handle on it. We have a great working relationship with the fair."
He added, "You can get rain in the south in the late fall. We did get some rain, but it was still a great event. If you live in Charleston, everybody comes to the fair. They get very excited about it and when it wasn't raining they came out."
According to Bolchoz, "we are very passionate about the fair and the community is very supportive. The fair revenue is all used for charitable purposes in the communities." Fair profits are distributed to 38 different charities, ranging from cancer research to "Meals on Wheels."
Even with the weather-induced attendance dip of 2015, the spirit of the Coastal Carolina Fair remains un-dampened. "We offer a good mix of new and traditional events to our customers, and we are able to promote to different audiences and target new markets with our advertising. We are very optimistic about next year's fair, which are already planning and signing contracts."
One of the steady draws this year was the headline entertainment for the Carolina Coastal Fair. The headline shows are free with gate admission, and Bolchoz states that the music programming had more of a mix this year, supplementing the country demographic by adding some classic-rock stalwarts and newer rising stars. The headline entertainment, all free with admission, included: Cassadee Pope (from The Voice), Starship featuring Mickey Thomas; Atlanta Rhythm Section; Dustin Lynch; Old Dominion; Restless Heart; Smash Mouth and Little River Band. In addition, the fair has three smaller stages, which showcased a local talent show, the Lady Houdini Escape Show, African Acrobats, and Mark Yuzuick, Comedian/Hypnotist.
Bolchoz was pleased with the entertainment, with the best draw being Dustin Lynch. "The rain hurt some attendance," he said, but none of the shows had to cancel.
He added that the economics of the fair have changed, with bigger names no longer as viable for the fair, "you have to depend on stuff being routed at this time of the year through the area. But we offer a lot of different attractions to people, and the music this year drew some audiences."
The fair offers a variety of family-friendly exhibits, including an extensive Agricultural Building and Arts & Crafts building, that includes cooking shows and demonstrations and other popular attractions. One leading highlights is The Flower Show, an annual event run by the tri-county organization, The Council of Garden Clubs, "It is a nationally recognized event, we have a won national awards," he said. "It is a very a large group and has a tremendous following."
Bolchoz jokingly added, "The fair is considered a flower show by a lot of people."
The fair featured 85 food vendors. Cajun Billy, a new addition to the cuisine line up, "was very popular," said Bolchoz. "They served up Gumbo, Jambalaya, and the Andouille Sausage. They made the news.
However, long-time fair vendors Netterfields and Cox Concessions, "they are part of the fair family and always do very well."
The fair's advertising budget was " more than $300,000," which Bolchoz said is divided into two ways, media, which includes paid advertising sports, and public relations, which includes media coverage and trades with print, TV and other outlets. "The paid-advertising of the budget runs the gamut, billboards, TV, radio and Print."
On-site broadcasts used to be more popular and while they are still a crucial part of the fair publicity, Bolchoz pointed out that in around 2007 these companies "started cutting back, and they are not as local as they used to be. The public used to love to be around the news crew, and in the background of the shots. The weather was a big deal and we had some more broadcasts this year. We designate areas on the ground for them, and keep them consistent. We have a good working relationship with the local stations and anchors that are still here."
Instead, the budget has shifted to an increase in social media promotions. "The community is now more attuned to social media, and we were able to do a lot of promotions, like our Family 4-Pack promotions and free day, mainly through social media," said Bolchoz. "We used it a great deal more this year to communicate with our patrons."
He added, "social media can work against you, because people can post what they want. But if you stay on top of it, it generally works for you. With the weather this year, we had to communicate a lot. We now have an advertising agency doing most of the social media, and that is new this year. Social Media is no longer a sideline for fairs."
The leading "trade" promotion with a major news outlet helped revive an "old" media. The fair had a promotion with the Charleston Post & Courier, a prestigious and award-winning newspaper, considered one of the oldest in the south. For one day, fairgoers who had a copy of the newspaper received free admission. "It was a swap out for several days of advertising and was a great promotion. Print is still important and we have good relations with local media."
Amusements of America
The Amusements of America midway featured 66 rides - 34 of which are children rides. The midway featured an expanded Kiddieland area. Fairground modification changed the layout of the midway, breaking up the midway into three sections that included an expanded Kiddieland. "We actually had two Kiddielands this year," said Bolchoz. "Having different midway areas actually spreads the crowds out, and we are able to separate the teenager and young adult crowd from the family crowd with children."
The midway's catering to families and younger fairgoers was in keeping with the ongoing PG-Rated emphasis the fair has promoted in recent years. "We bill ourselves as a family fair," said Bolchoz. Case-in-point, the Coastal Carolina Fair has been a "dry" (alcohol sales and consumptions prohibited) fair for the past 20 years. "We are not an old fashioned sawdust fair, we are family-oriented."
In fact, this family-friendly atmosphere has grown as has the influx of families in the region. "They're more kids in the area," said Bolchoz. "We got a lot of young families moving into the area. The real estate market here is very hot."
New rides in the America of Amusements midway at the fair included the Magnum, Fireball, and Baby Bumper Cars as well refurbished Giant Wheel newly decked out with state-of-of-the-art LED lights. "We were a little bit down, but considering the rain we had, not as down as we would have been at another fair," said Vivona.
The most effective promotion for the carnival company was a "ride promotion with Walgreens this year, which a lot of fairs have done but [Carolina Costal Fair] really did it the best," said Vivona. "It was the second year with Walgreens, but they really got a handle on it now. We met with the Walgreens manager and the fair management and it really came together, it really worked the best we've seen it."
In addition to stifling turnout, the rains caused other midway challenges. It wasn't just the rain that fell during the fair days but the record levels of rainfall that preceded opening day. By the time of the fair, rain or no, the grounds were saturated, creating rain-soaked, muddy areas. The carnival company put out wooden planks for fairgoers to stand in line and to embark and disembark form the rides. "The rides that had their own platforms weren't really affected, but the Swing Rides especially don't have their own platform," said Vivona. "You have to be careful with rides that have a steep pitch, like the Tornado and Matterhorn."
The Coastal Carolina Fair was the final stop of the 2015 route, which might have made for damp ending, but Vivona pointed out that the Big A "had a very good summer. People are spending this year, we were on track for a record or a near-record year."
Unfortunately, rain soaked the south as autumn progressed and the company's season concluded. "We were way up the first weekend at Charleston," said Vivona. "Butit rained the last four days. The weather was bad in the south for all our late season fairs. It could have destroyed the year but the fairs during the summer were great."