What kind of difference does an extra weekend and an expanded community outreach marketing program make?
About 20 percent increases in attendance and revenue, and what organizers proclaimed a successful annual fair.
That's the summation of the Central Florida Fair, a 14-day event that in 2016 still spanned the same amount of time as previous events but by closing Monday and Tuesday and adding an additional weekend, attendance reached 220,000.
One More Weekend
"The fair was great," said Shawn Krauel, CEO/President, Central Florida Fair and Expositions Park. "We extended our dates by four days , allowing us to do 3 weekends. With adding an extra weekend the fair was up 20 percent compared to last year."
The weather was cooperative - some cool spells but "no rain," and one Saturday "was a record midway."
He added that fair revenue was "up. When comparing to previous year hard to compare with extra days but 11 days versus 11 days as last year was up 20 percent. Online sales and Walgreens advanced sales were up 92 percent."
The Central Florida midway was provided by Wade Shows, reaching a record year of $1.23 Million in revenue.
"It was a resounding success," agreed Frank Zaitshik, Wade Shows founder and president. "We were up significantly."
He added that the midway was up a remarkable 60 percent compared to 2015.
Aside from the weather of course, the real impetus behind this up-shoot in growth was the decision to eliminate slow days and optimize the bustling ones. "There was more exposure to revenue at peak times on the weekends," said Zaitshik.
For the midway provider, the only challenge was not so much in the routing but in employee scheduling regarding off-days now suddenly placed in the middle of the run. "You have to refrain from using those days as additional work days, and make sure your staff doesn't take them as work days," said Zaitshik. "It's a matter of keeping track of hours. It is a different mindset these days."
While several fairs - especially those non-summer events when school is in session - have either implemented or are considering implementing the subtraction of slow days and the addition of a weekend, Zaitshik cautioned this strategy isn't always successful. Longer stretches can mean increased overhead and not all fairs are in an area that can accommodate the extension.
"It's not for everybody," he said. "Some fairs cannot maximize the revenue because they do not have the following, and you do not always have partners who have flexibility in their schedule to accommodate the addition. It is not a cookie cutter approach, all fairs are different."
For the Central Florida Fair and the Orlando market, Zaitshik said the choice was the right one. "They are entering into the top tier of Florida fairs," he said. "They showed they have the vision and confidence to give it a try. Orlando has always been way stronger on the weekends, and the fair knew that and they knew their market. All fairs have to stand on their own."
He added, "a faint heart never won."
But once the risk is taken, the advantages to adding a weekend in the right market, Zaitshik pointed out, gives the fair two things - shorter lines for the weekends and rain insurance. The 2015 edition of the fair, said Zaitshik, had a rained-out opening Saturday. "If you have weekends that are so busy and one gets rained out, having an extra weekends means you can make it up. If you lose one Saturday, that can cost you 15 percent of your revenue."
The Wade Shows Midway featured 50 rides, showcasing the Central Florida Fair debut of the Super Cyclone and Jungle Twist, as well as an expanded children's ride selection with "several new children rides," said Zaitshik.
He added that the Wade Shows has freshened up its game selection with a "variation on the classic Bingo game being the most popular," he said. "The advanced sales were the highest they've ever been at (Central Florida Fair), It has really gained traction with their customers."
Out & About
Another factor increasing attendance the Central Florida Fair was the second year of "Out & About Night," a night celebrating the LGBT community.
"Last year, Out & About Night was held on a traditionally slow night of the Fair," said Frances Rivera, Sponsorship Coordinator, Central Florida Fair. " In terms of community sponsors, we hosted 17 LGBT community organizations as well as an additional 1,500 fair attendees. We also placed an ad in two popular publications Guy Magazine and Watermark."
This year, the program was expanded. "In addition to hosting LGBT community organizations and media buying, the Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando - the LGBT Chamber of Commerce -hosted its monthly networking mixer during the Central Florida Fair. This brought an additional 200 business professionals who networked with one another, learned about the Fair's educational programs, and toured the brand new Orlando Amphitheater."
Augmenting the outreach to this community - an uncommon program in the fair industry - resulted in better community relations and increased attended. Every year we want to build on the previous one, and Out & About is here to stay," said Rivera.
She credited the program's creation to the Central Florida Fair Director of Marketing & Operations, William Price. "His belief is that the fair is a celebration of the entire community," she said. "From this perspective, it seemed the fair was unknowingly disregarding one of the best groups of the community, the LGBT, dual-income households. Just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual does not mean they are not to be included."
LGBT issues are still hot button political topics - especially in this presidential election year and with some nearby states passing what many consider to be discriminatory legislation - one wonders why the fair took the risk to highlight this often controversial community. According to Rivera, politics was not the consideration, community was. "Out & About Night was not about making a political statement - it was about reaching out to include a group of individuals and families who, in turn, embraced us right back," she said. "Why would there be resistance for a family night? This is about all of coming together and celebrating one another."
She added, "A fair is not a political organization, so it is neither liberal nor conservative; it is an all-encompassing acknowledgement of the community's achievements and diversity. It merely represents and celebrates its residents. From this perspective, why shouldn't a fair want to include each member of its community?"
The Central Florida Fair also rearranged its ground show entertainment, which included High Dive Shows, Grizzly Bears, White Tiger Show, Vortex of Doom, X-Pogo Stunt Show and Shark Encounter. What was new was instead of having the same show every day, or just one show, Krauel said the fair "switched Grounds entertainment each week making it unique each week."
Changing up the ground show schedule, Zaitshik noted also boosted return visits to the midway. "They freshened up the grounds acts, secluding them differently and rolling them over. They would have different shows and they advertised them and it would give people a reason to come back another weekend, because they hadn't seen an act."
The fair's advertising budget was $130,000, which included: 40 percent online, 20 percent print; 15 percent billboards and 25 percent - radio/television. The increase in budgeting has been towards the online, which may not have better results but does have better metrics. "We like the information online media brings us," said Krauel. "We can track it- We are working to make online promotions be our primary medium."
With social media, the fair pinpointed specific groups, then customized the approach for a more direct appeal. "We did a lot of retargeting-focusing on demographics that made sense and targeted them with banner adds and media buys," he said. "We also focused on Latin/Hispanic markets and media."
Targeting Hispanics paid off on the closing weekend. "The last weekend we host a Mexican Music Festival all day with live music, bands and food," he said. "It was a paid $40 concert that included your fair admission and entry into concert."
The Central Florida Fair had 44 food vendors. Krauel said the event uses a flat fee contract, so he could not report how the extra weekend and LGBT outreach was received, but said "vendors seemed to be responsive to our fair direction,"
He added, that though new food items were noticed, "our crowd still loves Funnel Cakes and Elephant Ears," he said.
The addition of the extra weekend, having different ground acts each weekend and expanding community outreach programs like the "Out & About Night," prompted Krauel to state the 2016 edition of the Central Florida Fair "exceeded expectations. We learned what worked and where we need to focus on for future years."
The value-added entertainment of a fair retains an endless appeal to Floridians, creating a positive economic impact Krauel wishes could translate into increased government support.