The paperless, automated ticketing midways just got smaller. Rainier Amusements, a start up carnival company based in Portland, Oregon, has a mere 26 rides and about 30 games and other concessions.
This midway provider - owned by the husband and wife team of Crystal and Mitch Hoss - may have a long and recognizable pedigree in the outdoor amusement business, but the company was formed in 2015 and its 2016 route has about 25 events throughout the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The company just completed the purchase, installation and training for a new Funcard System from Amusement Consulting Services, the wireless midway system developed by Funtastic Shows. Many of the largest carnival companies in the U.S., including James E. Strates Shows, Ray Cammack Shows, and Wade Shows have installed a Funcard system. In addition, several large fairs with an independent Midway, such as Texas State Fair, have likewise gone the cashless midway route via Funcard.
Rainier Amusements is in good company when it comes to an automated midway, but what makes the newest Funcard client not just unique, but a potential harbinger of a things to come is its size. Rainier Amusements, according to Rob Rhew, Vice President of Amusement Consulting Services, is by far the smallest carnival company to adopt the system.
"Yes, this is our smallest midway company," said Rhew, adding "by far."
Rhew believes that this distinction will not last. "We are in negotiations with several other companies their size," he said. "The smaller midways are very interested in this system."
He stated that the reasons for the investment by smaller midways is the same as for larger companies: improving the bottom line. "It's a wise investment for any business working with money, you are open to the theft," said Rhew "The system increases grosses every time it is used and that increase has nothing to do with how many rides and games a carnival company has."
Crystal and Mitchell Hoss are fair industry veterans and most recently operated West Coast Amusements, a game concessionaire working Canadian routes. The couple purchased assets of Haworth Family Shows in 2015, essentially merging the rides with the West Coast Amusements games.
The Rainier name was in recognition of Rainier Shows Carnival, a long running midway provider in the Pacific Northwest that ceased operations in 1997. Mitch Hoss's uncle, Andy Andersen, operated Rainier Shows Carnival in the region for many decades and Mitch Hoss grew up on the show. When Rainier ceased operations, Mitch & Crystal along with their parents, moved their business, S&H Concessions, to Canada to work with West Coast Amusements. After 16 years with West Coast Amusements, Mitch & Crystal took their concession business back to the US where Mitch worked as unit manager at Funtastic Shows, where he became familiar with the Funcard System.
With more than 30 years experience as operators and an extended family, the carnival business is both in their blood and part of their DNA. The couple knew that for a midway provider to thrive in today's outdoor event industry, with standards and expectations by both customers and organizers constantly rising, a company's reputation is based on its professionalism, which includes the ticketless midway.
"We consider ourselves a traveling amusement park, and we bring the level of professionalism ones sees at an amusement park," said Crystal Hoss. "That includes the quality of rides, the cleanliness of the grounds and our staff. We are the face of the fair, and there is real appreciation of that. We felt that buying the Funcard System, was the smartest thing we can do at this time."
This time meaning the company's full year as Rainier Amusements - a smaller midway provider, with mainly smaller events, except for the Oregon State Fair - due to the larger Washington State Fair changing its 2016 dates causing a scheduling conflict, Funtastic Shows had to select one of the two fairs and opted out of the Oregon State Fair. In fact, "Uncle Andy" Anderson ran the carnival at the 1952 edition of the Oregon State Fair.
"We couldn't be happier about the opportunity to collaborate with Rainier Amusements," said Mike Paluszak, CEO Oregon State Fair. "Co-owners Mitch and Crystal Hoss more than earned our confidence in their team's proven ability to stage an amazing carnival for us in 2016. We were particularly impressed with their energy and vision and tendency to think big."
"We intend to bring a major 'wow factor' to the Oregon State Fair," said Mitch Hoss. "And we look forward to announcing those new rides in the not-too-distant future."
But before the automated ticketing system "wows" them at the biggest stop on their route, Rainier Amusement debuted the new midway at a parking lot event, the Spring Break Carnival in Yakima, Washington. "The system is transparent, financially it makes sense," said Crystal Hoss.
Metrics & Scheduling
In addition to removing cash from the midway, removing pilfering and making financial accounting more accurate, Crystal Hoss pointed out that generating new data and metrics will improve the fledgling carnival company in the long run. "All the reporting is done by the system, and you can run different reports for the fair to see and for your own use," she said. "You can see what games and rides are doing better."
She added, "amusement parks run on a system where you just swipe a card, and we felt we could have a bigger impact if we were able to bring that system to our fairs. It provides great customer service, you can run different promotions. For the smaller events, it makes sense because they don't have the staff, so we eliminate all the hand counting and weighing of tickets. They love the idea. Everything is online now, no matter what size fair you play."
"Customers love the system," said Rhew. "It cuts down on labor and costs"
According to Rhew, the Funcard computer program is 16 years old, making it one of the oldest in counting use in the fair industry. "We keep updating the system and adding features."
One new feature is a ticket printing system. In case of system failure - mainly if a fair's Wi-Fi connection is lost, usually temporarily - midway companies bring back-up ticket rolls. The new feature is a ticket printing system for users, "this allows the carnival company to go right to tickets, we are cutting costs and saving time."
The core of the ticketless system, with its money-saving digital accuracy and new reporting mechanism, has already been accepted on a larger scale, but Rainier Amusement incorporating the Funcard indicates those advantages have similar appeal to smaller scale events. "You don't need 60 or 70 rides to see double digit savings with the Funcard," said Rhew. "It doesn't take a large spot or a 100 ride show, the smaller companies can have equally good results."
While Rhew declined to discuss the cost of the system, he said the major costs are the individual scanners - every ride and game basically requires the staff member to have a scan gun, thus the cost of a system depends on the number of scan guns needed. Rhew said that very small companies, "with only five rides will probably not benefit from the system, but companies the size of Rainier Amusements, will see savings immediately. By the end of 2016, we expect more of these sized carnival companies will have the Funcard System."