The Washington State Spring Fair, a weekend event on the Washington State Fair Events Center in Puyallup, began as a kind of dry run and preview of the bigger, longer September Washington State Fair, a long-established Northwest tradition that attracts in excess of 1.1 million annually and is held on the same fairgrounds.
The spring fair started in the early 90s, and attracted less than 50,000 attendees at the beginning. But during the course of roughly a quarter of a century, the Washington State Spring Fair is no longer a preview of the larger fair. Instead, fair organizers have created an event distinct from the September fair. The Spring Fair is smaller, but growing, and its family and community orientation has cultivated its own audience and following.
exceeds 150,000 and continues to increase, according to Karen J. LaFlamme, spokesman, Washington State Spring Fair. She said that attendance at the fair was 11.7 percent higher than this year, making it the 7th largest fair in the state of Washington, a significant achievement for an event that not only takes place over the course of just a weekend, but was long overshadowed by the state-wide event. In addition, April weather can be precarious in the Northwest, thus always an unpredictable factor to consider in terms of attendance.
The 2016 Washington State Spring Fair was an example of how this fair has successfully created an event with a brand and mission distinct from the September extravaganza. "The fair is a celebration of Spring," said LaFlamme. "We are very family oriented, and the fair has really created a life of its own and its own identity. It is more of a community fair, a country fair. The fair continues to grow. It's become its own fair."
The underlying marketing is the thematic implications of Spring - rebirth and youth. "People have been cooped up in the house all winter, so this is the first real time for families to get outside," she said.
While agricultural programs are as part of this fair as the state-wide event, the spring fair has a youthful twist. "There is a stronger presence here with youth and animals," LaFlamme said. "We hold the Northwestern Junior Livestock competition, where the focus is on steers, hogs and lambs. We promote baby animals, have a larger petting farm, and a pygmy goat show. It's a little bit slower pace than other fairs, and we have more hands-on activities."
This year, the fair also featured swine racing and the Timberworks Lumberjack Show, which are exclusive to the Spring event.
Luckily, the weather was in the fair's favor this year. "We've had snow and sleet at this fair, and being the Northwest rain is always a concern," said LaFlamme. "But the weather was in the high 70s, although the opening day was cool. But during the day it was balmy, we can only hope for weather this beautiful in September."
The Washington State Spring Fair boasts is own exclusive mascot, Quigley the Duck. This fun and friendly waterfowl was introduced two years ago, following a naming contest that was well received in the community. Quigley is not used during the September fair, so this identifiable yellow mascot enhances the unique brand of the Spring Fair, especially the more family friendly, childhood motif - Quigley is yellow and resembles the iconic rubber bath toy. At the fairgrounds, an immense, 20-foot inflatable Quigley resides in a prominent place, ready for social media selfies and posed pictures.
"There were a lot of pictures on social media this year with Quigley, we have the duck to create a photo op," said LaFlamme. "We use Quigley in our print and online advertising, and on our website. We do not use Quigley at all in September. It is just for our Spring fair."
Having its own mascot - epitomizing the need to make the Spring fair separate and distinct - has fueled the growth of this fair in recent years. The fair also upped the marketing budget slightly, to $228,000, which breaks down approximately as Television: 36 percent; Radio: 28 percent; Digital: 14 percent; Outdoor: 4 percent; Other 1 percent; and 11 percent spent on production.
The proportions of marketing expenditure remained consistent with last year's, albeit with some increase in digital promotions. "We shifted more out of print, and into digital, especially Pandora and Facebook," said LaFlamme.
According to LaFlamme, the fair has conducted market research and discovered that the Washington State Spring Fair "is now on the list of things to do in this region, especially for families with small children and toddlers. We have a bigger proportion of them in the Spring than in September. We get high ratings for free entertainment, free activities and our mix of vendors."
She added, "it is now a very established event, and because of the time of year, it stands out. There is not a lot of competition from other festivals, so it is one of the first outdoor events in the Northwest. We have a loyal following of families, and we reinforced what we do to attract those customers"
One boost to attendance came from working with local school districts. With Easter falling March this year, schools were not on break during this year's Washington State Spring Fair. However, the opening day coincided a Teacher's Works Day. "You never know what the schools are going to do, but we worked with them and they had a local work day for teachers, schools were off our opening Friday."
"This was the best Spring fair we've ever had," said Ron Burback, Funtastic Rides. "The fair has really grown and it's because they gear the fair and the events to families; young parents with little children. That is why it is working, they know their target market."
The Washington State Spring Fair expanded by about 4 acres, which meant a larger Sillyville than usual. This expansion required minimal fairground modification since the space is used for the larger fair and other events year-round. The reason for the expansion is that with the continued attendance increase, there had been growing congestion, or at least the appearance of pedestrian traffic snarls. "The lines were getting longer because of the popularity, and they started to merge last year," said LaFlamme. "We didn't have any problems or complaints, but we wanted people to feel more comfortable."
"We were very successful last year," said Burback. "But we were getting a little compacted, so we expanded a little and added more Sillyville."
While the 43 ride midway is a smaller footprint than the 70-ride September midway by Funtastic, this year "we added two or three more Kiddie rides. We have more family rides here, such as the Giant Slide and the Wild Cat, which has tremendous capacity. The big thing is what I call the intermediate rides, where the parents ride with the children. That is the big thing in rides today. We have fewer spectacular rides here, those that appeal to teenagers and young adults. You get less of the 18 to 25 year old customers here."
New for the fair was the Phoenix Wheel, which Burback said the company purchased a year ago.
"The economy in Oregon and Washington seems to be growing," said Burback. If they don't screw it up in Washington and pass legislation that hurts small business owners, then there's every chance we will have our biggest year."
The fair had 72 food vendors, which was an increase of 12 food stands, also due to a growing event. "We had too many lines, so we wanted to give people more breathing room. That's why we added four acres too."
She added that no food item grabbed particular notice. "It was really just classic fair food, we don't get as crazy with the food in Spring."