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Strong Close Helps Dampened Dixon May Fair
Butler Amusements reports strong pre-sale numbers


By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of Dixon May Fair (Facebook)

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Mother Nature did not play nice this year in California, deciding to have April showers in May, which negatively impacted the Dixon May Fair.  

Attendance declined about 8 percent - to 52,626 - compared to 2015, according to Patricia Conklin, CEO. The 141st fair Dixon May Fair - considered the oldest district fair - and fairgrounds - in California, actually followed a strong 2015 fair and while weather may have been less than optimum, the decline did not devastate this Golden State tradition. 

Wet Weather 
"It was a good fair overall, even with the wet weather. It rained three of our days," said Conklin. "The grounds were laid out well, we had great entertainment and something for everyone to do.  The only problem was the weatPhoto By Dixon May Fair (Facebook)her.  When the sun came out on Sunday people packed the place."

"We were down a hair, but not by much," said Sally Shaffer, Office Manager for Butler Amusements, the fair's carnival company. "The rain did not impact us too much as it was not heavy rains, just sprinkles." 

The weather was rainy - the Big Slide was the only ride that had to be temporarily shut down to due to weather. "We didn't have to close down the midway," said Shaffer. "The weather fluctuated, and it was overcast - we had a good closing day. That weekend was good." 

Shaffer added that the community support for this fair makes it one of the carnival company's favorite gigs of the year. "It's a small community, the Sacramento area," she said.  "They come out for this fair. The demolition derby draws a lot of people. There's a parade every Saturday of the fair, which draws a lot of crowds.  We always do good because of the parade, there's a real rush of people."

The irony of course is that California is still in the throes of one of the worst droughts in its history, and while the rain may have had a deleterious effect on the Dixon May Fair, it was not enough to alleviate drought conditions. On the other hand, the conservation and water restriction measures in place last year were continued and while the drought may not be going away, there seems no call for stricter regulations. "There was no noticeable impact of the drought this year," said Conklin. "we have been conserving for 3 years now so people are used to it..

Entertainment Assortment
Entertainment at the fair were held on two separate stages - the Picnic State emphasized local musical acts with their own following. which showcased the Battle of the Bands, where fair organizers had selected eight finalist from local applicants, a collection of bands ranging from different areas within the fair's market as well as a variety of genres, including hard rock, alternative, and avante garde. 

Due to the rising costs of headline entertainment, the Dixon May Fair shifted towards other entertainment options. The Coors Light Grandstand  showcased professional bull and bronco riding and hot-rod truck and tractor pulls, both sports that originated in agriculture. The grand finale was a  truck demolition derby.

In addition, the fair featured the Kids Zone  and AgVentureland, with hands-on, interactive farming exhibits. Another annual event is the Classic Car Show, where vintage automobiles - mainly from the 50s and 60s, including  hot rods, customs and touring cars  -- are on exhibit accompanied by oldies - '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll music.

The Dixon May Fair had 30 food vendors, and while Conklin could not point to any new food trend, the tried and true seemed to sell best with the Rolled Taco being the fairgoer favorite. "Rolled Tacos are always the favorite here at Dixon," said Conklin. "The Rolled Taco has been here around 50 years.

Online Presence
The impact of the rain was likely lessened by the marketing of the fair that had a stronger online presence than previous years. The Dixon May Fair had an advertising budget of $34,960, about the same as last year. "Our budget has not changed significantly in the past 5 years," said Conklin. "We do re-direct allocations to target specific audiences for our entertainment, i.e. Country vs. Rock vs. Spanish language. We contract with a professional event marketing firm to handle all marketing aspects for the Fair."

The media mix was Broadcast:  $23,500; Outdoor digital billboards: $4,300;  Print: $6,160 and Online $1,000. Due to the structure of the current media landscape, the internet plays a much larger role in the scope of the media placement. 

"This online expenditure does not reflect our on-line advertising which is included as part of most of our broadcast and newspaper buys," said Conklin. "It  includes streaming, online contests, targeted email campaigns, and direct response (clicks) targeting to moms and families and people who like live entertainment."

She added, "we utilize non-paid opportunities with press releases, publicity, television stations which come on-site, outdoor signage in several key locations with banners up to 13 ft. x 40 ft. on buildings and semi-truck trailers. We only use Facebook for social media outreach."

Butler Midway
The Butler Amusement midway featured 25 rides, with 30 games and five food stands.  According to Shaffer, the company had the Dixon May Fair debut of the new Rock Star and Freak Out. The top rides were the Giant Wheel and Wacky Worm.  

The midway featured a Pay-One-Price every day of the fair, "advanced ticket sales were very strong, and there was a kids under 12 free day that was very good," said Shaffer. "The community is very supportive of this fair. We always love playing Dixon."

So far, the 2016 fair season for Butler Amusements - at least the unit known as Mick's Unit, which travels a California route - has been strong but not exceeding revenue levels from last year at this time. "We actually had a great bit of rain, and we actually lost one weekend because of the weather," said Shaffer. 

Another non-optimum factor specific to 2016 is the Presidential election. "Historically, the fair business is down when it's an election year. People do not seem to want to spend as freely. They are more conservative with their pocketbooks.  It's not down significantly, but it does seem off this year, and that trend seems to happen every election." 

 She added, "we're doing about the same as last year, it's not a record year."

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