Mark Lovell's company, Universal Fairs, owns and manages nine different fairs across the country. Lovell cites his dedicated staff and ability to create and promote a good product as the keys to his business's longevity.
Lovell's line-up of fairs includes a few new or upcoming events as well as some longstanding ones. Lovell uses different carnival companies and expects different numbers of customers at each of his events. According to Lovell, the success of an event depends mostly on the availability of a carnival company and the location of the event.
The West Valley Fair and Festival in Glendale, AZ is a three day event; attendance was about 40,000 people and Lovell used Butler Amusements for this particular fair.
One of Universal Fair's new events, the Fresno Spring Fair, also used Butler Amusements and drew about 40,000 people to the gates.
Another new event, the Sun City Fair in El Paso TX, had an impressive crowd of 75,000 and featured Reed Expositions as the midway provider.
Next, Universal Fairs headed to Washington, DC for the RFK fair; partnering with Amusements of America as the Midway provider, the RFK fair drew a 60,000 person crowd this year.
At the Delta Fair in Memphis TN, an event Universal Fairs has put on for about ten years, 240,000 people came through the gates and enjoyed the Amusements of America Midway.
The Georgia State Fair, held right outside of Atlanta, drew 110,000 people; Lovell again partnered with Amusements of America for this event.
A new event coming next May, the Carolina Fair in Charlotte, NC, should see a crowd of about 70,000 and Amusements of America will be providing the Midway.
The Bluff City Fair and Octoberfest, both in Memphis TN, draw a crowd of about 30,000-40,000 people and Lowery Carnival is the midway partner.
Lovell keeps a staff of nine in his Universal Fairs office. Staff members have the following roles: IT, Graphic Design/Social Media, Bookkeepers, Salesmen for commercial exhibit space, Operations, and Lovell's right-hand assistant. Lovell says his goal is to "teach new skills and create new jobs" for people in his office, as long as he has a good staff behind him, he is able to produce and manage quality events across the country.
Lovell's golden rule to producing a successful event is to heavily promote the product. Universal Fairs advertises by using pretty much every medium possible: handbills, billboards, local print, television, radio, and, of course, social media.
Lovell states that using social media to promote an event is very effective and he makes it a practice to host giveaways and contests on the event's Facebook page.
For example, Universal Fairs hosted a poster contest for the Delta Fair through Facebook.
Advertising and promoting the fairs allows Lovell to educate the consumer about new things coming to long-running events and brand new events coming to new locations.
Universal Fairs' advertising budget varies based on location as well price of radio, television, and billboard advertising which ranges from location to location. However, Lovell says they always spend within the $50,000-$250,000 range.
When asked about the differences between managing a private fair versus a county fair and the challenges that come with this business, Lovell cites money as the differentiating factor. "When you run your own event, you're spending your money, not somebody else's money. It's a lot easier to waste other people's money."
Lovell preaches frugality as a must when producing and managing an event. Lovell says that weather is the biggest challenge in this industry; "It's very easy to do. Put together a good product, promote the heck out of it and then show up and do the deal." According to Lovell, as long as the weather cooperates and the product is good, the fair should be a success.
Universal Fairs is always looking for new places to run events. Lovell says finding a good spot for a new event depends on a combination of carnival company availability, finding a city or town that doesn't have a fair near the same time, and spotting a good location in that city or town.
Lovell produces fairs in places where the community wants a fair and a carnival company is ready to jump on board; "They have to want us, we don't do uphill battles for a new event."
Universal Fairs' reputation in the industry also helps the company and Lovell find new spots for fairs. Building a track record of good events and establishing connections with entertainers, vendors, and carnival companies across the country provides them with a valued database when scouting new locations.
Establishing a new fair versus continuing a long-running one is always a little more difficult, according to Lovell. A long-running event establishes a core group of people in the area that expect and look forward to the fair's arrival around the same time each year whereas a fair in a new location requires education of the people in the area. A more cohesive promotion plan and careful choosing of the event's name are important when establishing a new fair.
Lovell focuses on community involvement at his fairs. He uses local food vendors and reaches out to local dance studios, bands, and vocal coaches to provide additional entertainment at the fair.
He even manages to incorporate a local livestock component in some of his fairs, an element often missing at privately-run fairs.
Additionally, he works with local charities to spread their message at the event. When hiring entertainers for his various fairs, Lovell tries to achieve a balance of acts that will delight audiences of all ages. A combination of ground acts, thrill shows, animal shows, and kid friendly acts such as magic shows and music groups allows Lovell to reach every demographic at the fair and maintain a community focus.
Lovell plans to expand Universal Fairs as long as he has the staff members to support new events. "We don't want to work ourselves to death. Right now we're doing what we can handle and doing it well. If we can take on more, then we will."
Lovell is currently expanding his role in the community as he was just elected as a State Representative for District 95. Lovell attributes his election success to the lessons he has learned producing events. "I out-promoted or out-worked them all, it's just like running an event. I knocked on more doors, called more people, and attended more events." Lovell will report to the State General Assembly 45 days a year between January and April, in between running his large slate of events.