This year, the South Carolina State Fair celebrated its 147th year. Assistant Fair Manager Nancy Smith says that the 2016 fair was "one of the best we've ever had."
A self-proclaimed "riding and eating fair," the South Carolina State Fair is committed to providing diverse and extensive vendors as well as an impressive Midway for its customers to enjoy. While riding and eating are important, the fair also stays consistent to its mission: to educate young adults in South Carolina about agriculture.
Attendance increased from 429,947 in 2015 to 464,878 despite Hurricane Matthew taking away a day of fair set up; "We were very blessed that everyone was safe and we ended up with 12 gorgeous days of weather," said Smith.
The dramatic increase in attendance was a result of the South Carolina State Fair's commitment to providing many and diverse admission special days. On opening day, admission is $1; the goal is to start the fair off with strong attendance. Every day of the fair, active duty and retired military personnel get into the fair free. In addition, on the first Thursday of the fair, they partnered with Fort Jackson, the largest local military base, to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Also on Thursday, the fair hosted South Carolina Farm Bureau day as well as a 4-H alumni day; they held a luncheon for 4-H alumni in order to foster "mentoring of young 4-H folks and encourage them in their agricultural endeavors," says Smith. On Saturday, 4-H members get into the fair free with their membership card, further demonstrating the fair's commitment to agriculture.
During the weekdays, the fair offers a lunch special starting at 12pm; people pay $10 to get into the fair and are given a token, if they leave the fair by 2pm they get their $10 back. This special caters to working men and women who want to have lunch at the fair.
The fair also held many education-related specials including Kindergarden day on Tuesday and Wednesday: students, teachers, and chaperones get in free for field trips to the fair and Physics Day: high school physics classes get in free and study the physical aspects of the rides.
One of the fair's newer admission specials is "College Day," a day on which college students get into the fair free with a valid student ID. Smith says they had great participation again this year and even hosted some students from USC's rival school, Clemson.
The fair also hosts Senior Day: seniors get in at a reduced rate and get free Ferris Wheel rides as well as Exceptional Citizens Day: citizens with disabilities and their caretakers get into the fair for free. On the last Saturday of the fair, they hosted Scout Heritage Day and partnered with USC Football, giving free admission prior to kickoff to people with a USC football ticket. Finally, the fair gave free admission to those with a Walk For Life T-Shirt on the last Saturday and Sunday of the fair.
The South Carolina State Fair partners with North American Midway Entertainment as their Midway provider.
For the first time this year, the fair offered pay one price ride specials every day of the fair. The promotion was extremely successful and customers were very pleased to have a pay one price option each day. The fair sold pay one price tickets both online and in Walgreens; "NAME did a great job with us and were just as pleased with the success of the pay one price ride options as we were" says Smith.
In addition to the Midway, the fair had plenty of entertainment for guests. The 5,000 seat Pepsi Grandstand hosted 6 concerts throughout the fair: two paid and four free.
The free concerts included: Aloe Blacc, Dustin Lynch, For King and Country, and Curt Franklin. The two paid concerts were Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alabama, both of which were sellouts.
Smith mentioned that finding sell-out entertainment for everyone has become more challenging overtime but the fair is devoted to finding diverse entertainment that appeals to every demographic.
On their family entertainment stages, the fair hosted the Lou-Ma Cool Dog Show, Swifty Swine, Sandscapes, Dennis Lee, Benny the Clown, a comedy juggler, The Country River Band, and the hypnotist Ron Diamond, who said he had his biggest crowd ever on college night of the fair.
The Hampton Plaza area held the BMX stunt show and Safari Acrobats. Numerous roving acts such as Circle City Sidewalk Stompers, Mariachi Divas, and T-Texas Terry kept customers entertained wherever the were on the fairgrounds. The fair also featured a "yester-year" area which featured old-timey demonstrations such as the rust and flame blacksmith, a potter, and bowl-making demonstrations. 2016 South Carolina State Fairgoers were not disappointed in the entertainment arena.
The 4-H and FFA area of the South Carolina State Fair hosted livestock shows of all varieties as well as a plethora of domestic exhibits. Nancy Smith, assistant fair manager, said that there were participants from every county in this year's 4-H and FFA competitions.
The domestic exhibits and demonstrations were held inside fairgrounds buildings. Exhibits included woodworking, sewing, needlework, baking, healthy lifestyle cooking contests, lego/robotics demonstrations, pumpkin decorating competitions, giant pumpkin displays, Bee exhibits (complete with a huge balloon beehive), and butterfly exhibits. All agriculture and insect exhibits were complete with educational placards in order to keep the focus on informing South Carolina's youth.
This year, the fair decided to combine their flower and art exhibits together; this was a huge success. They were able to partner with the Palmetto Opera on the 1st Saturday of the fair; two opera singers with accompaniment on the keyboard entertained guest in the fine arts exhibits area.
Additionally, the South Carolina Philharmonic brought 25 performers to the fine arts area and displayed their "you conduct it" program; fairgoers were able to step up to the empty podium and conduct the philharmonic. Smith said the partnerships were immensely successful and gave the fine arts building a really cultured feel; they look forward to pursuing those partnerships again next year.
Livestock shows at the fair included rabbit showmanship, poultry showmanship, 4-H meat goat show, dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, sheep, donkeys, mules, horses and dairy goats. This year, about 90 kids participated in the meat goat show: the fair's biggest showing ever!
The 4-H and FFA students hosted border collie demonstrations; the dogs herded sheep and ducks for fairgoers to see. 4-H and FFA also helped man Cow Town, an area in which people could milk the animals and get a hands-on education about agriculture and livestock industries.
As we know, the food at the South Carolina State Fair is an important aspect to its success. One of the favorite stands this year was DeAnna's Food Concession Stand which served a variety of diverse sundaes: a steak sundae, breakfast sundae, pulled pork sundae, and a bayou sundae. All the sundaes were huge hits with customers. A new food this year was deep fried cake pops which became a crowd favorite very quickly.
Daley Concessions featured a pickled corndog this year which many brave fairgoers gave a try. Lastly, a quesadilla burger was a popular food option for customers.
The South Carolina State Fair operates with a $300,000 advertising budget. Typically, the fair outsources marketing to a local company but, for the first time this year, the fair decided to compose a marketing team of their own; "The team worked out very well. We know the fair so that made it easier for us to make marketing and advertising decisions that worked well for the fair," says Smith.
They spent the advertising budget on television, billboards, the state newspaper, and radio spots; they also host radio and television stations on the grounds every day of the fair.
Additionally, the fair redid their website and increased their social media budget this year to keep up with the ever-developing digital media age.
The South Carolina State Fair is a 501 C-3 organization and, therefore, does not receive state support. They focus on their mission of educating South Carolina's youth and commit to this mission by giving out $300,000 in scholarships for high school senior pursuing in-state college education.