Networking, fellowship and the latest in rides, equipment, plush and other carnival products await attendees to the 2019 International Independent Showmen's Association's IISF trade show. The first premier event of the New Year for the fair and mobile amusement industry, this annual gathering in Gibsonton, Fla., will feature an extensive exhibitor showcase, an in-depth H-2B visa seminar and a hands-on food safety handling certification workshop.
With new regulations, H2B Visa uncertainty, and a government shutdown disrupting aspects of all businesses nationwide, owners and managers coming to the largest trade organization representing midway providers seem to have a general consensus that the fair industry saw a mix of record attendance for many and severe declines for others, mainly due to extreme weather events afflicting both coasts. Given these factors, the Gibtown event may be more crucial in 2019 than ever before.
Attendee and exhibitor registration is running comparable to last year, according to Teresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary for the IISF, indicating that the size and scope of the event will live up to its usual high expectations. “We're close to the same numbers as last year,” said Rimes in mid-January, a hectic time for the event as the last-minute changes, schedule adjustments and companies vying for the few remaining slots nears completion. “The industry is very upbeat, people are excited about the fair industry and excited about coming to the trade show. You really don't hear anything negative about the industry so I am assuming everybody had a good year.”
The core attraction of the Trade Show is the exhibition floor. What has become commonly known as the Gibtown Show, the event is still one of the largest exhibitions of rides, trailers, equipment and products for carnival companies and outdoor event concessionaires in North America. The Gibtown show both unofficially ends the three month trade show season – which begins in November with the IAAPA Convention – and is the last, major industry gathering before the fair season begins.
For many carnival companies and their concessionaire partners it's their last chance to see the latest, fill in gaps and generally finalize their operational perpetrations before heading out on their routes to provide midways and family-friendly entertainment to the fairs, festivals and other outdoor events throughout North America.
“People come because they know will see the new items, the new rides, trailers, game and food items that they are going to need for their fairs and fair boards,” said Rimes.
Ready to Buy
Product categories that are experiencing upticks on the extensive trade show floor include printing and ticketing companies, wrap companies and plush companies. In addition, she mentioned new exhibitors include a cool water fan company that Rimes said made a big “splash” at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention and several foreign ride manufactures, particularly a company from the Czech Republic who will be unveiling a new Triple Decker Funhouse, “that is very exciting,” said Rimes.
Due to its timing on the calendar, the IISF Trade Show is known as a “writing” show. Unlike many industry conventions and meetings where promotions and PR are the main reason for exhibitors to occupy the trade show floor, Gibtown attendees come eager to place orders. It also appears that all signs point to brisk businessclimate for the 2019 event.
“It's the last trade show before the season kicks off,” Sidney Karmia of Toy Factory, a plush company that will be celebrating its 20th anniversary at the Gibtown event. While other trade shows where the company exhibits also serve amusement parks and other facilities, “Gibtown is more of the traveling amusement business. A high percentage of the people there are buying, and everyone is writing orders. In my eyes it's the best writing trade show for our industry. If you have the rides, you have to have the games.”
Of course, with games comes prizes. “2019 has to be the most looked forward to year of the last 10 years. There was real devastation to many fairs from the rains. From March through September, I've never ever seen so many rainouts. It has to be better.”
In terms of plush, while there's no dominant licensing trends comparable to the Despicable Me prize popularity, there's many other licensed products, such as Halo and Minecraft, that will certainly entice players to midway games. The “hottest property,” he said will be Pokémon plush. “There's a new Pokémon coming out this year and they're adding new characters. It's nice merchandise.”
When attendees aren't buying, they will be learning. The IISF Trade is presenting a series of workshops and seminars covering crucial industry issues and filling key instructional needs. ''
The ServSafe Certification Class is held four days of the IISF trade show. Conducted by Dominic Cianciola, educational director for Last Call Training, those completing the half-day course of study receive their National Food Safety Manager certification by the National Registry of Food Service Professionals. A record of this certification will be made available online, accessible to state and local health inspectors, who increasingly mandate managers of food concessions at fairs and other outdoor events to have earned this certification. The certification is recognized in all 50 states.
This year's class covers the newly released FDA Food Model Code 2018, the new federal guidelines that most states use to write their own statutes.
According to Cianciola, new guidelines include Food Defense Systems, which are new protection protocols to prevent food tampering, new Ice and Water Quality Standards, new Parasitic Destruction Laws and the new Truth in Menu laws. “More than 600 restaurants in Florida got violations under the Truth in Menu laws, it's something food inspectors are looking for.”
The ServSafe Certification Class will also feature the latest in Food Allergy Awareness Training, an issue many concessionaires have heretofore ignored. “It hasn't really affected food concessions at fairs until now,” he explains. “But this year it is going to be required by many states and municipalities. Concessions have to be particularly aware of cross contact contamination when it comes to food handling."
The class covers everything from handling to signage and address protections against the five major food borne illnesses: Norovirus, Hepatitis A, Salmonella, Shigella and E.coli. “Every year we go more in depth because the guidelines keep changing,” said Cianciola. “We are seeing more managers and employees at the classes. The more people on the team who are trained, the easier the inspection process is.”
The majority of carnival companies agree that the most pressing issue for the entire fair industry is the dire status of the H-2B worker program. An update and status report on the program will be covered in a seminar conducted by James Judkins of JKJ Workforce with the eye opening title of H-2B Apocalypse. To give a sense of bad things have gotten in 2019, the 2018 seminar was called: H-2B Train Wreck.
From mere disaster to full blown Armageddon is quite a leap. To make matters worse – if conceivably possible – the ongoing government shutdown, over funding for the border wall, has made the present and future of the entire foreign worker visa program unknown. In other words, until one crisis is resolved the other crisis cannot even be addressed. Judkins promises that the information presented at the topic will be as current as possible.
“The issue is that there is no set agenda right now as the situation can change at any point in time, depending upon what happens in Washington,” said Judkins. “So the seminar would be based upon exactly what the situation is at the time the seminar takes place. Right now there are only 25 percent of the visas necessary to meet the needs of those applying for temporary seasonal workers. And this is all tied in with the Trump-Pelosi battle and the mobile entertainment industry is collateral damage of their political battle. We will discuss the situation as it exists on Wednesday February 6th, with possible paths forward, and strategies of survival."
Immediately following the apocalyptic workshop will be an Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) presentation: “What the OABA is Doing for You.” Presented by OABA Executive Board members on Wednesday in the Carousel Event Center topics that will be covered include: State Amusement Ride Regulations, ASTM Standards relative to ride corrosion and welding the new, OABA “VOLT” on-line education program for employees; and other programs and communications.
Later in the week at the OABA's 54th Annual Member Meeting and Chair's Reception, the OABA will officially swear in Greg Chiecko as its new President and CEO. The organization will also bid an official adieu to President Bob Johnson, who is retiring after 24 years at the helm of the OABA.
“The (IISF) trade show is a wonderful trade show and it's a week where the Showmen's League, NICA and the OABA can join forces,” said Johnson. “We are also able to take the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful history of carnivals and circuses and celebrate our Hall of Fame and Industry pioneers. There will be lots of fanfare.”
CARNIVAL SAFETY SEMINAR
Carnival Safety and Documentation presented by Avery Wheelock of World Wide Safety Group, Inc. is another key seminar at the Gibtown Event. The Safety Seminars review both workplace safety and equipment inspection protocols, covering what is needed for both OSHA and Ride inspectors. More importantly, these seminars cover the critical topic of documentation. Carnival Companies must not only be up to date on protocols and procedures, but absolutely current on what documentation is required.
“Documenting maintenance and inspections is important and that is what is stressed,” said Wheelock. “If you don't document, you didn't do it. In court, plaintiffs ask for all maintenance records, and if it not correctly recorded, you are in trouble. You have to show operator training and ride companies have to be as well trained in the documentation. So many lawsuits are coming and they hurt our whole industry if you don't have the proper paperwork.”
A worsening H-2B crisis and more intensive ride and food safety inspection might underscore the seriousness of the issues the carnival industry faces in 2019, but providing midways is as much about fun as the midways themselves. And fun will not be in short supply at the 2019 Gibtown Show.
IISA BANQUET & BALL
Rinda Popovich, the outgoing President of the IISA has organized this year's IISA's Annual Banquet & Ball around the theme “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend.” The theme invokes the glamor and excitement of Rat Pack era Hollywood and attendees are encouraged to wear “dressy attire,” and have fun at what is tantamount to the last industry party before another fair season begins. “I think it's going to be great,” said Popovich. “We have a lot of young people volunteering, they have really stepped up this year. It's a fun time and people seem very excited about the industry this year.”