This year started out promising for Reithoffer Shows, but then came a cold and damp spring. Carnival companies may invest in new equipment and other upgrades, create stronger marketing collaborations with event organizers, maintain a sizeable, trained work-force but weather still remains out of their control.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” said Richard “Rick” Reithoffer of Reithoffer Shows, but even he admits the first half of 2018 challenged this outlook.
Like most years, the 2018 season begins in February in Florida, a route dominated by large county fairs: “From Fort Meyers to Naples,” he said. “Florida was a very good run this season, the fairs there are doing quite well.”
Chilly & Rainy
By spring, the route shifts to the northeast, to smaller events – parking lots, shopping centers, firemen fundraisers – filling the gap before the bulk of the season is in full force.
Unfortunately, it was one of the worst springs ever for this fourth generation midway provider. “The whole spring, has been wet and cold in the northeast,” said Reithoffer. “I’ve talked to some of my friends in the business, owners of other carnival companies, and they all are experienced the same thing. It was wet and cold the entire spring, especially on the weekends. We didn’t get a weekend without rain until the middle of May. But you have to keep going to get you to the fair time.”
What magnified the frustration of this drop off in business was the fact his Blue Unit (Reithoffer Shows is divided into two units; his brother Pat runs the Orange Unit) was well prepared to maximize revenue this year. The winter was well-spent in improving his unit’s ride arsenal. These upgrades included a “huge, new” European Slide, featuring a trailer-mounted center station, which eases set up of the ride, as well as a new Galaxy Coaster, a Himalaya, and a Mulligan Wheel featuring a brand new LED light system that premiered last year. In addition, the company has “converted more than 99 percent of his rides and equipment” to LED lighting. “Both my brother and I have retrofitted our rides; it’s been a five year process. It looks gorgeous, beautiful and it really saves power.”
With gasoline and other energy costs spiking upwards in the past six months, controlling these costs has again become crucial to the bottom line, especially during an under-performing spring. How much of a savings can a 99 percent LED outfitted midway accrue? “Let me put it this way, when I’m nearing the end of the night, I’m still running one diesel generator, I haven’t even started the second diesel generator.”Upgrades & Safety
Besides new rides and a sparkling refurbishment of existing equipment, Reithoffer’s 2018 midway boasted new amenities, including new benches and a new 14’ x 14’ rest area tent,complete with LED light fixtures and phone chargers. “People can stay connected to the midway, it’s a beautiful, well-lit, inviting area.”
Equipment and midway upgrades were not the only priorities for this winter break. In the aftermath of the Ohio State Fair ride accident, which had one fatality and seven injured, ride manufacturers issued new inspection and maintenance guidelines.
“The companies sent out bulletins about how to avoid rot problems in the rides which led to the accident in Ohio,” he said. These new safety protocols meant a new round of preventative maintenance on the entire ride inventory of the company.
The biggest impediment he overcame was a work-force, but the H-2B woes had subsided by the start of the season. Reithoffer sits on the board of directors omf the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, and has been heavily involved in the lobbying efforts to ensure that these companies can hire foreign guest workers. While the legislative battle has been more intensive – especially with the anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric coming from the Executive Branch – but Reithoffer says he “was able to get our workers, and so was my bother. It’s a very difficult scenario, but we were getting our workers this year.”
He added that the problem is, “You can’t get Americans do this work anymore, they don’t want to work with their hands, they don’t want to become electricians or learn hydraulics. People say they can’t find jobs, but they’re plenty of jobs, but you have to be a tradesmen and work with your hands.”
One reason the H-2B battle seemed won for at least this season has been the support by the fairs. “We have gotten tremendous support from the IAFE and fairs.” Season Structure
Being flush with workers though also meant a “huge payroll” during a chilly, damp spring weekends. But Reithoffer’s optimism seemed rewarded when he spoke with Carnival Warehouse during the final days of June, when the carnival company was setting up for the Brocton Fair in Massachusetts with a weather forecast of clear, hot summer weather. Having begun in the business in 1971, this veteran of the midway is familiar with the ebb and flow of the fair season. The peak of his business occurs in August; on any given year approximately 75 percent of his revenue is generated from July-to-October. “We still have time to recoup our losses.”
The Reithoffer family’s roots in the American Fair industry date back to 1896 when the family patriarch Julius purchased a steam-driven carousel. Rick grew up on the midway, officially joining the business in 1971. He’s the 4th generation to carry on the family tradition, and according to the company’s website: “the fifth generation of Reithoffers have graduated and now joined the family business. While the 6th generation is just starting college!”
When asked what has been the biggest change he’s seen in the industry, he echoed many a fair industry veteran’s familiar lament. “There’s more and more paperwork every year, not just the H-2B visas, but new DOT regulations. There are more regulations every year and more paperwork than I ever could have imagined.”
But what he still loves about the industry has remained relatively unchanged. “I love seeing people enjoying the rides, it still turns me on, families, kids, teenagers, having a good time on our rides.”
Fun experiences may occur in any number of places, but the uniqueness of the fair experience is the interaction. “With other things, like football or hockey, you’re not the player, you’re in the crowd, you’re a spectator. But with midway rides you are having the actual experience, you are not watching the thrill, you are the person enjoying the thrill.”New for 2018 - The Euro Slide