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Carnival & Fair News
Carnival & Fair News
Houghton Enterprises braves early snow, rising costs
Friday, April 27, 2018
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Jim Houghton started out in the business in 1965 tearing down rides with his brother and brother-in-law. As he worked on the show, the owner, Phil Garrett, took Jim under his wing and mentored him in the ways of the carnival industry.

Phil Garrett died in 1979 and Jim became partners in the show with Phil’s wife. When she passed away in 1981, Jim partnered up with the rest of the family to keep the business going. In 1981, Jim incorporated his business with his wife and called it Jim Houghton Enterprises. Five years ago, he dropped the “Jim” and stuck with Houghton Enterprises.

Jim’s sons, Jimmy and Jason, bought a couple new rides for the show this year. Jimmy purchased a Wipeout ride from Swika and Jason bought a Teacup ride from Kolmax. Both Jimmy and Jason have food and games that travel with the show. “Everything on the midway is 100% company owned,” says Houghton.

The Houghton family centered their business in Cochranville, Pennsylvania which is also where their winter quarters is located. “I bought a farm there in 1981 and it’s about 5 acres,” says Houghton. Quite a few rides and other projects were updated at the winter quarters this year. The Gravitron ride got a complete overhaul and Houghton says it looks fantastic. The Skymaster ride got a new lighting system and the Pharoah’s Fury had a lot of electrical and lighting work done. “We may have gone a little overboard in the shop this year, but everything looks fantastic so I’m happy with the work we've done,” says Houghton.

Currently, Houghton Enterprises travels with 20-23 rides but the show splits up quite a bit, according to Houghton. Jimmy and Jason are each in charge of one unit. Toward the end of the summer, what Houghton called the "fair season,” the show comes back together as one unit. The show plays spots mainly in the northeast and surrounding Pennsylvania, but when the shows split the spots are normally 50-80 miles apart.

The Houghton family truly does run the show from stem to stern, most of the key staff members have the last name “Houghton.” In addition to the rides, the show has 25 games and about 10 food stands. Each person within the Houghton family owns concessions of some kind. Jim and his wife Gladys own food, Jimmy and his wife Christine own concessions, and Jason and his wife, Sara also own food. Sara also runs the office on Jason’s unit. “She does a little bit of everything,” says Jim.

The Houghtons will be playing a few new spots this year. They picked up the Hartford Farm Fair in Maryland and a few new church spots in June and July. “We have about 5 new locations total,” says Houghton. “We had to give up a spot after playing it for 25 or 26 years. We just couldn't make it anymore. It’s a shame.” Houghton shared many other carnival owners’ concerns about the strange Spring weather. “Our Easter location came out about 5% down because of rain and snow. Who would’ve expected snow in April?” Says Houghton.

Houghton Enterprises has about 30 employees who travel with the show. “We have a few people who come in every night and work other jobs during the day,” says Houghton. They use Recreation By Design bunkhouses for the show and Jason is expecting a new bunkhouse from them any day now. All Houghton Enterprises employees are domestic laborers. Jimmy tried to apply for H2B labor last year and this year but was turned down both times. “Jimmy really wanted the H2B help in his food joints. We have found that it’s easier to keep ride employees rather than food employees,” says Houghton. Despite the lack of H2B labor, Houghton feels that they’re overall fortunate with the employees they have now.

When asked about goals for the year, Houghton says he’s trying to focus on watching his costs. “This is an expensive business. It costs a lot of money to be out here. We have money coming in but it feels like it's going out just as fast,” says Houghton.

Safety is a top priority for Houghton Enterprises. Houghton mentioned the tragic Fireball accident in Ohio and said that he feels inspectors come out and look a little harder than normal but that safety has not been a problem for them.

Houghton Enterprises ends its season the first week in November in New Castle, Delaware at a Shriners event. The entire month of October, Houghton plays a Halloween event with 15 of their rides and the food stands. The event gets about 75,000 to 80,000 people and is a nice still spot for the Houghtons. Currently, Houghton Enterprises is playing two spots: St Gregory Church Carnival in Philadelphia, PA and the Smyrna 4th of July Committee Carnival in Smyrna, Delaware.

In order to reach out to the community and encourage attendance at their events, the Houghton family uses Innovative Marketing to promote the events on Facebook. Additionally, they sell advance sale unlimited ride wristbands for their events through Innovative Ticketing. Wristbands are sold at a $5 discount up until the day before the event. There is also a $2 off a wristband coupon available for each of their events through the Houghton Enterprises website.

Despite nasty weather at the beginning of the season, Houghton is optimistic about the rest of his company’s 2018 run. “It looks like it's going to be a good season. I think we’re prepared and have done a lot of work to make it great. We just need the weather. Good weather equals good days,” says Houghton.

Houghton Enterprises

Houghton Enterprises

Houghton Family
Jason Houghton, his son Blake, and Jim Houghton attend the IISF Trade Show in Gibtown

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