Being held in the heart of America’s heartland, the Iowa State Fair has an iconic status among North American outdoor events. But this year’s fair may also represent a breakthrough for the fair industry in terms of bringing fairgoer transactions into the digital era.
Magic Money is one of the newest Radio-frequency identification (RFID) companies now specializing in the fair industry. Unlike many of their competitors, Magic Money is working not only with midway companies, but with also racking up several fairs, the most high-profile being the annual celebration of American agriculture and everything Iowa.
The company has been in the fair industry for about two years, which was preceded by about two years of research and development. In addition to Iowa, the company has contracts with the North Texas Fair and two carnival companies, Crabtree Amusements and Talley Amusements.
“Magic Money is a great way to stay current, to use updated technology and to offer the same customer experience that amusement parks and water parks offer,” said Doug Clarke Director of Sales. “But the update is more behind the scenes. It enhances the fair experience for customers, because there are shorter wait lines and it’s easier to enjoy the fair.”
Like most of these systems beginning to proliferate throughout the fair industry, Magic Money features kiosks, which accept cash, and credit/debit cards, which sell preloaded wristbands or cards, which can easily be reloaded during the course of the event. Transactions are made via scanners at the various points of purchased. The key to the system is its connectivity, which uses existing cellular networks. “Other systems, their connectivity can get bogged down, and companies have to spend time setting up wires and cables,” said Clarke. “We’ve created a robust system that is triple redundant and relies on the local cellular network.”
If the existing cellular networks do not have enough capacity or experience patches of no connectivity, Magic Money provides mobile cell sites – known as COWS (Cells on Wheels) – which are essentially portable cell towers that rapidly enhance and/or expand cellular networks as needed. According to Clarke, due to the density of the cellular networks in place, the company has rarely needed to deploy COWS. “The kiosks communicate with the cell towers, and we’ve only had to add an extra cell tower once, where we brought in the COWS to boost the system.”
Magic Money brings two key benefits to the midway: Fairgoer spending increases and better midway accounting practices. “The studies show that when people went from using cash to using credit cards, they spend more,” he said. “They spend less time waiting on lines to buy tickets, which can discourage spending. They are spending more money.”
In addition, by essentially automating purchases, the fair's workforce can be repurposed, creating more savings and efficiencies.
For the bookkeeping aspects, the digitized accountability has obvious bottom line advantages. “It eliminates fraud and theft,” he said. “Money can disappear at events, pilfering can occur. Our system is seamless and transparent.”
Key aspects of the system are that it is the high-level of “convenience of use” for both the fairgoer and ride company. In addition, there’s a transactional transparency. “With the reporting from the system, we are able to increase analytics and find out where people are spending money,” he said. In other words, the system is creating pools of data that both fairs and midway providers can use to improve profitability.
Other principals with Clarke in Magic Money include Brett Enright founder of Juicy Outlaw Grills and Michael Augins, who is CEO of the company. The Cost of the system, dependent on the size of the midway, can on average run under $100,000 said Clarke. Rental for fairs also vary, mainly due to the scope of the fair, the number of kiosks and scanning devices, but can be hover in the $50,000 range.
Clarke declined to give specifics on costs, but stressed the system is “affordable.”
While most fairs are interested in the rental option, larger and more active fairgrounds are investigating purchase for year-round use. Interest in the system is “high” among a variety of outdoor event related companies.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest directly from fairs,” said Clarke. “We’re getting more requests from fairs lately, because the carnival companies are going direct to cashless, fairs are looking to follow. It is a trend because people start using the cashless system at the midway; they want to use it throughout the fair.”
He added, “Our system is easy to use and set up is movable, we put all our energy & effort into make system widely robust and reliable. Operators with no experience in RFID easily learn our system and software within hours.
For the fair-wide system, not only are the rides and midway incorporated into the system, but also admission, parking, games, food, beverage and other vendors. “Fairs want a system that can include everything. People want one card to purchase everything, like they have at a Disney Land. They are already used to this sort of system at amusement parks, where the whole system is cashless.”
Crabtree Amusements has been a “cashless” midway for about 15 years, but using a token system. This year, the midway provider changed the cashless from token into the card and wristband Magic Money System. While Pat Crabtree admits the company is still analyzing data such as how much per-capita spending rose, “the customers liked it, they liked the downloadable app. People love using their credit card on the midway.”
Knowing that adapting to cashless card systems was inevitable for a 21st century midway provider, Crabtree researched the market and settled on Magic Money mainly due to its usage of the existing cellular network “We didn’t have to build our own Wi-Fi system, I like the cellular system and that has worked. We’ve added more vending machines for preloaded tickets. The system was more user-friendly than the others on the market right now. It works for us.”