Two of the biggest players on any fair season have favored the Canadian unit of NAME (North American Midway Entertainment) route this summer: Climate and disposable income.
“The weatherman and the economy have been cooperating,” said Scooter Korek, Vice President of Client Services, NAME, who is also completing a two year term as president of Canadian Association of Fairs & Exhibitos.
“We had some hot weather, but overall it’s pretty good,” he said. “The Canadian economy has been doing pretty well this year. The increase in the price of oil has helped, that affects Western Canada. There’s been more participation this year.”
The impact of the recession, banking crisis and rising unemployment is still being felt even in the U.S., although data indicates that the U.S. began turning the corner about two years ago. The recession lingered longer in our neighbor to the north, but this season in contrast to 2017 is showing a noticeable improvement. “People are more upbeat, they are reasonably positive,” he said. “We are doing really well, our advanced sales are up at every fair we play.
Nothing like summer weather and economic upswings to make for a positive fair season. But Korek emphasizes that the events themselves, particularly the large ones, are doing better. It’s not just healthy turnouts or more Canadian dollars in the wallets but the fairs themselves.
“Fairs are doing extremely well,” he said. “They are offering participation in real life experiences. It’s a family thing, a boy and girl on a date, it gets a lot of people off their phones. You offer them a big package of a real roller coaster, real cheeseburgers, and the outlook for fairs is very positive.”
He did note that in general, the larger fairs such as the Calgary Stampede or CNE, which was about to open when Korek spoke to Carnival Warehouse, are doing better than some of the smaller events. “The larger events have the bigger budgets, they are getting better entertainment and that is bringing people in. The bigger fairs are not cutting back not because of a few years of recession.”
The Canadian Fairs have also become foodie central. At the Calgary Stampede last month, the extreme food craze saw the continued popularity of the extreme foods craze such as Cricket Grilled Cheese and Prairie Oyster Balls to unique new twists on traditional fair food, such as The Big Pickle Tornado Dog, a new corn dog variant.
“It used to be that three things that got people through the gates: free entertainment, food and midway, in that order,” he explained. “But I think food has become number one, and the reason is targeted marketing and presentation. The fairs market the food better, and there’s media coverage about the food at the fair.”
In the food network era, food stories abound and anything fried or on a stick reminds the local media the fair is back. But that’s not the only food trend fairs have been encouraging in new and compelling ways. Like in the U.S., celebration of agriculture is key to most Canadian Fairs and the farm to fork movement has captured the imagination of the fair going public. “The fairs are doing new things showing how food gets to the table, that’s a growing trend,” said. “They are doing better demonstrations, and it’s a great tie in for the fair. People want to see the agriculture programs and the how they are showing the food are grown and makes it to your home is pretty cool.”
Food is part of the Canadian Unit of NAME midway of course, but their niche is supplying the traditional cuisine. “”We focus on what we do well. Our philosophy is that if you don’t do it well, don’t do it at all. We focus on traditional midway food, like classic pizza and corn dogs.”
Like the classic fair foods, for the 2018 season, the Canadian unit of NAME brought back a beloved old-school ride, a completely refurbished Zipper. “We had taken it out and we have done a complete renovation in appearance and mechanical. The Zipper had a been a stronghold of our equipment lineup and it’s a been doing great. The Zipper always had a strong following in Western Canada.”
In addition, every year the company upgrades guest services and amenities. “We keep adding to the program.”
Another ongoing expansion has been the marketing partnerships with fairs. “We were trendsetters in marketing with our fairs, especially when it comes to advanced ticket sales, with the midway and gate admission. We work in collaboration with the fairs, coordinate our marketing.”
While evolution of social media marketing via smartphones may be the latest technological iteration, technology has been the biggest change for this industry veteran. “The technology has clicked in for all of us. We are able to move information faster, it has made us a safer industry, improved communications with fairs and customers. Technology has had the biggest impact on the outdoor amusement industry than anything else.”
But somethings never change. “There is still a huge appeal for fairs and for midways. People still want that live experience of a fair.”