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Butler Amusements at 50: Strong Economy, Proactive Fairs & Spectacular Rides

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Butler Amusements Celebrates 50 Years in 2020

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The largest California-based carnival company turns 50 in 2020 and the outlook is positive, if the economy remains as strong as it was in 2019 and the weather follows 2018 patterns.  As Sean Butler,  Chief Operating Officer & Unit Manager of Butler Amusement explains, “2018 was very dry and with the economy starting to boom we had a stellar 2018. In 2019 we had a very wet spring but luckily the summer had some big hits and we set records at most of our fairs from June onward.  All in all, a great year. Overall our fair season either matched 2018 or was up slightly.”

Butler Amusements is unique, even among the cadre of the largest carnival companys. The company has a ride inventory upwards of 150 rides and for much of the summer, the company runs three main units, although  the units merge for the larger fairs during the summer. The company consistently ranks 4th on Carnival Warehouses' annual list of Carnival Companies playing the Top 50 Fairs, which in 2019 included : Big Fresno Fair, the California State Fair, Alameda County Fair, Kern County Fair, and the Evergreen Fair. Typically, the seasons begins in January and concludes in mid-October, followed by a coda of two Christmas events in  December.


Tough Start, Good Finish

The second decade of the 21st century was not always as positive as its final years, especially on the west coast, which was ravaged by the Great Recession, and for California especially, plagued by a drought that negatively impacted the state's agricultural industry. “This region was hit pretty hard by the recession a few years ago and it seemed to linger longer,” said Butler. Now, the economy is very strong in California, there are still some cities in the central valley of California that are struggling to recover from the recession.  All of our fairs, except for one or two are done with drought restrictions in California, but most of our fair partners have tried to keep control of water waste.”

But as the season begins, like most carnival companies, workforce issues cause the most apprehension. In the 2020 season, the company will employ “340 H-2B employees and around 75 American employees for our rides,” said Butler. “We had to start our 2019 & 2020 season a full month earlier than we ever had in the past in order to secure the employees we need for our season.”

As finding and hiring qualified personnel becomes more challenging, the company has also geared up training and retention programs, realizing that the company growth requires a stable and skilled workforce.  “ Our employees are the lifeblood of our company and industry; we have been very lucky to get them,” he said. “Just like any company that has been around for over a generation, we have to train more people to learn positions that some of our core employees have been in for decades.  We have had many great new additions to our staff in the last couple of years and we will have to continue to add more as time goes on.”


Fair & Event Security

The other worry – but also a rising cost— of this California company is safety. Security is a nationwide issue but last summer, a mass shooting took place at a small fair in California, sending shockwaves throughout the west coast fair & festival industry. The lethal incident occurred at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, a popular fair well-known among foodie circles. The gunman killed himself and three others, and wounded 17 people.  Understandingly, increased security measures have been reviewed and most outdoor events are implementing stricter measures and protocols.     

 “Security at our fairs is becoming very expensive due to local events like the Gilroy Garlic Festival tragedy and the fear of terrorism,” said Butler. “ We endure a portion of the cost of security at our fairs and all of the cost at our still events, which has cut our bottom-line overall.
In honor of the half-century milestone, staff uniforms will feature new designs, with new anniversary logos. What fairgoers might notice more however is a bigger, brighter and more spectacular midway. “We have added a couple of new LED midway signs from Galaxy Amusement Supply as well as many different beautification displays,” he said. “ We will continue to beautify our midways and increase customer experience at our fairs in 2020.”

The spectacular part though, due to fairgoer and fair board's requests, will be most noticeable in the ride inventory. “Spectacular rides are the focal point of most of our fairs,” he said. “The most asked question from our partners is “What is going to be new at our fair this year?” We are focusing on maximizing our larger, more spectacular rides.”

In addition, the 2020 inventory will have six refurbished rides and two key new additions. “We purchased a new Himalaya themed “Hawaiian Express” from Wisdom and a Afterburner 2.0 from KMG.”

New Himalaya from Wisdom
The company has also expanded its social media presence for the first season of a new decade. “We hired a team in 2019 dedicated to social marketing and to drive more traffic to our website and to boost attendance our still dates,” he said. “We continue to work closely with our fair partners to support them in their marketing endeavors.”



Half a century ago, an earlier generation of Butlers headed west From Minnesota, according to company lore, after George “Bud” Butler along with this wife Evelyn and son Earl “Butch” Butler sold the family grocery store to fund the purchase of a Tilt-A-Whirl. The company is still family owned and according to its website “is now operated with active leadership and involvement from the fourth generation of Butlers.”

And all these years later, midways still have a firm spot in the entertainment landscape of the west coast. “Not only do people want to come out and try new foods and see headline entertainment, but also there is nostalgia to coming to a fair and playing games and riding rides that people love,” he observed.

The longevity of this regional midway provider has a lot to do with its fairs, which possess “a drive to continue to grow and be better. Government employees who want to make their fair a premier destination for costumers is what gives me confidence in the future. We can't wait to see what 2020 has in store for us, but we are so happy to have our partners, employees and customers to share it with.”
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