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Carnival Industry Pulse: Tommy Coffing of Discusses Post-Lockdown Equipment Market
Bunkhouses & High Capacity Rides Booming As Refurbished Rides Plummet
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Last year, many carnival companies saw record grosses and the midway provider segment of the fair industry seemed poised for full-comeback post-lockdown.  Replenished coffers were welcomed by fair boards and carnival companies alike, but price-inflation on everything from fuel to cooking oil combined with a tight labor market pushing up wages, has depleted profitability. What is only now becoming apparent is how these conditions are impacting carnival companies in terms of their equipment purchases and midway planning for 2024 and beyond.

Having his fingers directly on the pulse of buying patterns,  Tommy Coffing of, one of the leading ride and equipment sellers, moving used and reconditioned equipment as well as representing some of biggest foreign manufacturers. “Carnival companies and fairs saw record grosses, but the net profits were down after they calculated in the wages, fuel, insurance and all the other costs. A lot of these guys operate on volume, and are not used to seeing their net cut into.”

The result is that carnival companies are buying with a cautious optimism confirming new market realities. The hot 2023 equipment categories among carnival companies are bunkhouses, high-capacity rides, and generators. However, this new scenario also includes buyer constriction and several categories being shunted aside.


No More Used

The most tangible fallout 2+years post-lockdown has been a drop off in the refurbished market, whose causes are two-fold.  Although no accurate statistics seem extant, it's believed that dozens of carnival companies – mainly smaller and regional – because of attrition and industry consolidation, folded up their canvases and sold off their equipment.  While carnival companies of all sizes are buyers of reconditioned rides, the small-to-mid-size operators bolstered this market as an affordable method of rounding out their midways.

However, another consideration emerged during lockdown that impacted the used ride market. Lockdown may have meant fair and still-date cancellations, but in the downtime – and, often to make-work for staff, especially to retain H2B workers as the guest-worker visa system underwent its most severe disruption in years – many carnival companies went on a reconditioning spree. In other words, why buy good-as-new when you can make what you already have almost new.

“There's not much market for used ride sales now,” he said. “Carnival companies had their people working on their equipment, so anything that was lying around the yard that didn't get refurbished they got rid of. Before the pandemic, we were actually financing and selling older equipment, stuff that was from the 70s and 80s.  We're not calling them vintage because operationally they have the latest technology and would be  inexpensive in today's market. A lot of those guys are either running this equipment or sending it to the scrapheap. Unless they were refurbished or built after 2001, nobody is keeping them.”

He added, “My feeling is that they got their arsenal and were doing all the refurbishing in-house.  The first two years after the lockdown, midways were booming and they had higher grosses and nets, but now that's dropped off. It's the big guys who  are buying new rides and new equipment.”


High Capacity

Demand for the new equipment, mainly from European manufacturers, are high capacity rides. “Most every carnival operators are pay-one-price, so they put up the high-capacity rides. Even the kiddie rides are having  more capacity. Wheels are very popular, big Gondola Wheels.” 

Companies are still on backorder, but disruptions to shipping and overseas factories have  significantly lessened. “There are delays for individual components, like some electrical components, that can still hold things up.”

 Post-pandemic, prices are higher although, which also finances purchases, has not changed its 25 percent down payment policy or raised interests rates. “We do most of our own financing. The new equipment is more expensive, so the debt is bigger.”


Bunk House Boom

But, even in higher demand are bunkhouses, which are not only dramatically upticking but upgrading as well. Gone are the days of $25,000 bunkhouses. The latest versions are $150,00 - $200,000, and this market-shift is also a result of the post-lockdown labor market. In order to attract and retain H2B and other workers, employers responsible for housing employers are paying more attention to quality of life issues and the transportable dormitories have undergone a makeover.

“Bunkhouses are selling like crazy,” he said. “What they are buying are really nice bunkhouses from Lifetime, Forever Bunkhouses and Majestic Mfg. It's not like it was five years ago. Carnival companies are paying more attention to the living conditions of their workers.”

Carnival companies are also shopping for generators, a market that seems more stymied than other categories. One factor is that in some areas of the country, especially in “greener” municipalities of California and other western states, older generators can be prohibited. In addition, the EPA also has new regulations. “You can't really retrofit the older generations, you have to buy new and out west, the generators have to be all new. Those companies are backed up with orders.”

The category that seems most unaffected by the post-lockdown changes into the ride and equipment market are food trailers. “Food trailers are good sellers, as long as they aren't garbage. With the new wraps, the food trailers are marquees for the carnival companies.”

Coffing, a lifetime midway professional, grew up in the carnival business before his career path turned to equipment sales and financing. He's seen at least three generations of carnival families during his time in the industry. “This generation's biggest complaint is the help, even getting workers. When they talk about the price of equipment, they are considering how many workers they'll need for the equipment. It's more part of the discussion than pre-pandemic.”

Coffing enjoying time with his two grandchildren
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