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Carnival Warehouse Interviews Danny Aguilar, General Manager, Delaware State Fair From Marketing to Management, New GM Ready for the 105th Fair
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Throughout his tenure with the Delaware State Fair, Aguilar has consistently exhibited exceptional leadership qualities and a profound understanding of the fair industry. As the Assistant General Manager and Marketing and Sponsorship Manager, he played a significant role in cultivating strategic partnerships, enhancing the fair's brand image, and driving increased attendance year after year.

Danny Aguilar, who was named GM, served as the Assistant General Manager and Marketing and Sponsorship Manager since joining the fair in 2007, following a stint as the European Promotion Director for Up with People. He takes over for William J. DiMondi, who is retiring after 16 years at the helm of one of the largest outdoor events in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

"We are thrilled to announce Danny Aguilar's promotion to the role of General Manager," said Ron Draper, President of the Delaware State Fair Board. "His unparalleled expertise, extensive experience, and unwavering dedication to the fair make him the ideal candidate for this position. We express our deepest gratitude to Bill DiMondi, who has been instrumental in the fair's growth over the past 16 years, and we thank him for his invaluable contributions."

In his newly appointed role as General Manager, Aguilar will assume responsibility for the fair's overall management, overseeing various departments such as operations, programming, finance, and public relations. His leadership and visionary approach will be essential in steering the Delaware State Fair towards continued success, fostering community engagement, and enhancing the fairgoers' experience.

"I am truly honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve as the General Manager of the Delaware State Fair," said Aguilar in the official press release from the fair. "Having been part of this incredible organization for nearly two decades, I have witnessed first hand the transformative power of this event and its profound impact on the community. I look forward to building upon the strong foundation laid by Bill DiMondi and working alongside our dedicated team to further elevate the Delaware State Fair as a premier regional event."

Aguilar's promotion coincides with the Delaware State Fair's upcoming 105th installment  a ten-day event scheduled to take place from July 18th - 27th. But before he fully begins his new role, Aguilar was gracious enough to take some time with Carnival Warehouse, giving us insight on his hopes for the future, the marketing challenges fairs face, and the importance of staying true to the mission of the fair, which is “preservation of the past, promotion of the present, and education in the future, of agriculture, horticulture, mechanical arts, and rural and domestic economy.”


Carnival Warehouse: Did you grow up going to fairs (If yes, what are your earliest fair memories?)

Danny Aguilar: I was a military brat and we moved to Delaware in 1986. That was my first exposure to the Delaware State Fair, but we had lived in 20 different states and in Greece. Before Delaware, we went to the Nebraska State Fair in the early 80s. I was never raised on a farm or with the 4H or FFA. When we moved to Delaware in 1986 that was my first real exposure to the Delaware State Fair. I can remember the smell of the fair food, the excitement of the carnival, the livestock experience. It was different from my everyday life and it was different from Nebraska, I was older. Years later I was working for the Delaware Solid Waste Authority who was a sponsor of the fair and I got to know what that was like, to be a sponsor. It was very interesting.


CW: The Delaware State Fair will celebrate its 105thAnniversary in 2024. How does it feel to take the captain's seat for this milestone event? What are you most excited about introducing for this year's fair? 

DA: My first year as the new GM, I will look at things differently. I've had a laser focus on marketing initiatives and entertainment marketing. Now, I am opening up my vision and experience to be focused in on the all the entertainment, from grounds acts to grandstand shows. What is the ultimate experience that we are delivering? I'll be taking a broader approach. 


CW: What has been the biggest change you've seen at the fair since you started at the Delaware State Fair? 

DA: Our support system with the 4-H and FAA programs, our livestock shows and we engage and communicate with our customer. The public safety programs have been changing and evolving, that includes training and workshops. But what hasn't changed is staying true to our roots even when changing the way folks consume and receive entertainment.


CW: What about marketing fairs that you used to always have to do but no longer do and what does the position now entail that when you started was not an issue?

DA: Social media. If somebody has an experience at the fair, whether in a positive or negative direction, it can appear to the whole world. From a marketing perspective, social media lets you can look at analytics and numbers, thus make better buying decisions. You can create a little more strategy, but at the same time staying true to the traditional forms of marketing, like newspapers and other media. What you want is a well integrated balance of social media and traditional media. With social media, you can have a photo or video go viral, or reach new audiences through influencers. 


CW: Something that stands out about the marketing at the Delaware State Fair is how you've made the event a destination – aside from being the home of the current U.S. President, the state has been growing as a beach and vacation spot – drawing visitors from nearby states. When did this outreach begin, how have you cultivated this demographic, and what are the differences between marketing an event vs a destination?

DA: Our theme ties right in line with the idea that we are a small state with big fun. Working with the tourism department, our voice is carried through their advertising mechanisms, we've created a real destination. We have the casino on site, this is an entertainment destination. We have an ice rink, the racetrack. 70 percent of the things we do attract people who live, work and pray in Delaware, 20 percent from Maryland, 3-4 percent from Pennsylvania, 1 percent from Virginia. We host the fair, the racing, music festivals. We are very much a destination. And, we have tax-free sales [Delaware charges no state sales tax].


CW: Is there a balance to strike as a marketing manager between marketing the overall event and promotion specific headliners, entertainment or attractions? 

DA: The balance we have tried to strike is tied to our mission of the fair. The revenue buckets that make the fair what it is, the entertainment, the midway, etc. which pay the bills, keeps the lights on, and funds capital projects to keep the facilities updated. Of our marketing mandate , 70 percent is directed to the fair, 30 percent to the other programming of the fair. We also have a huge rental business which is utilized by people for their own initiatives We are marketing to show individuals can have a wedding or a quinceanera, our bookings have been very big outside the ten days of the fair. We recognize the highest impact of the marketing is directed towards the fair and the bucket line items, but we are always looking out for the mission and that receives the priority.


CW: What advice would you give to those new to fair marketing, and what are the key to pitfalls to avoid?

DA: Know your audience, know your touch points, talk to folks about what impressions they are receiving. What to avoid? Some social media folks are always going to have an opinion. It's a way to get a general temperature, but don't let it consume you. Talk to vendors, your midway partners, people like that to see where you are hitting the mark and missing the market then adjust when appropriate. 


CW: How has booking headline entertainment changed post-lockdown? Is the fair as committed to big-named grandstand acts going forward as they had been in the past? 

DA: The cost has of doing business is higher. The cost of fuel, the cost of labor, everything has risen. Our department of labor has established a $15-minium wage. Some of these artists have gone out of our budget. The pricing now we have not seen from B-level artists, and A-level artists are growing from $750,000 to $1 Million, pricing many fairs out.


CW: Is the Delaware State Fair changing its grandstand programming or biting the bullet?

DA: We are definitely biting the bullet. It's an important line item. We can't ignore the grandstand entertainment is a big reason for people to come out to the fair. We are increasing our budget


CW: How much have you seen costs rise?

DA: We probably are seeing a 16-20 percent increase from last year. Acts that were $100, 000 pre-pandemic are now $250 – $350,000. The cost,of insurance, touring, production, labor, catering, they are all higher.


CW: How long has Wade Shows been the Delaware State Fair midway provider, what is key to maintaining that relationship, and what should a fair manager expect from their carnival company? 

DA: 1999 was the Wade Show's first year. We've enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Frank Zaitshik (president, ofWade Shows) and his team.. His professionalism, showmanship and ride offerings are the best in the business. From COVID, he taught us and the industry had to run a safe fair under those restrictions. Turned out that customers did appreciate the spacing and bigger aisles and rest areas and we've kept those things in our midway. Wade Shows has been an excellent and thoughtful partner from the midway to the marketing. He's brought us ideas for accommodating children with special needs, who are on the autistic spectrum and we will be expanding our sensory safe days this year. 


CA: How did COVID change the Delaware State Fair (and the fair industry)?

DA: I'm probably most proud that our fair was one of the leaders showing that you can have an event like the Delaware State Fair and do it a safe and responsible way. The number of eyeballs watching how we are conducting the fair during the height of the pandemic was huge. We led the fair industry and the outdoor event industry. People followed our lead when they did open up. Our staff proved that fairs can be done safely in the same fashion. The video that Frank (Wade Shows) made was very important.


CW: Why do you love fairs? 

DA: They're a great opportunity to see everybody on an annual basis together. I have a degree in elementary education and I love seeing kids enjoy themselves every summer and they grow up to be grandparents and they come here with their grandchildren. To see the joy in their eyes and faces listening to them scream on their favorite rides, or watching them experience livestock, it's great to see the traditions passed on. It's very gratifying to see young people who were junior board members becoming full board members. That's really neat. 


CW: Why are fairs still relevant to contemporary culture?

DA: It's an annual reflection  of what is great about a state. One of my favorite things to do is look at the photography, or see the quilts, the livestock, the woodworking, the Lego contest, the cake mix contest. 


CW: I know it's a fair when I eat my first_____?

DA: Kettle Korn! And, Kimo's Hawaiian Shaved Iced drinks.


CW: What is your favorite midway ride? 

DA: The Big Wheel. I have a family picture of me, my wife and our kids on the big wheel. It's a great picture. They were eight and seven when that picture was taken and now they're 23 and 25. They grew up loving the fair, and Frank's Big Wheel.
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