Promoting from within may not be uncommon even for one of the highest-profile fairs in the nation, but what is unusual for the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair is that instead of a staff member, they went to the board. Eduardo (Eddie) Cora was named president of Miami Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc., after more than 18 years as a board member.
Cora, who first moved to the area in 1979 with his parents, brother and sister, is a regional construction contractor, said that his recruitment for the position came as a surprise, but the realization was that the organization was committed to rededicating itself to the youth fair mission: promoting agriculture, youth education and youth achievement.
What did this mean in terms of finding the ideal candidate to lead one of the highest profile fairs in the southeast? Whether finding an experienced fair professional from outside the area fair business and teach them about both the community and the uniqueness of the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair or find somebody from the community who is well acquainted and connected to Miami-Dade County but would have to be taught the fair business.
Hiring From Within
With nearly two decades experience as a board member of a fair that is consistently on Carnival Warehouse's list of top 50 Fairs (in 2018, the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair ranked #36 and was the highest attended Florida fair), Cora was chosen as the right man for the right job. “I understand the organization, and as a contractor throughout the South Florida area,” he said. “I am also operations guy and a numbers guy who loves dealing with details. It was important to the board to be working with someone who understands your operations.”
As chairman of the board, Cora spearheaded a 10-year master plan and research study which outlined future objectives for the fair. “We wanted to find out who we are, identify our demographics and give us longer regional understanding. We wanted to continue our mission without changing course and the board wanted someone who was already up to speed. We wanted to be ahead of the curve and not behind the curve.”
Some of the changes that he implemented to the fair – the major annual community event to what is tantamount to the largest county in Florida, a population of 2.9 million – was improving the ingress and egress points to the fair, which meant working with the nearby university to improve transportation access to the fairgrounds and overall pedestrian flow. Cora's study also analyzed various transaction points, specially parking, to streamline the entire process. “We looked at what were the most cumbersome parts of going to the fair, and focused on getting people parked and into the fair so they spend more time enjoying the fair, instead of preparing to enjoy the fair. We found this year people were staying longer.”
Ideal Weather, Better Economy
The 21-day event benefited from an ideal weather streak, with rain marring only one day and two events. In addition, the local economy finally saw an upswing this year, further enhancing the upbeat year for the fair. “Miami-Dade county was one of the hardest-hit areas in Florida from the recession and one of the slowest to turn around,” said Cora. “But the economy has turned around especially in the housing market, tourism and agriculture markets. Unemployment is very low. We definitely benefited from the increase in disposable income.”
He added that food per-cap spending was up 2 percent and ride per-cap spending up 3 percent.
Cora emphasized that the fair also promoted the value of the fair, adding discount promotions for non-weekend days. In addition, Zanos, a local supermarket chain that sells tickets to the fair, both implemented a pre-fair discount and expanded the accessibility of sales outlets within the store. “They added additional Points-of-Sales for the tickets.”
The fair's midway provider North American Midway Entertainment (NAME), which featured 98 rides (52 Majorland & 46 Kiddieland), including the fair debut of the Frisbee, Double Decker Carousel and Love Bugs ride, also got into the discount promotion act. “When you deal with good partners like NAME, they come up with ideas,” said Cora. “They did a very successful $3 discount day with an unlimited ride ticket for that day. For student field trips, they convinced us to open up an unlimited ride field trip ticket, so the students didn't have to worry about standing in a line, it kept the midway moving, and we had very happy guests. More than 40,000 students came from local schools to the fair.”
BE THERE! THE FAIR
The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair saw an increase of 21 percent over 2018, but Cora is quick to point that huge leap in fairgoer numbers is misleading. Last year, the opening day of the fair was hit by tragedy. A 174-foot-long section of a Florida International University bridge that was under construction collapsed, killing six people and injuring eight. The bridge was over a six lane highway, cutting off a major artery to the fairgrounds for the fair, severely impeding accessibility of the fair.
Between hours being added to most fairgoers' commute to the fair, the fatalities affected the usual enthusiasm for the annual event. “It was harder to get to the fair and the mood was pretty somber,” he said. “There's nothing you can do when a tragedy like we had last year happens.
To help turn the tide, they took the value approach with the theme, “BE THERE! THE FAIR.”
“The theme for the 2019 Fair was value, promoting affordable ways for a family to attend and enjoy their community tradition,” said Claudia Hernandez, Director of Marketing & Entertainment.
Hernandez tweaked some of the outlets of the fair's marketing. “We did some adjustments to the media mix breakdown in 2019. Radio, Digital & Outdoor increased whereas Broadcast/Cable & Print decreased.” The 2019 media mix was: Broadcast/Cable was 23 percent; Radio 37 percent; Digital 24 percent; Outdoor 15.5 percent and Print .5 percent.
The fair also ran more sales this year, starting as early as Thanksgiving, then following through the Christmas holidays with a final push on Valentines Days. The fair also expanded its social media presence. “We did more stories on Instagram,” she said. “We continued to buy promoted posts on Facebook & Instagram; we continued doing contests to create excitement about the Youth Fair and engage people on our social media platforms.”
More Edible Marketing
The 2019 marketing strategy also served up a new focus: fair cuisine. “We had several new foods and we wanted to communicate that to our guests,” said Hernandez. “One of the reasons why our guests enjoy coming to the Youth Fair is to enjoy the food so that's why we put a lot of emphasis in promoting the food. We had several new foods which were all very popular among our guests. All the new foods were very popular among our guests as well as the traditional Fair foods.”
Among the new food items enjoyed by youth of all ages at the Youth Fair were: Brazilian Cheesecake Funnel Cake; The Impossible Burger; Fluffy's Donut Sundae; Dilly Dilly Corn Dog; Dee's Ice Cream Waffle; Twisted Spicy Corn; Oreo Crepes; Bacon Wrapped Pork; Twist Churros with Guava & Cheese and Spicy Tilapia Filets.
A restoration of attendance, a new marketing plan and an improved fairground layout are not terrible accomplishments for a former board member's first time in the captain's chair. More importantly, the 2019 Miami-Dade County Youth Fair is further along its Master Plan objectives. For Cora though, the goals he reached his freshman year were more pragmatic. “My goal after a very somber fair last year with the unfortunate deaths was how we can we get people back to have fun, to smile again. Our reviews on social media were very positive. I feel we have set a foundation for the future. In that way, this year exceeded our expectations.”