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Gibtown kicks off 2021 Trade Show: Carnival Operators Optimistic about 2021 Reopening

Equipment on Display
Craftsman Industries (Schantz & Chester Built Trailers) were one of several manufacturers with equipment on display at the 2021 show. Craftsman showcased a food trailer, food truck, and portable sink.

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The 2021 Gibtown Trade Show kicked off Tuesday, February 16th in Gibsonton, FL, despite many other industry events being canceled.  In fact, it might  be the first post-pandemic trade show to happen in the amusement industry.  The resilient staff of the IISA decided to move forward with the show in Florida to bring showmen together, plan strategies for opening and talk with friends and colleagues about how they were weathering the storm.

The trade show, while much smaller than normal, nonetheless put up a decent presentation considering the circumstances.  Ride manufacturers displayed equipment, food trailers were on display, game, electrical suppliers and stock companies were all in their usual locations looking forward optimistically to a new year of somewhat normal operations.

Gosetto had a new fun house,  delivered to Deggeller Attractions, on display

While the show certainly did not set any records for attendance, there was a nice compliment of people on opening day with most people just happy to be participating in an annual event, without too many restrictions and a cautiously optimistic vibe for the future.  

In talking with show owners and carnival operators, the majority told stories of sporadic operations in 2020, with lots of planning and replanning as events closed, but most were optimistic that their states would be open in some form or fashion to carnivals this year.  With the exception of California operators, most believed they would be operating during the 2021 season.  Some carnivals stated that the biggest frustration was not knowing what opening policies would be, while others were planning to travel to states that had policies that were more event friendly.  Each area of the country poses different problems and issues but those in more “open” areas or those able to adapt to imposed guidelines were planning for a good season.
Frederiksen Fun Slides had several slides on display

In almost every case, those that did open last year and others who are open now are generally reporting excellent business and outcomes.  One carnival owner from the midwest who operated at several malls in the summer said some of his dates were up 50 - 60%, stating that people wanted to come out and thanked him for opening and giving their families something to do.  Here in Florida, more than half a dozen county fairs have already run this year, and numerous still dates are being played. Early reports are that events have seen great success and people, when offered the opportunity, are glad to come out and enjoy the time with their families.

For the IISA, coming together to share stories and experience was the driving force for an industry that needed a boost said Lee Stevens, President of the IISA.  The club never really had plans to cancel the show but was always positively looking forward to producing the event. Stevens said the organization wanted to put a positive spin on the business and show that if they moved ahead, the rest of the industry, fairs included, could operate safely and successfully.

While producing the show was somewhat of a struggle, with some vendors unable to come because of travel restrictions, government imposed travel restrictions and quarantine issues, the club was able to persevere and bring together a large number of vendors.  Foreign vendors especially were impacted as they were unable to travel to the United States to participate in the trade show though they had a desire to do so.  While not all of the vendors were able to bring and display rides and equipment, many made the most of it with displays or even borrowing used equipment to display.

The local Fox News affiliate took notice of the event and came out to interview Stevens, who gave an interview with a local anchor that will appear on the local news Tuesday evening, promoting the trade show and the industry.   

Regarding the annual festivities that surround the trade show, Stevens said the club ran their annual parties; the Hall of Fame, the Past President's Reception, the current President's Banquet and Ball, and the club's annual Appreciation Party, but combined them into one event held at the Carouse Pavilion.  This cut attendance costs and spending for participants and may be an idea that carries forward into the future.  The club will be hosting seminars on reopening and other important topics.  The OABA and NICA will also be holding their annual events in the Tampa area, so with the exception of the Florida State Fair moving their dates to April, many of the activities will remain similar to past years.  

Stevens said he kept the club open all year in 2020 - operating Thursdays through Saturdays as a place to gather with cheap eats and drinks for show people home from the road for an extended period of time.

2020-2021 IISA President Lee Stevens visited with MCW on opening day of the trade show

When asked about what the club was expecting for attendance at the show, Stevens said he foresaw people coming who were more serious about buying and purchasing.  There would be less “tire kickers” he predicted.  This sentiment was born out by several vendors who said that while traffic was slow, they did have some serious interest from purchasers ready to open for the 2021 season.  One show owner Carnival Warehouse spoke with said this was only the third time they had been to the show in 35 years in business because they would normally be operating during this time.  

“Most people have come up to me and thanked me”, said Stevens.  “The show gives them hope and that's what's needed right now”, he added.

Gary Otterbacher of Lifetime Products visited with friends and customers on day one of the show
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