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Gibtown Trade Show: After Two-Strong Years and Supply Chain Disruptions Alleviated, Industry Optimism High
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Early January is typically white-knuckle hectic for the organizers of the Gibtown Trade Show. The first major industry meeting of the year, the event seems both a bellwether for the season to come and a barometer of the one just past. For 2023, enthusiasm is high and the last-minute scramble for registration and booths is frantic, due both to higher demand and the industry's general predilection to wait until after the New Year to book the show.

“People always wait until after the holidays to register, so we've really lost a week for this show,” said Theresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary, International Independent Showman Association (IISA). “We've had a lot of companies come back this year to exhibit. Booth sales are up and registration is up.”

The 2023 “Super Trade Show & Extravaganza” – which will celebrating its 55th anniversary – will be presented by IISA at the famed Showmen's Club in Gibsonton, Florida. The 2023 Trade Show, February 14-17, is typically as the association's website states: ”the largest array of products pertaining to the amusement industry from around the world… some of the exhibits you can expect to see include rides, food supplies and equipment, concession trailers, electrical supplies, insurance companies, novelty items, plush toys, jewelry and much more. There are over 300 different exhibits to browse. If you are in the carnival industry or related amusement business, we are the place to come to do your shopping.”


The Gibtown Trade show in 2021 Rimes described as “one of our best ever,” in terms of spending and participation. On one hand, many fairs saw record spending and attendance growth as communities, flush with economic-stimulus funds, revived their annual tradition after the lockdown year of 2020, empowering IISA members and trade show attendees optimistic about spending.

The worry in 2022 was if that spending and attendance momentum would carryover, and according to the feedback Rimes has received, it has. “People are more optimistic than ever this year,” said Rimes. “The industry had a good year, but they were not expecting one, because it was after coming off the huge year in 2021. Their only problem was getting help, but that's gotten better and the job market is tight for everybody.”

The 2022 Gibtown Trade Show was strong, but business was hampered by supply line disruptions and attendance negatively impacted by COVID spikes. “We had a lot of vendors who have not been able to participate for two years because of COVID. Now, they're back.”


The category with strongest post-pandemic resurgence?

Plush. “We have more plush companies, they're the majority of exhibitors this year. Plush is hot. It was hard to get product because of the shipping problems with China, and that drove up prices. But now it's come back, prices have dropped and shipping has drastically improved. Games did really well on the midway too, so there's a lot of excitement in Plush.”

The global pandemic wreaked havoc with international shipping, particularly impacting Plush and game prices, when container costs reached highs of $35,000 - $45,000, but those highs have receded to about $8,000 – a tremendous drop, bringing container costs more in-line with 2019 prices. “The containers have come down in a big way, and that helps the industry, and helps the vendors who pass the savings onto their customers,” said Sidney Karmia of Toy Factory. “We're in a better position than last year, but I've always been attending Gibtown. Ninety percent of the people who come are carnival related. It's the trade show for the industry.”

Along with the availability improvement and price stabilization, other COVID-era restrictions and limitations have been either dramatically eased or eliminated for 2023. “It's an opposite situation to last year,” said Hutch Costello, Corporate Sales Director, Rhode Island Novelty Company. “There's an abundance of available product, we're not seeing the price fluctuations. A year ago this time what was causing the rising prices was getting spaces on the ship, the factories were in production. Now there's higher availability and the suppliers have higher fill rates. Last year, there were caps on amount of product and out-of-stock issues. If there were 10 different styles, you may have only been able to get three or you had to order something else. They were trying to spread out the inventory, which can cannibalize the products.”

While the supply side of the plush market endured disruptions, demand was surprisingly robust. “Games are hot and '21 and '22 were two, consecutive good years. Inventory is in a good position and buyers at Gibtown will be looking for the new trends where there's continued availability.”

Noting reports of new coronavirus variants, Costello also warned that earlier order placement may best be the rule not the exception in 2023. “Some factories have closed down recently, so we need to be realistic and keep an eye on the situation. Because inventory is in a good position now, if it becomes an issue it will not be until the end of the year.”


In addition to the exhibition floor, open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, other events include the Sant Yago Knight Parade, Annual Big Hearted Jerry's Memorial Golf Tournament, and Jamboree Museum Fundraiser, the annual benefit to raise money for the IISA Carnival Museum, one of the leading repositories and archives of midway-related materials and equipment in the U.S. Rimes believes that one of the trends concurrent with the restoration of business after the peak of the pandemic crisis has been a renewed commitment to the preserving the industry's rich past.

“Last year was our best fundraiser ever and there's a real excitement for it this year,” said Rimes. “It was our biggest crowd, and we also had our biggest golf tournamanet. Our attendance was down, but they turned out for the museum. The industry's legacy is something we are taking very seriously.”

“It keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Tom I. Arnold, president of Arnold Amusements.

“The more people learn about the museum, the more people support it, and we keep expanding the size of the space for the fundraiser to accommodate the party. We have received a lot of vintage pieces which we are restoring, it's one of the few carnival museums of its kind in the country.”


Education, Information and Training will be key themes for this year's IISA seminar schedule, which includes: “H-2b Balancing Act – Practical, Political Strategies For Survival In This New Abnormal”, presented by James K. Judkins, President of JKJ Workforce Agency and the Small Business Workforce Alliance.” ; Industrial Truck / Forklift Training and ServSafe certification, which is now a requirement for “aLL food service vendors in aLL states,” according to the IISA.

With the tightening of the labor market and the H2B program expanded to new cohorts of workers, the need food safety certification has never been higher.

“Realistically, the level of employee availability has changed in dramatically in the carnival and food truck word,” said Dominic Cianciola, Director & Training Specialist, Last Call Training, who will be conducting the certification. “The focus by states and municipalities is requiring more employee and manager certification. There is more crossover on the midway than ever before, they're working the game stands and even rides one day, then on the foods stand the next, so we are seeing more employees needing to be certified.”
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