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Carnival & Fair News

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Great Northern Carnival: A Tradition in the Southwest
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With a home base in the greater Phoenix area, Great Northern Carnival traverses the southwest: Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southern Colorado are the states that host the family-owned business.

Co-owner Tim Mattfeldt says “We started in 1996 with a Ferris Wheel and a couple of food wagons, and have evolved since that time into a carnival with 18 rides, ten or fifteen games, and many food wagons.”

Arizona and particularly the Phoenix metro area is our focus,” Mattfeldt explains.

“We are a full-line carnival, and we work at fiestas, fairs, and Founder’s Day celebrations, those types of events primarily. But we also do a lot of individual corporate rentals, particularly in the Phoenix and Denver areas. We do corporate events and picnics; sometimes we only rent certain rides, like the Ferris Wheel. We also may be called upon for corporate picnic events, or even kids’ birthdays.”

But the bread and butter of the carnival life is fairs and fiestas, and Mattfeldt works a great many of those.

He says that carnival pricing is $20-30 for unlimited ride wristbands, and that individual rides cost between $2 and $4 per ride. They offer promotional discount coupons to draw more riders.

Mattfeldt says the carnival’s biggest draw is “a giant slide we recently purchased from Bates Brothers. It’s terrific, everyone loves it,” he says. Along with the slide, “Another popular ride we have is Thea’s Zoo. Basically, it’s a spinning tea cup ride where instead of a teacup handle, each arm of the ride features a different animal. We have a dinosaur, a monkey, a penguin, a puppy. It’s very cute, and people will often pull up and take a picture of it when we’re traveling. They’re just excited by what is going down the highway.”

Recent additions to the carnival include the big slide and refurbishing of existing rides by Mattfeldt. “We refurbished our Flying Carpet this year, and we are putting in new lighting and repainting many of our rides. The new lights are LEDs. They pop a little more than other kinds of lighting, and besides looking more attractive, they are also more efficient, so we are changing out the lights in many of our rides.”

“We are also refurbishing our Hampton 4 x 4 ride, and probably one of our adult majors, but we are not sure of that yet, possibly the Sizzler or the Paratrooper,” Mattfeldt attests. He usually upgrades his rides in the fall.

Along with improving his rides, Mattfeldt is also trying to limit the number of hours his traveling carnival must drive. “We are always trying to cut our route back because trucking for the carnival is a major issue. For one thing, it is disappointing dealing with the same regulations everyone must comply with when you’re transporting equipment like this. We go maybe 3500 miles a year, but we fall under the same regulations as people going that many miles a week,” he says.

He notes that his carnival hires “All American workers… which has its advantages and disadvantages, as opposed to the H2B program.”

The plusses of using American workers are “no language barriers, they’re readily available, we feel more comfortable making sure the money stays in the U.S., and we’re small enough we can hire in this way. We need 230 to 250 workers, not thousands of employees like many carnivals.” For Mattfeldt, the disadvantages are small, but “The one disadvantage I really see is that the work ethic can be a little different than when I was growing up, you have to give more instruction.”

He explains that one of the ways he finds and hires employees is through sports coaches at local schools. “We have a lot of sports teams like youth hockey teams, working on the games, non-mechanical rides, and food. I’ll call up, say, a volleyball coach and ask can you send me two shifts a day, five kids each, and at the end of the run here, we will give you $1000 or $1500 dollars towards your sports program.” Mattfeldt adds “It’s a win all around, because naturally they like the money to support the sports programs, and for us, there’s less skepticism about the type of carnival we are, having those workers is more wholesome, it builds more community spirit by involving them in that way. It helps build enthusiasm and get rid of stereotypes about carnival workers.”

Mattfeldt says what distinguishes his show is that they pride themselves on “the fact that we can play mid-size carnivals and small fairs, and we do just as good a job on both. And, we can also get into some areas that other carnivals find it hard to get into,” he notes. “It can be difficult,” he adds, “for some of the bigger carnivals to get into locations that are 8 to 10,000 feet up in the mountains. People welcome us, and we always try to go the extra mile, particularly in the winter time, to bring out some themes such as a barber shop quartet or wearing our Santa gear.”

And speaking of themes, here’s the most important one of all, according to Mattfeldt. “Safety, service, and cleanliness, that’s the real theme always. I learned a lot coming up in the business from many awesome people, and if you adhere to those, everything else will take care of itself,” he promises.

Attendance at his events has been consistent year to year. “As far as attendance goes, I think I’m always uptight until October, and then I can look back and see that year to year, it all evens out. Essentially, we set our budget for a certain amount of dollars and we roll with that.” He adds that “We’re a sales business and we have to be cognizant of price point. People sometimes complain about a $20 wristband, but they’re getting 6 hours of enjoyment from attending the carnival. The ironic thing is, they are likely going to pay a lot more to go to something like a football game.” Mattfeldt is aware that many families are still struggling in terms of disposable income and is committed to offering good value at his carnivals.

When it comes to marketing, he says his choice of approach depends on the area in which the carnival operates. “We’re still doing traditional media such as posters, coupons, and radio ads in the more rural areas. But social media is definitely in the vanguard of marketing today, there’s no two ways about that. We are moving more and more in that direction, but in those rural areas, many communities still like to have recognition in print, for example, if the 4H Club is sponsoring this year’s county fair, they want to see that in a newspaper ad or on a poster, not as much in social media.” However, Mattfeldt finds that in urban areas, social media is key, and people use it more frequently to see things to do in their area. “They’ll look at their social media platform and find something they think is cool, but there is so much going on around them in the urban areas that a billboard or poster would get lost. It’s the opposite in rural areas; we definitely tone our advertising to two different areas.”

Great Northern Carnival Company

Great Northern Carnival Company

Great Northern Carnival Company
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