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Midway Millennials: Ryan Reithoffer, General Manager, Orange Unit, Reithoffer Shows
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Even at 35, Ryan Reithoffer's still the young guy. That comes with the territory of being a 5th generation Reithoffer and one of the younger general managers in the industry.  Ryan Reithoffer is the General Manager of the Orange Unit of Reithoffer Shows, a carnival company dating back to the family's patriarch, Julius Reithoffer, a German émigré who purchased a steam driven carousel in 1896.

“I grew up on the midway, I was always helping out,” he said. Reithoffer Shows is now run by the brother team of Patrick, Ryan's Father – who operates the Orange Unit and Rick, Patrick's brother, who operates the Blue Unit, which is managed by his sons Ricky and Matthew.  “I've worked with my father my whole life, but I've been general manager for four years, when he stepped down from the daily operations, leaving it to me and my sister (Suzanne Reithoffer Blake, Office Manager) and younger brother (Patrick IV, Supervisor).”

The two units enable the show to play multiple dates throughout the season. The Orange Unit plays an array of events, including many weekend dates, fundraisers and local fairs as well as key signature Reithoffer events, such as Allegany Co. Fair, Western Carolina Fair,  Coastal Carolina Fair and the State Fair of West Virginia
“In the spring of the year, there's not a lot of big events, we play a lot of smaller events, they're good events,” said Ryan. “This year we'll be meeting up at the New Mexico State  Fair, which has really grown, we'll be setting up about 53 rides, which we do for the larger events (the Orange Unit generally travels with 20-30 rides).”

Traveling City

Reithoffer Shows travels with approximate 250 employees, split roughly in half between the two units. On any given week, Ryan is responsible for 110 to 140 workers, the majority of whom are H2B workers, many of whom have been with the company for more than a decade. “That's one thing that has changed. When we used to show up in town, we'd hire 20 to 30 people every year. Now, the American workforce is nonexistent. We can't rely on local help. We really are a traveling city.”  

As general manager, Ryan's main duties are working with inspectors and ride layout. The former continues to become more complicated – not only does Reithoffer Shows feature many New Jersey dates, a state renowned for a complicated permitting process – but overall, “states keep getting tougher with their state inspectors, as are the DOT requirements. There's a lot more paperwork, we have our own risk-management team. The first day of any date is set-up and a lot of paperwork. Ohio has become more complicated, because they've had problems at the State Fair, but North Carolina and South Carolina are too.”
While the layers of regulation may be more painstakingly detailed, “it's more work but it's all for the safety of the customers, so we welcome it. I can't say paperwork is my favorite part of the job.”

However, it's interrelated to one of his favorite tasks, midway layout and ride placement. “I've always liked the layout the most, it's like painting a picture. I'm pretty hands-on. I always walk the midway, it's easier when it's a date we've played but some of the smaller dates, the parking lots, that can be tricky, you have to be more imaginative. I used to do more measurements and write down numbers, but I have all those numbers in my head now, what the ride sizes we have, the layout of the food and games concessions.”

Midway layout is more than just making everything fit, it's about the look and feel of a midway. The overall appearance and the atmosphere it induces is the foundation on which the Reithoffer experience is built. “The layout is key to the presentation of the midway. I'm thinking about the what the guest is seeing as they enter the gates, what pulls them in. Obviously, you want to keep the generators and trucks out of sight Each fairground is different, so I also take that into account..”

Put The Power In The Back

Is there a basic rule of thumb for midway layout? Yes, and it's a lesson that Ryan credits learning from his father and grandfather. “Put the power in the back.”
By power he means the Ferris Wheel, Himalaya  and other high-capacity rides. “That way they'll walk the whole midway to the taller rides. You put those rides together, they rise above the other rides, that draws them in. When they walk through the gates, you want them to see the Kiddie Land first and the Merry Go Ground.”

When Ryan began as an official full-time employee in 2007, his main responsibility was a Wisdom Himalaya. “I took care of it. tore it down, set it up. It's a ride that has stood the test of time. It's always one of our top five rides.”

But it also firmly imprinted the appeal of midway rides in his young mind. “The combination of the music, the lights, the experience, I really began to understand what makes it cool and attractive to people. It's the whole atmosphere we create that makes it fun.”

This year, Reithoffer shows is debuting an array of new rides, including a Fun House, Drop Tower, and 360 Loop Fighter. “We've also refurnished our Wisdom Tornado and a new light package on the Dutch Wheel.”

How has 2024 been so far?: “The spring was rainy, but when it wasn't rainy people came out. People are spending.”

What demographic shift he's noticed has been the expansion of the Hispanic market. “We notice the clientele is a lot more Spanish, and they're pretty good customers. We've been targeting them with Spanish language ads and advertising in Spanish language newspapers. They come with their families and spend, don't cause any problem.”

More troublesome has been the rise in rise of disruptive teens, leading to the abrupt closure of events. Typically, the violence occurs outside the gates of the event, so even when the admission policies are strictly enforced and the midway itself is a family-friendly safe environment, outside the parking lots teens amass and cause trouble, tainting the entire event. In April, one of Reithoffer's Delaware dates, the L.E.A.D. Fest Carnival canceled six days early due to a stabbing outside the premises.

“Since 2021, we've seen more problems. Fairs and the mall dates, we're not letting anyone 18 or younger in unaccompanied. We do what we have to do, because the police will shut down the event. We keep a close eye on people, but when something happens outside the fair but is associate with the fair, there's not much you can do.”  

The other 2024 woe afflicting carnival companies is the same thing everyone suffers from – inflation. “In some cases, the price of doing business has doubled. From diesel fuel to hydraulic fluids, everything is more expensive, it's ridiculous. But you're seeing that at supermarkets and everywhere else. People are still spending though. People still love coming to the fair. If we don't get bad weather we'll be doing okay.”
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