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Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment Overcomes Tornado with Optimistic Outlook
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Weather woes have marked the 2018 spring routes of most carnival companies in the northeast. Midway providers may have cold, rainy weekends in common, but few companies anywhere survived an actual tornado. That distinction can only be claimed by Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment. “We got through a tornado,” said Charlie Belknap, Marketing, Media and Public Relations, for Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment. “I hope I never go through another one.”

This severe weather-event occurred in early May at the Hudson Valley Fair in Fishkill, New York. The fair was closed when the tornado touched down on a Tuesday evening, between the second and third weekends. Drenching rains with high winds created such extensive damage the fair was forced to cancel the closing weekend.

Sky Diver Dies
Belknap along of with most the Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment road crew were in the bunker and watched as a Tornado emerged out of the torrent, laying waste to the midway, nowing down trees, and tipping over the show’s vintage Sky Diver – breaking 5/8" thick cables securing the ride. Other damage on the midway included five ticket boxes, three big umbrellas, and three flipped cars on the circus train. “It looked horrible, but it could have been worse. The Tornado seemed to bounce around, didn’t touch our grand wheel or the Magic Maze Glass House, which was right next to the Sky Diver.”

The Hudson Valley Fair however, was the last midway for the Sky Diver. After the tornado, the ride was cut into pieces and hauled to the junk yard. “It was a beautiful piece,” lamented Belknap, who said this Chance-manufactured machinery dates back to the 1970s. “They haven’t made Sky Divers in years. We just refurbished it with LED lights, it was a labor of love.”

Carnival Warehouse caught up with this carnival industry veteran in July, on the brink of the Independence Day holiday, with the unseasonably chilly spring behind him and the tornado relegated to another road story. Temperatures were in the 90s for the early July stint at the Fireman’s Old Home Week in Allegheny, New York. “We’re fine today, it’s a great opening day,” said Belknap. “But the humidity and the heat, that can be as bad as the rain.”

Pre-Peak Season
The carnival company – made up of 4th and 5th generation carnival workers – offspring of two revered carnival family companies – Powers Great American Midway and Ron Thomas Midway Entertainment – starts and ends their season in the Carolinas and in-between circulate throughout the Northeast, playing mainly non-fair dates, the annual preliminaries to the main part of the season. “It was a very wet spring, so it was really hit or miss,” he said.
While a ride-destroying tornado may have been a first, uncooperative weather was not. “Every company playing in the Northeast plans for wet springs.”

The company’s schedule is structured so the latter part of the season is filled with the higher revenue fairs. “It’s why I am very optimistic, we haven’t started the major dates on our route.” These dates include mid-size county fairs on the eastern seaboard: the Chautauqua County Fair, Cattaraugus County Fair, Warren County Fair, Crawford County Fair, The Great Stoneboro Fair, Surry County Fair, Rowan County Fair, Sumter County Fair, And The Lenoir County Fair. The company closes down the show by November, but it’s the months of July, August, and September, that make up bulk of the company’s revenues, and the main reason for Belknap’s optimism.

He plans, develops and oversees the marketing and promotions for the company. In season, he is also the liaison between the company and the boards and other committees organizing the event. This relationship requires increasing collaboration in terms of social media. With some of the fireman fundraisers and other non-fair events, the carnival company is “showing them what works best with marketing,” he said. “The firemen shows have been around for years, people will always come out to the event. But with the county fairs, they have a lot more younger people on the board now. They are pretty much handling the social media, which is driving all the marketing, and they are pretty much on the right track.”

He added, “we work with all our committees, we sit down and discuss things that have worked, that haven’t worked, some unique ways they can get to the public. The most important thing with social media is targeting their marketing, to the specific demographics they are trying to reach.”

Belknap cautions that each event is different and their marketing must likewise be customized to that event’s uniqueness. “It’s not a cookie cutter approach.”

Some trends that continue to gain strength in 2018 include the decline of print advertising and the rise of the carnival company’s social media presence, especially Facebook. “Our followers grow dramatically,” said. “People are coming to the carnival company and we are sharing that growth with the fair.”

Marketing, Workers, Fuel
Keep it short and simple seems the most essential rule of thumb. “We use a lot of pictures of our rides and midway. We use more and more video, but we keep them short, eight to 10 seconds.”

Another essential guideline – one also driving the need for brevity – is make all online marketing phone friendly – i.e., compelling and to the point so the information can be reliably received and understood on a hand-held device. He cites a report that said “98 percent of social media is on the cellphone.”

The biggest challenge – other than weather – for 2018 was getting the necessary workforce for Powers & Thomas Midway Entertainment. “We were able to get our workers this year, but it’s an ongoing problem and it’s a challenge every year.” The carnival company travels with a crew of about 80, 25 of whom are foreign workers.”

Another factor for 2018 was a spike in fuel costs. Fuel costs have hit a three-year high in 2018 and that increase is expected to continue throughout the summer. “You can really do nothing about the fuel. We’re nowhere near the $5 a gallon of a few years ago. The fuel costs have risen, but we are not feeling it yet and haven’t changed our operations because of the increase.”

While the Sky Diver may not have survived a tornado, the company has premiered a refurbished Hurricane, completely outfitted with LED lighting, and a Speed, which underwent a “ground up restoration. We have almost completed outfitting all our rides with LED lights, and we also added new wrist-banding tents.”

He added, “I am optimistic about this year, the economy is good, people are spending. If we get the weather, I don’t see any negatives.”

Powers & Thomas

Powers & Thomas
New for 2018 - THE SPEED

Powers & Thomas

Powers & Thomas
Refurbishing the Hurricane

Powers & Thomas
Refurbishing the Hurricane

Storm Damage
Storm damage at the Hudson Valley Fair

Additional photos of Powers & Thomas midway storm damage can be found in the MCW photo gallery

MCW Photo Gallery
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