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Reithoffer Shows breaks Midway Records at the new Wilson County / Tennessee State Fair

Reithoffer Shows provided the Midway at the Wilson County / TN State Fair
Prior to the fair merger, the show provided the midway at the Wilson County Fair for the past four years.

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Two fairs are better than one, at least in Tennessee in 2022. The Wilson County Fair-Tennessee State Fair saw double digit increases in attendance and spending – one of the highest year-to-year jumps in both data categories of any North American fair this year – proving that the experiment in the hyphenating melding of a well-established county fair and a state fair who needed a home.

In 2019, the Tennessee State Fair Commission voted to move the annual celebration of everything Volunteer State – believed to have been first held in 1850 – from the Nashville Fairgrounds. Then COVID cancelled everything, and in 2021 the commission both moved the fair to the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon – about 25 miles from its former Nashville home — and held it in conjunction with the Wilson County Fair, resulting in a mid-August date instead of what been the traditional September run.

Last year was the first test run of the newly conglomerated fair. Coming out of COVID, it's difficult to construct criteria by which to adequately assess this new coming together of outdoor events, but it was successful enough to try again.

In 2021, fairgoers seemed overwhelmingly Wilson County Fair devotees. This year, through innovative programming and marketing – and some hard-sought state funding finally coming through via a supportive governor –  the STATE was put back in state fair. For the first time in years, the state fair was the must-attend event of the Tennessee summer and rather than confusing the message, combing county and state only enhanced the missions of both events.


True State Fair

“The big thing is that this was originally a county fair, the best county fair in the state,” said Rick Reithoffer of Reithoffer shows. “The Tennessee State Fair fairgrounds had been bought and the fair had sort of fallen by the wayside. But after last year, they realized that something had to be done about the infrastructure and they made an investment back into the property, the state gave them some buildings and added better marketing, doing all the things a state fair should. They took on that State Fair mantle and the growth was phenomenal.”

He noted, “You need that support and infrastructure if you really want to be a state fair. Also, they were able to bring in the rest of the state through networking with 4-H and other fairs. What was once just a local fair to the area was a true state fair with a statewide reach. It's like I always say, attendance drives gross. Last year, it was still more of a county fair. This year, every day we set records, sometimes by 70 or 80 percent. It became a state fair not just in name, but a true state fair.”

“The fair had a record year in every way as our attendance was 776,195 which was an increase of 295,568 (38 percent) from the previous year and 186,966 (24 percent) from previous record year set back in 2013.,” said Helen McPeak, CEO.  We had visitors from all 95 counties in Tennessee, 37 different states and 14 countries.”

She added, “Fair attendance broke records every day but the first Friday!”

In 2022, the state legislature - previously one of the most austere when it comes to financially supporting their fair -  dedicated in excess of $14 million to the fair over two fiscal years.  According to a statement from the office of Governor Bill Lee: “Governor Lee is committed to making Tennessee's State Fair the best in the country. "We've made strong investments to ensure it remains a world-class experience, so families across the state can enjoy our agricultural heritage and learn about the important role it plays in Tennessee's success.”

This commitment to spreading cultural awareness, state pride and agricultural tradition was most evident in a new exhibit, the Travel Tennessee Exhibit, which showcased each of the state's 95 counties. Fair goers could walk through the entire state of Tennessee and see what was special or unique about each county.  It was like the entire state was unified at the fair ,showcasing everyone participating and having a good time. “

95 Reasons

Not that they weren't prepared. The 2022 marketing campaign fully embraced the statewide mission a state fair requires to reach its full scope by underscoring the county-by-county participation that creates a shared feeling of fraternity.

“This year's fair theme was “95 Reasons to Celebrate Tennessee” showcasing all 95 counties in Tennessee,” said McPeak. “We also celebrate a different agriculture commodity each year to promote and breathe new life in to each fair.  The 2022 agricultural commodity was the Year of Hay.”

According to McPeak, the marketing budget was approximately $170,000, utilizing “various methods of advertising and promotion including our website, Facebook, Instagram, radio stations, magazines, local newspapers, and billboards to promote the Fair from mid-July to mid-August all across the state. New this year, we additionally promoted the Fair in Tennessee magazines that are distributed to over 650,000 readers all across the state and do a great job helping us with promotion.”

Targeted expansion into new online platforms also helped drive attendance. “ We expanded fair promotion with commercials on OTT networks (Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling, etc.),” she said. “A new fair TikTok account was also created to target the younger audience. We also hired a marketing firm that helps us with our social media, video and fair promotions.  This company is local and part of the community.  They help us to target different age groups that are interested in events that are family fun. We also used more video on Facebook and Instagram reels along with more targeted ads on Facebook.”

60-Ride Reithoffer Shows Midway

Reithoffer Shows was well braced to meet the heightened anticipation for a reimagined, more-inclusive and just plain bigger midway, with an estimated 60 rides, including the signature 65-foot Euro Slide. New rides at the fair included: Zipper; Super Fun Slide; Sky Flyer; Wave Swinger; Monster Truck; Orient Express; Speedy Gonzalez; Spiderman; Mine Craft; Madagascar; and Mini Himalaya. The highest grossing rides, reportedly, were: Stinger; Super Himalaya; Sky Flyer; Wave Swinger and the Giant Wheel.

“The layout of the rides was better positioned,” said McPeak. “There were more super spectacular rides and the midway was widened to give more room for fairgoers.  With more people, it gave the feel that the fair was less crowded.”

The most apparent redesign element of the rearranged Reithoffer Shows midway was a separate Kiddieland, which featured 22 rides. “There are a lot more families coming to the fair,” said Reithoffer.

“Reithoffer Shows provided our carnival for the fourth consecutive year,” said McPeak. “ They do a great job with introducing new rides, keeping the midway looking fresh and giving the fairgoers something new and exciting to look forward to every year. Midway revenue was up over the previous year and probably the best year ever.”

Technically, the same is true for the hyphenated fair, which had its best year ever. Of course, that conjoined county/state fair experiment is only two years old, but the sophomore effort has secured a future for a rejuvenated Tennessee tradition. McPeak: “The 2022 Wilson County Fair – Tennessee State Fair was a huge success! We were thrilled with the 2022 Fair!  Great weather and fun for everyone made for a wonderful fair and created memories to last a lifetime!”
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