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Wade Shows: Gearing Up For Marathon's Second Half
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Bookended by Florida events, the 2019 season for Wade Shows spans nearly the entire year, but for the carnival company the first part of the year achieved a special milestone. Wade Shows, started in 1912 by Lee Wade as a Michigan-based carnival company, has been owned and operated by Frank Zaitshik for the past 38 years.  Under his direction Wade Shows is now the third largest midway provider in North America based on events played by attendance, according to the 2018 Top Carnivals Playing the Top 50 Fairs list put out by Carnival Warehouse. While there are many ways to determine the number one carnival, based on reported attendance of the top 50 fairs, Wade Shows ranks number three.

The show's Michigan roots is why this year's Livonia Spree In Livonia, Michigan may have contained more significance than usual.  “We had our best Michigan date at the Spree this year, an all-time record for ride revenue at the Spree,” said Zaitshik.

Wet Beginnings

It was some needed relief for a company's whose early route has been a mixed bag. The Florida State Fair, a high-profile event with approximately 100 rides, one of the largest midways in the country, had a record year, with a 14 percent increase in attendance. But the other large-scale Wade midways, such as the San Antonio Live Stock Show & Rodeo and South Florida Fair were plagued by bad weather, with the South Florida Fair having to cancel an entire day.

“We did finish off last year strong. It was one of our greatest years,” he said. “But our season is always a marathon, never a sprint.”

Ending the pre-Independence Day phase of the season with a highpoint in the company's birth state put the show in a better place to face the more than two dozen fairs, including some of its larger-attended events, the Delaware State Fair, Missouri State Fair, New York State Fair, Nebraska State Fair, Oklahoma State Fair and the North Carolina State Fair, among others. By May the company had split into three separate units, which lasts through Labor Day, when the go back to two.

The shows labor force at its summer peak will be 350, up about 75 workers from last year and includes 200 H-2B foreign visa employees. Like many carnival companies, Wade Shows was a victim of a computer crash that caused worker distribution issues in the H-2B system, until the work cap was increased earlier this year, alleviating the shortfall but causing months of delay. “We do two different petitions in the year and, our second petition was in doubt because we were capped out,” he said. “But with the help of the H-2B Coalition, Seasonal Employment Alliance, and the OABA, we finally got the rest of our workers, it was an inconvenience.  Michael Wood, chairman of the OABA Government Relations Committee and SEA did a wonderful job helping get additional visas released."


Expanded Marketing

This year the company continues to expand its marketing efforts, but on its own and in-conjunction with fairs. “I'm always proud with the marketing and promotion by Wade Shows. “Social media plays a much bigger part of the equation as the way to drive advance sales, which is the new norm.”

He added, “it's our good fortune to play so many events with quality marketing staffs and share ideas. We learn from each other.”

Specifically, he pointed out the Wade Shows collaboration with the New York State Fair, one the shows largest events and one of the top fairs in the U.S., which also posted a record attendance in 2018. “I found it most enlightening with the New York State Fair getting the word and growing advanced ticket sales through online Flash Sales.”

The Flash Sale approach had different strategies, including a two hour Lifetime Pass sales that sold out all of its 200 available passes, according to Zaitshik, as well as other flash sales with discount pricing 60 days, 28 days, and 14 days before the opening. “It's a way to generate revenue, and it created buzz. Flash Sales are a real test of the demand for the fair among its customers. The most effective sales was the one 30 days before the fair, which covered other payroll periods.”

For 2019, the company invested approximately $1.5 million in new ride acquisitions and infrastructure. New additions included a new generation Sizzler themed from Wisdom themed Axis, a Starship 4000, and a 22 meter Giant Wheel from Technical Park.

Zaitshik also expanded his ongoing guest amenity improvement program, which he claims to be in the forefront of the industry, adding such new innovations such as cellphone charging stations, baby changing stations, designated smoking areas, and increasing its light tower array. “We first had charging stations in 2015, I don't know anyone else who had them. But guest amenities have been our modus operandi since 1993, when we rebranded our color scheme, from hats to canvases and instituted a grooming policy.”

Other 2019 midway additions included new umbrellas, benches and more than a dozen new photo ops – cutouts for instantly shareable photos, including cowboy and superhero looks, complete with a QR code for posting on Snapchat.

Improvements, ranging from the look of the midway to new technologies – such as the cashless midway using a Fun Card System – have been part and parcel of Wade Shows. “With changes like the Fun Card, you want to do it prudently and the most efficient way possible. In 2012 we chose the Fun Card system because it was the only battle tested cashless system.  Today, while there are other systems available, Fun Card is still most economically feasible system.    It's an evolving business, so we've added electronic ticketing, self-service kiosks and a mobile app.”

He added, “many of the fairs I currently have said that other carnival companies weren't providing these amenities. When we first go to a location, the amount of compliments from not just the customers, but the fair management teams and even the police, is very gratifying. Once you implement these changes, it's a whole new level to an event because people stay longer and their per capita spending goes up, as a result. But you continuously get better once you have built a strong foundation.”

Besides the gearing up for the bulk of his season, when Zaitshik spoke with Carnival Warehouse, he mentioned his other business for the year, the business of seeking new fairs and expanding his route. While mum on what RFPs he's working on, he admitted. “I love the thrill of the hunt.  I love the opportunity to make proposals. I love the challenge of putting your best rides, games and food into pictures and words. The challenge is one I enjoy.”

Those potential contracts for new events are in the future. For now, he's more focused on the summer and fall of 2019. The fair business is about having fun and fun is one reason this livelong carnival worker loves the business. “The two most fun parts for me is having a vision of what the fair is going to look like when it opens, and then seeing that vision come life. When I walk around the midway early in the morning, I get a sense of pride and satisfaction of a job well done.”

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