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Wade Shows: Learning From The Past, Confident in the Future

New Italian Wave Swinger
Wade Shows debuted the new Bertazzon Wave Swinger at the North Carolina State Fair during the fall of 2022.

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It's an exciting time of year for Frank Zaitshik, President of Wade Shows. At the helm of the largest family-owned carnival in the U.S., Zaitshik feels a pressure at the end of each season to think about what's next and implement it the following season. “I want to be proud of the results of a fantastic season but careful not to rest on my laurels. I think it's important to look to the future and draw from experiences I've had,” says Zaitshik.

A mix of reflection, pride, and ambition drives Zaitshik and Wade Shows to achieve the company's slogan “Always First, Always Best.” Thinking about March 2020 through the present day, Zaitshik is careful to consider the challenges plaguing the industry; “as we cycle through the different labor shortages and supply chain issues, we have to strategize about next season and how we'll get ahead of those problems,” he says.

While most carnivals have experienced a successful 2021 and 2022, the aforementioned supply chain issues have made it difficult for ride manufacturers to keep up with demand. “If you don't have a piece in the pipeline now your opportunity for a new ride is probably 2025,” says Zaitshik. Fortunately, Wade Shows is ahead of the game after spending significantly in 2021 on new additions for 2022 and 2023. “Of our 21/22 purchases, we've received a new Cliffhanger, new Wave Swinger and improved support equipment including two late model forklifts, three new generators, eight new bunkhouses and we're still going,” says Zaitshik.

In the 2023 pipeline, Zaitshik has an exciting project coming to fruition. “We're creating the first ever combo fun and glass house piece,” he says. It measures 120 feet long with three stories. “Guests will go through the fun house and then the glass house which is complimented by multiple slides. I'm pretty excited about it.” Hoping to debut the new attraction in early 2023, Zaitshik is also trying out a new business plan upon completion. “The builder of the ride will also be my operational partner in the ride. We're going to try it out and make sure it's successful for both parties and go from there,” says Zaitshik. He feels it's a unique opportunity for a manufacturer to experience the ride outside of the warehouse and see it in action on the midway.

Alongside brand new additions on the midway, the Wade Shows team took an aggressive approach to refurbishing rides and getting them back on the midway in top condition. “We bought a used Zipper that will run through Gene Chaffee's shop and redo it for debut at the Florida State Fair. We're also planning to have our Hit In 2000 back in service for the first time since 2020,” says Zaitshik. After the Covid 19 pandemic, the Wade Shows staff had to set a plan to prioritize and organize which pieces to service and get back on the road. Three major children's rides came back in 2022. “We're getting caught up. I have high hopes that by the end of 2023 we'll have all equipment back up and running and have all the equipment we've purchased out on the road.”

The second part of Zaitshik's strategy involves combating inflation and a potential recession. Playing a large role in this strategy is the FunTagg digital ticketing system. “We operated the Delaware, New York, and Oklahoma State Fairs as well as the Alabama National Fair without a single live seller,” says Zaitshik. “I'm very proud of how we've continually tweaked the ticketing plazas to have them run as efficiently as possible. At peak traffic we had two plazas selling all the credits and armbands and the longest wait time from entering the line to exiting the line was just 25 minutes.”

Accompanying the FunTagg ticketing system, Zaitshik has been perfecting a pricing strategy that allows Wade Shows to combat rising prices while still giving families a chance to save. “We raised the price of an armband in Oklahoma City to $50 on weekend days and passed the credit card charges along to the customer. Our philosophy in beating inflation and eventually a recession is a combo of on-site price increases coupled with advance sale super bargains,” he says. Using his online, pre-sale ticketing partner, Innovative Ticketing, Wade Shows ran pre-sale flash sales for the New York State Fair and South Mississippi Fair that were successes. “We want to give folks who are budget conscious a great opportunity to save. If you don't plan ahead you'll have to pay premium prices on premium days,” says Zaitshik. The Oklahoma State Fair partnered with Zaitshik to run a flash sale and host bargain days like $2 Tuesdays and Thrifty Thursdays. “Oklahoma did a great job pushing out all the promotions,” he says.

After achieving record numbers at almost every location played in 2021, the Wade Shows team tempered expectations heading into 2022. “We wondered if it was possible to meet those numbers or should we expect some kind of downward movement? We would've been happy just to beat 2019,” says Zaitshik. He was surprised to have met or exceeded record revenue at all major locations in 2022.

As he looks ahead to 2023 and beyond, Zaitshik and his team continue to bolster their strategies to prepare for a successful year. “We've had a great season. I'm proud of all we accomplished; now I'm setting my sights on 2023.”
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