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Wade Shows: Revenue Up, but Not without Challenges in Post Pandemic World
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Frank Zaitshik, owner of Wade Shows, feels fortunate to have been able to operate at some major events in several states in both 2020 and 2021. Like many showmen, Zaitshik has noticed larger crowds, higher revenue, and renewed spirits as life appears to return to “normal.” While positivity in the industry builds, Zaitshik can't help but point out some of the industry-related challenges created in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have had the opportunity to test the waters in many different markets and conditions. We certainly have a wide understanding of the challenges that each region faces. The challenges, guidelines and goal posts change day after day. In the height of the pandemic, most people in our industry focused on staying safe after they realized they wouldn't open, strategize a path forward in meeting their financial obligation, and just getting to the other side of this thing. Now, there's a sense of relief that much of it is over, but as we resume operations, we have realized that even though we are moving towards 100% pre-covid operations there's a new set of challenges that might be equal or greater than what we experienced prior to mid-May of 2021” he says.

Labor Shortages

One of the major problems currently plaguing the outdoor amusement business is a lack of employees. For Zaitshik, he sees a shortage in both Americans who have carnival experience and expertise, as well as foreign employees normally in the United States working with an H2B visa. “Not everybody, but a lot of people who were perhaps thrust into this industry early in life had time last year to reflect or take a break and some haven't been as committed to the industry as they were pre-covid. Many have decided on a different life choice and have left the industry for a different lifestyle even if it meant less money” says Zaitshik. This leaves a huge hole in skilled management roles, making the show harder to move and operate. Zaitshik is sure the industry will adjust but that will take time. 

Foreign labor shortages are largely due to visa quotas being met early on, resulting in the Department of Homeland Security authorizing an additional 22,000 visas. Those visas were allocated between returning workers (16,000) and the Northern Triangle (6,000). Stake holders who applied for and were granted workers from this region of Central America are currently experiencing delays in processing “northern triangle” workers, according to Zaitshik. “Some shows are not getting foreign workers at all or are getting them in dribs and drabs. I have to give big kudos to JKJ Workforce. I firmly believe Jim Judkins has gone above and beyond to facilitate the processing of this new labor source. Jim Judkins has had as many or more curve balls thrown at him as the carnivals have,” says Zaitshik. In most cases fairs have confidence that their carnival is doing the best job possible given the challenges they are addressing and as they experience their own post-covid obstacles. He sees the pressures this has caused within the industry as running downhill; many fairs (who have plenty of pressure of their own) put pressure on the carnivals because they want to come back in 2021 as big as they were prior to the pandemic, then carnivals put pressure on the recruiters so they can staff up to the necessary levels in order to operate safely and effectively. Recruiters then pressure the embassies to accomplish their recruiting goals. "Thank goodness the vast majority of fairs where we are the carnival provider have confidence that we are doing the very best we can to produce the best carnival we are able to in this period of rebuilding", Zaitshik added.

Currently, Wade Shows has 140 returning workers and 30 Hondurans working on the show as ride operators. We expect another 30 Hondurans in the very near future. “It's too early to evaluate how the Honduras will fit into the industry but the employees I've interacted with seem eager to get started and to be working,” says Zaitshik. He's hoping they'll be a great source of labor for businesses throughout the United States. “I'm grateful to have the opportunity to give them a try and for the current administration's willingness to give businesses a much needed additional source of labor” says Zaitshik.



 

Supply Chain & Transportation Issues

 Even if a carnival has the employees to operate, supply chain shortages make regular, pre-pandemic, operation nearly impossible. “For a number of reasons, we're not operating the same number of rides as we were in 2019,” says Zaitshik. There are a few rides for which he cannot get replacement parts in less than 6-12 weeks: a much longer lead time than normal. “Games are doing great but the merchandise shortages are serious and this creates a lot of stress and uncertainty,” he says. Similarly, for food stands, some suppliers are rationing cooking oil in order to preserve the supply.

Zaitshik noted that transportation was posing a major problem as well.  Trucks are getting more difficult to hire and when they can be found, the price is double and sometimes triple, what the cost was in 2019.  "Getting our equipment to the New York State Fair in Syracuse and out to Grand Island for the Nebraska State Fair has been a real challenge", says Zaitshik.  "Even with fewer loads, the transportation aspect has been the worst it has been in recent memory"

In addition to the shortage of trucking companies having supply, Zaitshik said he lost many of the regular independent drivers that would follow the show throughout the year.  "Whether they found other opportunities during the Pandemic for driving or moved into another line of work entirely, I'm not sure but the independents are definitely few and far between this year", he added.




 

Shared Struggle

Whether it be comforting or concerning, it seems that everyone in the outdoor amusement business—from the smallest concessionaire to the owner of the largest carnival—are having many of the same problems. “Perhaps the broader statement I'm trying to make is that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel that is the Covid-19 pandemic, but the challenges are really just beginning. I believe most of these problems will work themselves out as they have in the past; time will take care of that,  but we are operating in real time and cannot wait for the supply chain to catch up. While the gross might be significant  at our events, inflation is taking much of the revenue increase. We are working two, three, or four times as hard with less resources,” says Zaitshik.

In order to get through these tough times, Zaitshik believes it will take cooperation, kindness, and compassion from event staff, carnival owners, employees, and customers alike. “Everybody you're dealing with has a story and most people would do everything they could to facilitate any request made of them. Don't take your frustrations out on those people,” he says. A renewed appreciation for workers will certainly continue as companies compete to attract qualified, competent, and competent people to their ranks. “We have to appreciate their work and their value,” says Zaitshik.

 


Plenty to Celebrate

While challenges abound, there is reason to appreciate the post pandemic boost in business. Zaitshik is happy to report on the success of the 2021 Delaware State Fair. The final Saturday of the event, due to demand, had to be extended to 12:30am. “We were able to successfully accommodate customers using one purchasing plaza featuring a 150' x 100' queue line and 20 kiosks. Our digital ticketing system has worked well and our expectations are high with it,” says Zaitshik. Thanks to the Funtagg digital ticketing system, Wade Shows did not have to use a single live seller throughout the Delaware State Fair.

In Delaware, the midway grossed more money than ever, and they did so with less equipment. “While we were able to save some money on operating expenses, we paid for it in other ways such as overtaxing our employees because we don't have enough personnel and soaring expenses took much of the revenue increase. Even if we have H2B workers in place we still rely on those American skilled employees to get through our large events,” says Zaitshik. Despite putting up less equipment, customers gave little to no negative feedback about long lines. Perhaps people are getting used to being a bit more patient. “Of course it improves our bottom line if revenues are equal or better than years past with less expenses on equipment and less customer complaints. I think there will be some debate amongst carnival owners on this issue moving forward,” says Zaitshik.

“The revenue is great if you can get back out there and overcome the challenges. We are still planning to be out in full force at all of the locations we have left this year, which includes some pretty high profile events.  We are doing the very best we can to produce a product that the fairs and the public can enjoy and be proud of,” says Zaitshik.

My mom used to say “This too shall pass” and while mom was always right, I think if she experienced this pandemic she would probably rephrase it “ This too shall pass, but we will never be quite the same.”


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