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  • Troy Waffner: Interim Fair Manager Makes Lasting Change

    The New York State Fair seemed to live up to its 2014 marketing tagline: "New Attractions, Old Favorites, Timeless Fun." Attendance increased by more than 100,000, midway, food and concert revenue were up by more than double digit percentages. This year's New York State Fair story was one that fulfilled its marketing dictum by successfully combining the fresh with the traditional.

    The 12-day event celebrating everything New York has been part of Empire State summers since 1841, but in 2014 the fair shook off its recent doldrums and gained much needed renewal.

    And the fair accomplished this goal without a Fair Manager.  

    Well, at least an official one.

    Newly Interim
    Since 2010, Troy Waffner has been Assistant Fair Manger, until April of 2014, when the interim position of Acting Fair Manager was created so he could take the helm of a fair plagued by management controversies, declining revenue and stifled growth.
    Waffner is not one to dodge a challenge. He was excited to prove his worth in what was initially described as a temporary position. In addition, the Assistant Manager position he left when named Acting Manger was not filled; Waffner essentially worked as the Fair Manager of a major state fair without the aid of an Assistant Manager for a major state fair, which is practically unheard of in the fair industry.

    Instead of taking a more timid, steady-as-you go course, Waffner made several bold moves that carried a calculated risk but in the end, paid huge dividends.  Waffner added a Dollar Day promotion for Labor Day; offering admission and rides for just $1, he added 1 and hours of free rides on opening day to introduce the fair's new carnival, Wade Shows.  He introduced unlimited ride wristbands to the midway each day of the fair and he expanded the fair's advance sale system, reaching new records.  The fair had a banner year, breaking and then re-breaking the single attendance day record for the event.  Based largely on his extraordinary success with the 2014 fair, Waffner is now among candidates being considered for the permanent position, an appointment he would welcome, admitting that he would like to drop the "Acting" and be named Fair Manager. Who the 2015 New York State Fair manager will be is expected to be decided by November of this year.

    Whatever the outcome of this job search, Waffner already made his mark by significantly improving the New York State Fair, doing so with his willingness to commemorate the past, but not to let traditions hinder growth.

    The biggest problem for fair organizers he said, is the "fear of change. If nothing else, the New York State Fair now embraces new ideas, new promotions and everything that goes along with that."

    The New York State Fair organizers, like many management teams and stake holders of well-established institutions, can get trapped by the attitude that everything should be done only the way they always were done. The "If it ain't broke why fix it?" mentality often prevents improvement; the fact is, for the New York State Fair, some of the parts if not the whole when not broken, were desperately in need of a tune-up. "I'm a guy who if I've done something one way for a long time, I look for ways to do it better," said Waffner.

    Dream Come True
    Waffner came to the New York State Fair from the legislature, where he worked in the State Assembly writing and drafting legislation, especially for the Committee on Agriculture. In addition to working for Sen. David Valesky, D-Oneida, for 12 years Waffner worked for Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, who chaired the Agriculture Committee,  The New York State Fair is under the purview of the Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGM). During his tenure with the legislature, Waffner helped write hundreds of Agriculture-related bills, immersing himself in the issues and policies that both directly and indirectly, relate to the New York State Fair. When he heard that the Assistant Fair Manager job became available, he pursued the position.
    "I had heard that the department had an opening at the fair and applied for it," said Waffner. "I grew up 30 miles from the fair. I have gone to the fair every summer of my life. I grew up at the fair. I loved the change from the legislature to being part of the management team of the fair."

    The 2014 event was Waffner's fifth fair as part of management. As second-in-command at the fairgrounds, he worked under directors Dan O'Hara and Tom Ryan. The latter lasted only eight months. In April of this year. Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed  Assistant Manager Waffner to be interim head of the fair and fairgrounds and its $17 million annual budget. "It was absolutely a dream come true," Waffner said.

    Besieged Fair
    Waffner took the helm of a fair besieged by allegations of malfeasance, declining fair attendance and as a result, increased media scrutiny.  In fact, the fair manger position itself was far from controversy free when Waffner was named to the newly created interim post.

    In 2011, the former New York State Fair Director Peter Cappuccilli Jr. plead guilty to official misconduct and was fined $50,000 through a plea deal that dismissed more serious corruption charges and avoided jail time. His replacement, O'Hara, left in January of 2013 and was replaced by Ryan, who resigned that October a month after the New York State Fair had attendance of 851,157, its second-lowest level in 10 years.

    Waffner's appointment as "Acting Director" was initially framed as a stop-gap measure, allowing the search to continue while ensuring that the 2014 fair would go on in capable hands. Matt Driscoll, former mayor of nearby Syracuse, selected by Governor Cuomo to head the search, after interviewing several candidates, most of whom are well known fair managers, was quoted in the local press: "We want to take a wider look. At this point, what's the hurry? We've got someone in place."

    Welcomed Protocols
    Critical Inspector General Reports and the turmoil that erupted following the departures of two fair mangers in less than a year led to an overhaul of the internal systems of the fair. Waffner welcomed the more stringent protocols, which included new layers of oversight.

    "The past is the past and as a Fair we have moved forward," said Waffner "The Department of Agriculture and Markets has implemented a number of procedures to ensure the integrity of our operations including contracting. Among the many safeguards are the hiring of an Internal Control Officer who ensures that the Fair is fully compliant with state contracting laws. The Fair is also undergoing an audit by an independent accounting firm. The State Fair Advisory Board is also extremely active in monitoring the multitude of responsibilities at the Fair."

    According to Waffner, the recommendations have been followed, and the specifics in the Inspector General's report have been addressed. "You want a transparent contracting process. The biggest part is working with our counsel office, finance people and the Office of State Comptroller (OCS), who ultimately approves or disproves any agreement."

    New Carnival
    Weeks after being named in his interim role, Waffner and the fair faced intense scrutiny as the New York State Fair conducted a competitive RFP for a midway provider, which was eventually awarded to Wade Shows, ending a 72 year relationship between the fair and James E. Strates Shows. The decision was contested by Strates and eventually was settled by the OCS. At the 2014 fair, the Wade shows Midway showed a 30 percent increase in revenue; concert and food revenue likewise increased.

    But if the per-caps showed across the board upswings, Waffner is as pleased with the increasing strength of the Agricultural component of the fair. "At the end of the day, we talk about entertainment and food and the expositions at the fair," said Waffner. "But Agriculture is one of the top three industries in the state of New York, and the vast majority of farms in this state are family owned. The fair is an opportunity for farmers to talk to fellow farmers, but also to the farmers to talk the general public and promote agriculture."

    With the growing popularity of the local-vore movement, hand-crafted artisanal food items and the "Farm To Table" awareness proliferated by the Food Network and other "Foodie" media sources, regional farming has become something it never was before: hip & trendy. "People want to buy local, there are green markets and farmers market throughout the state," said Waffner. "There's been fantastic growth."
    An expanded New York Dairy Birth Center had its debut at this year's fair. The New York Diary Industry has been on the rise, fueled by the spreading popularity of Greek Yogurt among other products, and has long been a significant presence at the fair.

    Beer Boom
    Now milk has a new companion among the New York agriculturally based products at the fair: beer. Like most states, New York has also had a brewers, but with the boom in local and hand-crafted home brews, the fair has also tapped into this growing market.

    "There has been fantastic growth in hop farms," said Waffner. The legislature recently passed the "Farm Brewery Act" which allowed brewers to open restaurants and become tourist attractions, much like wineries. To qualify, 20 percent of a brewer's product must be from locally grown ingredients. "The passage of this bill has grown the agricultural industry and helped local economies. It is great for the fair because it pulls people in towards agriculture and promotes local breweries."

    A reported 14 N.Y. breweries were licensed through the new legislation and supported the fair as vendors. At the 2014 fair, Waffner oversaw the new "Taste NY Wine, Beer and Spirits Bar" and the New York State Brew Pub and Distillery, which premiered at the 2013 New York State Fair, but was expanded this year.

    Downstate Marketing
    High on the priority list for Waffner is better marketing of the non-fair business on the 375-acre New York State Fair fairgrounds. More than 100 shows and events, including trade shows and consumer conventions. In 2013, Governor Cuomo increased capital funding for the fairgrounds, which included renovations to major buildings, such as the Science and Industry Building.

    "Part of my vision as interim manager is to put together a five year and a 10 year plan for the fairgrounds," said Waffner. "There is a lot of untapped potential. We still need work on some buildings, but we also have acres of property sitting idle. We have parking for 25,000. The fairgrounds can be more competitive in hosting more events." 

    A fair manager must be cognizant of the fact that any fair has limited resources and is accountable to its stake holders, who are invested in upholding the traditions and mission of the fair. By the same token, a manager who adheres too closely to these restrictions and concerns ignores new ideas. "It's a balance you have to strike," said Waffner. "There's also a lot of reality checks. There is a lot of staff that have been around for decades. I like to bounce ideas off of them, but you have to avoid the attitude of being entrenched in the past just because that is the way it was always done."

    Waffner is adamant about that attendees also have some voice in the decision making process. Each day of the fair, Waffner makes it a point to spend time talking to the people coming through the gates. "I talk to the fairgoers, to see what they want, what they think works and does not work. I bounce ideas off the people who come to the fair. I listen to what they say."

    The fair conducted in-depth exit surveys during this year's fair, followed up by market research, randomly surveying households about the fair what they like and did not like about the fair and if they did not attend, why they didn't and where did they spend their entertainment dollars instead. The data will be available for study by November, and Waffner anticipates it to be useful "for making decisions how now we spend our money and what content to have for next year's fair. I want to see the answers to questions, like why do some people go to an amusement park instead of the fair?"

    The results could also influence the actual marketing of the fair. "Maybe we can do a better way of explaining ourselves to the public.  Some things are working that you don't want to mess with, but there are other areas where we can be doing better. What differentiates us from theme parks or a Six Flags Amusement Park is that we are selling Americana."

    Waffner not only strikes a balance between the traditional and the innovative, but between marketing concepts and practical implementation of those ideas. "More specifically, there are a lot of markets in New York state that have untapped potential.," he said. "We can convince them to check us out and they will come back every year. We are looking at where we spend our marketing dollars to better reach more of the state."

    With a wildly successful year under his belt, Waffner awaits the decision on his fate as interim manager.  Having rebuilt community support for the event, implemented transparent management strategies, reversed an attendance decline and breathed new life into an iconic American institution, Waffner has achieved goals under his interim leadership even the most seasoned fair executive would be proud of.

  • Attendance & Revenue Up: New management, New carnival Rejuvenates New York State Fair

    The Great New York State Fair had a total attendance of 965,147, topping 2013's numbers by 113,990 visitors. Fair management is still completing all the calculations, but so far it is apparent that revenue was up across the board: Per capita spending was up by an estimated six percent; Midway revenue by a whopping 30 percent, and Concert ticket sales leaped 44 percent.

    When the New York State Fair concluded on Labor Day, the unanimous verdict was this major northeast fair has been rejuvenated by new attractions, new ideas and a new midway provider.

    Dollar Day
    The strength of the turnaround for the fair seems to have gained momentum as the 12-day event progressed. On Saturday, August 30, a sellout concert by Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line was accompanied by the largest attendance ever recorded in its 168-year history with 120,617 fairgoers coming through the gates, breaking a record that had stood for 25 years.

    But two days later, the closing day of the fair, the New York State Fair implemented its first ever "Dollar Day" - Monday, September 1 bringing another 122,870 through the gates to set a new record for the final day of the fair. Dollar Days - or a similar deep discount - have become a powerful marketing tool foe some fairs, and the New York State Fair jumped on this bandwagon. The uniqueness of this fair's Dollar Day was that is on both the closing day - and a holiday, Labor Day.

    It seems counter-intuitive to add a discount day on what would be instant customer enticements -the last day of a fair and a day when schools are closed and people are off of work. The reality, however was that Labor Day always under-performed.

    "With the dollar admission, we turned an okay day into a great day," said Troy Waffner, Acting Fair Manager. "On Labor Day, families start getting ready for back to school, that can thin the crowd early. But the combination of the dollar specials, and that there are people who wait until the last day to come to the fair, they went out of their way to come to the fair. It turned an okay day into a great day. That brought people back to the fair, a kind of summer's end, and if you get people onto the fairground, they will spend."

    Changing Things Up
    Waffner has been Assistant Director of the New York State Fair and was named Acting Director after his predecessor abruptly left after just eight months on the job. Waffner grew up in a farm family and has been attending the New York State Fair since he was a child; the 2014 edition was his fifth as part of the management team, and his first at the helm. His philosophy is to think outside the box when it comes to the fair; new promotion and marketing ideas are at the top of that outside the box list, but he admitted, "it's a balancing act. The biggest challenge has been making sure all the traditional things, the Americana appeal, remain while also changing things up"

    One change was more proactive booking of the fair's concert series. The State Fair Grandstand sales were up 44 percent, including sellouts by Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood and Kid Rock. "We gave people more reason to come to the fair with our concerts," said Waffner. "A lot of the attendance is driven by our grandstand this year. After last year, we came out with guns blazing, working with booking agents. We were able to get into the band's routing earlier than we had been, and that is the key. We locked up Jason Aldean early. We also worked on the scheduling with other fairs in the east, like the Allentown Fair."

    The most significant change this year was the midway by Wades Shows. James E. Strates Shows had been the midway provider for the New York State Fair for an astounding 72 years, but after a heated and protracted RFP process, the midway contract was awarded to Wade. "The biggest change at the fair was the Midway," said Waffner. "People were nervous."

    New Midway/New Ideas
    But the need for fresh attitudes that could boost fair revenue was well served by bringing in a new midway provider; Wade Shows. "With Frank (Frank Zaitshik, President/CEO, Wade Shows Inc.) there was no sense of entrenchment, we had new ideas and an acceptance of new ideas," said Waffner.

    He added, "The midway was as clean as it ever was, Wade had all their personnel in uniform, and people really appreciate the more professional look. Part of the contract with Wade was to double the green-scaping at the midway. Wade even added a misting tent. Everything Wade Shows brought to the Midway was overwhelmingly positive."

    "One of our signatures is the midway presentation and cleanliness, " said Zaitshik, Wade Shows CEO. "We utilized a combination of our rest areas and children areas, which had terrific shade trees, the public loved it."

    According to Waffner, while the final 2014 fair numbers are still being calculated, "we expect an increase in midway revenue of approximately 30 percent."

    The new midway, which featured two Kiddielands, included 63 rides - "it was all the rides we could fit," said Zaitshik. Wade Shows rides were supplemented by  Powers Great American Midway and Dreamland Amusements , whom Zaitshik called "great coalition partners." The midway included a new Delusion by Dreamland, and a Powers Great American Midways refurbished Speed. The midway also featured the RC-48 roller coaster, the largest roller coaster to ever appear at the fair, the Crazy Mouse roller coaster, the Enterprise, Drag Strip Mega Slide and Rainbow.  A new Helicopter ride also had its NY State Fair premier in kiddieland. "We had a good mix, some super-spectacular rides and many high capacity rides. We had enough capacity for the larger crowds."

    Not only was Wade Shows replacing a midway provider in place for more than half a century, but the company was leaping into the spotlight of one of the most high-profile fairs in the world. "Everything in New York is larger than life, and we knew we would get much more media attention," said Zaitshik. "Going in, we felt a great deal of pressure. Before the fair opened, we got a ton of attention because we replaced the previous midway. We knew when the fair opened we would get more attention. We knew there would be a lot of comparisons."

    The more intensive scrutiny included a publicized visit by the inspectors from Department of Agriculture and Markets (AGM) - the fair is controlled by this department - and the N.Y. Department of Labor to assure the public the new midway provider was up to code. "We didn't want any snafus," said Zaitshik, who was quick to add, "we had zero incidents. It turned out to be one of the easiest fairs to deal with in terms of management, it was a real pleasure."

    Zaitshik was also genuinely impressed by the upper New York state crowds. "We had lots and lots of compliments," he said. " The public responded to the variety of rides and to the condition of rides."

    Fairgoers also welcomed the ticketing innovations introduced to the New York State Fair by Wade Shows. "The public embraced the advanced sales of $20 arm bands," said Zaitshik. In addition to advanced wrist band sales - good for any day of the fair, even weekends - Wade Shows introduced advanced sale $70 MegaPasses which gave fairgoers unlimited rides on any day throughout the run of the fair. "It was very successful," said Zaitshik. We gave the public what they wanted with the armbands and MegaPasses. The fair had an all time record advanced sales program and our preliminary reports show an all time record ride gross."

    He added, "the fair had wristbands before, but not on every day. We had them every day, which gave the public more options and more value. It took off."

    "It was Frank's idea for offer a $20 advanced ride wristband," said Waffner. "Our advance sales tripled."

    The fair-wide dollar promotion day also meant capacity crowds for the closing day of the midway. "The dollar day set an all time attendance record and an all time ride revenue," said Zaitshik. "There were so many people we had to pull tickets two hours before closing, which was nine o'clock. An hour and fifteen minutes prior to closing, we were walking around telling people that that the lines were too long, they wouldn't be able to ride, but we elected to honor any unused credits on Fun Cards next year."

    I Taste NY
    To fulfill a contractual obligation, Wade Shows added a Taste of New York booth,  serving New York known food items - such as Buffalo Chicken Wings, New York Cheese Cake, General Tsao Chicken, "which was invented in New York City," said Zaitshik. "Adam West, who books with us, set up our Taste of New York food court." Zaitshik added that the West also booked  game concessions on the midway

    The New York State features approximately 300 food vendors . "talking to our food vendors, they were having near records, and said they counted more cash than ever before," said Waffner.

     The most popular new food item at the fair was the Twinx - a Twixt candy bar, stuck in a Twinkie, wrapped in bacon, then deep fried and served with a caramel and chocolate sauce - made by Fried Specialties. The item was actually was the top of the list of an Associated Press wire story on the summer's top fair foods - "A Deep-Fried, Bacon-Wrapped Fair Season is Here," that appeared August 24. ""Before we even open, they're lining up outside my booth," said Jim Hasbrouck, of Fried Specialties, who was quoted in the AP story.

    The Twinx caused a sensation, but according to Waffner, the most popular foods are the less eccentric perennial standbys, such as sausage sandwiches by Basilio's State Fair Sausage.

    Expand & Relocate
    The New York Wine Slushie is another standby, served at the Taste NY Wine, Beer, and Spirits Village. This open-air, massive-tent pavilion was expanded this year to accommodate the distilled spirits and hand-crafted beers as well as an increase from 11 to 20 vintners. New York produced alcoholic beverages are on an upwards growth cycle. The fair also added the New York State Brew Pub and Distillery, which premiered at the 2013 New York State Fair, but was expanded this year and a Taste NY wine and cheese pairing, held twice a day at the Horticulture Building, often to standing room only crowds.

    In addition to being expanded to include other beverages - it was formerly just the Taste NY Wine Village - the Taste NY Wine, Beer, and Spirits Village was moved to the Colonnades, a more heavily trafficked area of the return. "By popular demand we brought it back to a superior location," said Waffner.

    The Colonnades is adjacent to the Chevy Court, a live music facility, offering free with admission shows, including a well received reunion of the Classic Rock group, the Doobie Brothers. "People could have their Wine Slushie and go to the show," said Waffner. "It was always busy this year, a lot of hustle and energy."

    Expanding the offerings to include other N.Y. made alcoholic beverages - which Waffner said was an initiative started by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo - and moving it to a better location became a win-win. "It promoted New York-made products, which is why it was expanded. But it also became a great coalescing point for fairgoers," said Waffner.

    Agricultural Roots
    Another new facility for the New York State Fair was the expanded Dairy Birthing Center, which became one of the more popular agricultural exhibits. "It was hugely popular," said Waffner. "Hundreds of people at a time sat for a couple of hours to watch a calf being born."

    Waffner is committed to keeping New York's Agriculture Industry the star attraction at the fair, a fact recognized by the increased support the New York State Fair has been receiving from state government.

    "The Great New York State Fair brings together the best that New York's agricultural industry has to offer - ultimately raising the profile of so many farmers, vendors and small business owners from across Upstate," said Cuomo. "With new leadership, a revitalized infrastructure, home-grown products at every corner, and a renewed emphasis on its natural strengths, this was truly the best Fair yet."

    Richard A. Ball, State Agriculture Commissioner, acknowledged that the agricultural emphasis at the fair was a major factor in its 2014 comeback. "We crafted a venue with agriculture front and center, and as a result people, turned out in droves," said Ball. "I couldn't be prouder of the work our team did to bring the Fair back to a venue that all New Yorkers can be proud of. I thank Troy Waffner for his tireless work in making this Fair an undeniable success."

    NYSF "hearts" NY
    The 2014 New York State Fair received promotional assistance from the I LOVE NEW YORK advertising campaign. This iconic and renowned promotional campaign - the logo is considered the first time the word love was replaced by a drawing of a heart - was launched in 1977 and is one of the longest sustained themes of any destination marketing campaign.

    According to Waffner, for the 2013 fair, "the Governor got us together," and marketing the New York State Fair was infused with a fresh perspectives. "They brought a new energy to our marketing," said Waffner. "We worked closer with bus operators and Amtrak. We advertised in the city (New York City) as well as the Hudson Valley and Western New York, which we hadn't really done in years."

    The Great New York State Fair was prominently featured in I LOVE NEW YORK's summer tourism campaign, which included extensive direct marketing, advertising, and media promotions. "The Great New York State Fair is one of our state's most popular attractions, and by marketing it through the I LOVE NEW YORK campaign we are promoting it to the largest audience yet," said Governor Cuomo.

    New promotions and marketing - plus cooperative weather - adds up to successful fair. But nothing builds confidence among fair personnel like large crowds having fun and spending money. "The Fair is something that gets in your blood when you work here," said Waffner. "The numbers being up reinvigorates the fair staff and vendors. You can feel it."

  • Indiana State Fair:  'Farm' in the city

    Of all the things that Andy Klotz, Publicity & Media Relations Manager of the Indiana State Fair, can be most proud of (and there are many), he chose the following to highlight:  "80 percent of the visitors to our fair this year said that they learned something about agriculture.  That was music to our ears, especially because we are right in the heart of a large metro area, only ten minutes from downtown Indianapolis."

    Agricultural Savvy
    According to Wikipedia, Indianapolis is not only the capital of Indiana, but is also "the 12th largest city in the United States."  Its downtown area has "more than 200 retail shops, more than 35 hotels, nearly 300 restaurants and food options, movie theaters, sports venues, museums, art galleries and parks." With the Indiana State Fair on its doorstep, downtown Indianapolis also hosts the largest "farm in the city."

    Why is this so important?  Let's just say that urban dwellers are not characteristically known for their agricultural savvy.  By bringing the "farm" to the city, children (and some adults) who have not gotten much closer to corn and milk than their nearest supermarket can therefore develop an appreciation for where these goodies actually originate.

    Even celebrities have gotten in on the agricultural action.  Klotz shared a great anecdote about Kix Brooks.  When Brooks & Dunn were performing at the Indiana State Fair, Brooks noticed that donkey races were on the agenda.  Having raised donkeys on his own farm, Brooks was not about to be a mere spectator.

    Before you knew it, Brooks was up and running in the donkey race.  Unfortunately, his donkey "buddy" had other plans, and ran Brooks "right into the cement wall of the track."  There were some moments of sheer angst when Brooks "didn't exactly bounce back up again."

    However, all's well that ends well.  Brooks made it to the show that night, and repeatedly joked about the donkey caper.  He was especially good natured about the incident, considering that a CBS-affiliate reporter had managed to capture it all on air.

    Speaking of Entertainment
    Rome has its Coliseum, and as it turns out, so does Indianapolis.  This, in fact, was "The Year of the Coliseum" at the Indianapolis State Fair.  Klotz explained, "Our Coliseum was built in 1939, and it was the venue in Indianapolis for decades."

    "People came there for concerts (e.g., the Beatles in 1964), hockey games, parties, ice shows, political conventions, you name it...  A tremendous amount of history took place there, so people have had a real affinity for the Coliseum."

    "Nevertheless, the building was not up to modern-day arena standards.  To keep it open was going to take quite a bit of work.  We managed to get the governor and state legislators on board with refurbishing it."

    "In September 2012, we closed the Coliseum down to begin a complete overhaul of the building.  Everything was gutted inside, but the four outside walls were preserved.  These outside walls have a landmark art-deco type of design that people recognize and love."

    "We sold bonds and will finance those through our own revenue over the next 25 years or so.  The entire project cost $53 million, and the reconstruction took 18 months.   This year's fair was the first chance for the general public to really go through the building."

    "The Coliseum now has fabulous lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system.  The draft-horse show was once again held there, and the place was completely packed.  Comedian Jim Gaffigan sold out, and the other concerts and events did real well."

    100 Bottles of Beer... 
    Another "first" for this year's fair was The Indiana Beer and Wine Exposition.  There's a fabled history to this, too.  (When a fair's been operating since 1852 as this one has, there's a whole lot of history to be had.)

    The fair's website explains, "This is the first time since 1946 alcohol has been allowed to be served at the Indiana State Fair.'   Klotz elaborated, "As the story goes, the beer vendors ran out of cups in 1946.  They handed out bottles to people who still wanted to buy beer, and those bottles ended up littering the fairgrounds.  Many people were extremely upset with how littered the fairgrounds were, so the legislature then banned all alcohol sales."

    Many were thrilled that 2014 marked the beginning of a new beer-and-wine era at the fair.  Klotz explained that there is now "one controlled enclosed area with a three-drink maximum where  people can go in and enjoy some beer and wine.  This promotes Indiana's craft-beer and wine industries, which are such a big part of our agriculture now.  We had tremendous positive feedback on how these things were set up and run this year."

    Banner Year
    In fact, 2014 turned out to be an all-around banner year.  The Indianapolis Star reported that there were 954,884 attendees, "making it the third most popular edition [of the fair] in history."

    The Indiana Beer and Wine Exposition alone "drew 48,259 visitors."

    This is especially commendable in view of the tragedies (1963 Coliseum explosion and 2011 stage collapse) that this fair has suffered through.  Klotz explained that much has been done to insure future safety. 

    "We revamped our entire emergency management plan, which has become a standard in the entertainment industry, as well as in the fair industry.  We now have a system in place that disseminates information to all concerned in an extremely timely manner.  During this year alone, we pulled people in to take shelter because of a looming storm."

    "We are continually upgrading our fairgrounds.  People have noticed the improvements in general and the high quality of our exhibit areas, which are some of the cleanest you'll find anywhere."

    From its agricultural education to its state-of-the-art facilities, the Indiana State Fair is a class act.  Klotz promises, "Although we realize that it gets tough to keep raising the bar year after year, that's exactly what we intend to do." 

  • Bret Michaels proves to be a big draw for the Big Butler Fair

    In the middle of summer, a ton of people converged on a tiny town in western Pennsylvania. They were there for the Big Butler Fair, which ran from June 27 through July 5, but Ben Roenigk, president of the Big Butler Fair Association, said he believes that all of the people came to welcome a native son home who has made a really big name for himself.

    Bret Michaels was born and raised in Prospect, Pa., the small town where the fair has been held for the last 159 years. The fair, known as one of the biggest and best in the state, will celebrate its 160th anniversary next year, said Roenigk. Prospect has a population of only about 1,200 people. "Bret Michaels, from Butler County, came home," he said. "He was the lead singer in Poison and is now on his own. We were all pretty excited."

    Michaels was lead singer of the metal band Poison when the band sold over 30 million records worldwide and 15 million records in the United States alone. The band also charted ten singles to the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, including six top 10 singles and the number one single, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."

    Michaels also has several solo albums to his credit, including a soundtrack album to the movie A Letter from Death Row, which Michaels starred in, wrote and directed in 1998, and a classic Poison-style rock album, Song of Life in 2003.

    Michaels has appeared in several movies and TV shows, including as a judge on the talent show Nashville Star which led to his country influenced rock album Freedom of Sound in 2005. Michaels was the winning contestant on NBC's reality show Celebrity Apprentice 3 and was also featured in his own reality docu-series, Bret Michaels.

    Michaels appeared in a free concert at the fair on July 2, said Roenigk.

    Another big entertainment event was the Animal Planet's Gator Boys. The boys, based in Florida, appeared at the fair every day, three times a day, said Roenigk.
    And then there was the school bus demolition derby, an event that was introduced at the Big Butler Fair and has been adopted by other fairs across the country.

    "The kids the school kids love seeing those school buses smashed," said Roenigk, with a chuckle.

    The Big Butler Fair was established in 1855, and the first fair was held in 1856 on a plot of land east of the city. The next year, the fair moved to a site near the present location of the Pullman-Stanard plant. Joseph Douthett was the first president of the association and the fair prospered under his direction until activities were curtailed by the Civil War.

    In 1856, the Butler Agricultural and Stock Association was formed. The fair went on for eleven years after the war until the Butler Driving and Fair Association replaced the first group. A tract of 33 acres was leased and a half-mile race track was developed.

    The Big Butler Fair is the largest fair in Western Pennsylvania and considered by many to be the best fair in the country, said Roenigk. Families come from all over Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia to attend the Big Butler Fair to enjoy fireworks, the midway, games, demolition derbies, concerts and truck pulls. Pittsburgh, for example, is about an hour's drive away, said Roenigk. The Big Butler Fair lost some competition a couple of years ago when the Alleghany Fair closed down, he said. That move may have even helped increase attendance.

    Roenigk said that more than 100,000 people attended the 2014 Big Butler Fair, about a 20 percent increase over last year.

    The fair today operates on a 150-acre fairground, with food, carnival rides and perpetual fun going on for all nine days of the event With a budget of about $60,000, Roenigk said the fair was advertised on the fair's website, through social media, television and radio. He said they probably went over budget slightly this year because of the extreme effort to advertise.

    "The Bret Michaels thing got us all a little more excited," he said.

    But there was more than Bret Michaels to get excited about. There was actually something going on every minute, including harness racing and "bike night," which was held on Friday night. Participants could ride their motorcycles into the grandstand through the west gate and their admission to the fairgrounds was free. There was a $5 cost for each motorcycle they brought in.

    On Friday, June 27, there was a special concert by The Clarks, billed as "Pittsburgh's superstars." The Clarks are an American rock band that has stayed together for more than 20 years.  The Clarks have been musical superstars in and around their hometown of Pittsburgh for years.

    There were also antique tractor pulls. Tractor pull competitions included super stock tractors and "smoker" tractors.

    There was square dancing on Saturday, June 28, held in the 4H barn. The demolition derby championships were held. Cars with no mufflers and missing parts were allowed to participate as their radiators spewed steam and blown tires belched and fenders buckled under the banging of bumper to bumper collisions.

    There was also a "run what ya brung" truck pull and competition. In addition, the big rigs and semi trucks moved in for a truck pull competition. A freestyle motorcross motorcycle event was also featured.

    The midway displayed the games and fun of Powers Great American Midways, based in Corfu, New York. Powers combined both of their units  for the Big Butler Fair.
    Powers Great American Midways is owned by Corky and Debbie Powers. The couple has four children and seven grandchildren, all of them working in the business.
    Fourth of July at the fair, of course, featured a spectacular fireworks display by Shively Fireworks. The Y108 Freedom festival featured Joe Diffie and Charee' White as a special guest.

    When it was all over, Roenigk said he was a happy man.

    "The weather was fantastic," he said. "It was in the high 70s every day. There were afternoons when it got a little warmer but the temperatures always stayed below 90- degrees. Overall, we couldn't be more excited, and we're looking forward to next year."

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The Industry Buzz
Deggeller Attractions signs long term contract extension at York Fair
Deggeller Attractions announced today that the show signed a new long term contract extension at the historic York Fair (York, PA).  Deggeller has provided the midway at the fair since 2010.  Previously, the fair was played by Reithoffer Shows for a number of years.  Deggeller fields a main midway and a second kiddieland on the opposite side of the fairgrounds, complete with a Chance Giant Wheel and Century Wheel, Huss Super Nova and Top Spin, a full size roller coaster, among others.

  Posted by Matt Cook on 9/15/2014
Minnesota State Fair breaks all time attendance record
The 2014 Minnesota State Fair set an all time attendance record with over 1,824,830 guests passing through the gate.  This broke the previous record of 1,790,497 that was set in 2009. 
  Posted by Matt Cook on 9/2/2014
McDonagh's add new features to Big Bamboo Fun House
During a recent visit with Tom and Jeanne McDonagh at the Minnesota State Fair, the couple reported that they were awaiting delivery of a new trick from Italy for their spectacular fun house, the Big Bamboo.  The initial part of the fun house is on ground level and features a unique walkway over a water tank and a rock cave with overhead waterfall.  The new trick will be located just after guests pass through the cave and will be a platform "similar to a Whac a Mole Game where guests have to walk over objects popping up from the ground" described McDonagh.  At the Minnesota State Fair, they added a fog element to the fun houses smoke stack located on top of the tug boat.  For 2014, the fun house has played the Florida State Fair, Houston Livestock Show, San Diego County Fair, Wisconsin State Fair, the Minnesota State Fair and will conclude its season at the State Fair of Texas.  So far, McDonagh reported a successful season.

  Posted by Matt Cook on 8/29/2014
Showmen Supplies to carry Fabbri ride parts

Showmen Supplies has reached an agreement with the Fabbri Group, an Italian manufacturer of amusement rides, to be the exclusive distributor of Fabbri amusement ride parts for the United States and Canada.

Scott Siefker, Vice President of Showmen Supplies, said, "Because our core business already revolves around the logistics of component part supply, we felt we were ideally suited to managing a ride parts distributorship to service Fabbri ride owners." When asked what would be the greatest benefit of this deal, Siefker stated, "We have 48 years of customer service experience in the amusement industry. This will be a great advantage to owners of Fabbri equipment whose business depends on having their rides in operation and not out of commission while they wait for shipments to arrive from Europe. We know that when they call they need replacement parts to be in stock and shipped quickly and we have a great history of doing exactly that."

Last month, Showmen Supplies acquired the existing US-based Fabbri parts inventory from Amusement Sales, Inc. and has embarked on an expansion of that inventory to have the most commonly sought parts readily available to Fabbri ride owners.  Confronting the task now before them, Scott Siefker said, "We'll have lots of work to do in expanding our parts database, learning the equipment functionality, and familiarizing ourselves with new mechanical systems but I know we're up for the challenge and will do a great job for our customers."

  Posted by Matt Cook on 8/15/2014
In our efforts to chronicle the history of our industry, we could think of no better way to further this endeavor than to interview industry pioneers and preserve their videos for posterity.


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