New promotions and a renovated layout and landscaping helped push the Collier County & Fair Exposition to some record days and an event that exceeded the expectations of organizers and stakeholders.
Overall attendance for this county fair - 67,000 - makes it one of the largest of the small fairs in the Sunshine State - has been part of a growth pattern that has been ongoing for this fair in recent years.
"We were up by 3,000 and our second Thursday was the largest weekday in our history," said Rhonda Ward, Fair Manager.
That record was more than 5,500 attendees. While declining to release exact revenue figures, she added "that our gate was up, so that meant our revenue was up. There was more spending at the fair this year."
The fair's attendance figures received a boost by the luck of the calendar - the dates coincided with the spring break period for the region's school systems. Also snowbirds - tourists who flee the wintery north and flock to the warmth of the Sunshine State - seemed more plentiful this year. "We saw more tourists, and we always have a lot of tourists who are our part of Florida during this time of year," said Ward.
The Collier County Fair & Exposition - March 12-22 - concludes on the early days of Spring and except for some rainy days, "we had good weather. It rained before opening on the first Saturday," said Ward.
She added, "2015 met what we expected in terms of growth."
Reithoffer Shows has provided the midway for Collier County Fair & Exposition for eight years, and saw midway revenue increase again this year, continuing a trend Reithoffer has seen in recent years at this fair. "The community support for this fair is strong," he said. "Our revenue at the Collier fair has grown for us every year we've been here. They did wonderful promotions this year and fairground improvements which helped business."
While some innovative new marketing and grounds upgrades helped push this year's fair's projected earnings, the improving Florida economy was also a factor. "We have gradually seen increases, and maybe those maybe those increases are due to the improving economy," said Ward. "I think people have more money to spend."
Ward declined to reveal the fair's advertising budget, she said the media mix break down, relatively unchanged from last year, was television, 34 percent; radio, 49 percent and print, 17 percent. But advertising alone does not explain this year's fair. "Within the last 10 years, our area has become more populated," said Ward. "So the market is bigger. We've also increased our community outreach, holding more events before the fair. We've given bikes to local schools, held a Take a Soldier Fishing Day, and have given more than $50,000 out in scholarships. Advertising helps, but we have really tried to bond with our community and be involved with the community. When you give back to the community, people come out to support."
A promotional event that tied together many segments of the community was held on the day prior to the fair, where 4-H competitors from the fair staged an exhibition and were part of the half-time festivities at a Florida Everblades game, a minor league hockey team who plays in the 7,100+-seat Germain Arena. "We were sponsors of the game and we had our kids at the intermission," said Ward. "It was the first time for us, and was a new promotion. I think it helped our marketing."
An over-arching promotional theme for the Collier County event was "A Salute to Heroes," which had been utilized for single days at previous fairs, but was expanded for 2015 to include an Iwo Jima exhibit as well as a series of promotional days, including: Community Hero Day, Teacher Appreciation Day, Military Appreciation Day, First Responders Night (Free Admission for EMS, Fire, Police), Super Hero Saturday, where discounted admissions were given to attendee in costume or super hero shirt. "We wanted people to think of every day heroes, and with the Super Hero day, we were able to have fun with the hero idea."
Other promotions also encouraged midway ridership, including a Spring Break Special (Ride Free from 5pm to 6pm), followed by $15 All Night Armbands; Special $8 Kiddie Ride armbands, a $10 Thursday - admission & midway passes sold for $10, and a 6 PM - 2 AM Midnight Madness on the closing Friday.
Megapasses saw an increase in pre-fair sales and according to Ward, one of the most successful Facebook promotions featured a picture-posting contest that ran throughout the fair, with winners receiving a mega pass. "I do not know how many we gave out but our Facebook page was over 13,000."
The Collier County Fair & Exposition changed its grounds layout this year, adding a new entrance, parking lots and a more elaborate - and bigger - systems of paved paths and asphalt walkways. "We expanded our walkways layout, adding new loops around the barns and other areas," she said. "We created a new entertainment area and two new mall areas. This spread out our shows, and gave more space for the audiences, performers and vendors. We also added more bleachers to our performance areas."
The new design made the entire fair a more pedestrian friendly, open-air environment, giving the food and vendor areas the feel of fun and energetic bazaar. "We felt that the vendors may be missing out, but with the new walk ways and layout, the vendors are more connected to the entertainment areas and midway"
The result was a more cohesive fair environment and smooth, more inviting transitions between the various sections. "By spreading out and adding walkways, people had more of an opportunity to see more of the fair, stay longer and purchases food, goods and other things"
The Collier County Fair featured 48 food vendors. According to Ward, the fair does not track sales of individual food items. he said that "the vendors had a great fair, and many of them said it was their best fair. Saturday was so packed that they were running out product. People were doing crazy business. They sold out."
She added that people "come out for the fair food. It's one of the things they look forward to every year."
The traditional fair cuisine - Elephant Ears, Cotton Candy and Corn Dogs - were staple sellers, but a new item that caught the public's appetite was a "deep fried chocolate cheese cake."
Creating a more enjoyable outdoor experience that induced people to linger and enjoy themselves benefited the midway with something more intangible than merely better access. "They made significant improvements to the fairgrounds," said Reithoffer. "Brand new paving and parking lots, a lot of beautification, this year. When people see a prettier looking fair rounds, it makes our midway look prettier, and increases business."
The aesthetic enhancements "gives the impression of improvement, and makes a stronger, better package for the midway and the entire fair," he added.
The Reithoffer Midway at the Collier County Fair featured 41 rides, with the new rides being Air Race, its Kiddie version, the Sky Race, a Magic Maze, Circus Train and Himalaya.
Smarter marketing and promotions, and fairgoer friendly fairground upgrades - plus a better economy and cooperative weather - has made this county fair a prized stop on the Reithoffer Florida route. But this market is also on the upswing, along with it the fair has deliberately intertwined itself into this growing community. "Collier County has some of the most expensive homes, but also areas where they have a solid working class neighborhoods," said Reithoffer. "The area is growing every year, and the people want to come out. They love family entertainment."
The Collier County Fair is part of the Florida route that always occupies the early part of his season, and has proven to be an event with a steady upswing in revenue. "The fair has shown nice growth, it has expanded with the growth of the population of the area."
What does the growth he experienced there indicate for the 2015 fair season? "I'm the eternal optimist. Fuel prices are lower, the economy is a little better. We expanded our promotions and our packages and we had positive results."
Best Demolition Derby
Reithoffer also pointed another unique feature of the Collier County Fair & Exposition. It holds the best Demolition Derby on his fair route and 2015 was no exception. "I think it's the most popular demolition I have seen," he said. "I've never seen one draw the crowds that this one does."
Called the Demolition Derby & Team Races and held on a Saturday "has a very devoted following," said Ward. "It is something we've known for, and people here love the derby."