The Capital Fair: a Bit of Courage and a Leap of Mutual Faith
Like many regional Ontario municipalities, 2001 heralded the national capital region amalgamation and the disappearance of the City of Gloucester. Suddenly, the Gloucester Fair was without a community. Having just moved from its urban arena site to a more spacious rural location at Rideau Carleton Raceway, the fair struggled in a four day, end of May time slot. At one point, with only $3,000 in the bank, the Fair Board approached all our suppliers for their support. All agreed to let the fair go forward, but it was Barry Jamieson at the helm of World’s Finest Shows that provided the expertise, advice and a financial model that helped the fair find its feet once more.
Fast forward to 2013, with constant but relatively slow growth, the fair is still actively looking for a break-out event. Consistently attracting between 20k to 25k, the fair is politely profitable as sponsorship and midway revenues increase.
Annual negotiations with our midway suddenly take an unexpected turn when the discussion changes focus from our traditional 4 day event in May to a late August 10-day collaboration.
Despite the excitement inherent with a change of such magnitude, the Board was fully aware of the risks associated with the radical date and format change. To attract and capture our audience’s attention we would require something really spectacular and over-the-top. After careful financial analysis, we determined that waiving our gate admission would be BIG but worth the gamble so we adopted the FREE ADMISSION policy.
In the first season, our attendance jumped from 25,000 to 65,000 guests, a very healthy increase! While we were profitable, we ended up learning some pretty valuable and unexpected lessons. As the Gloucester Fair, we brought our traditions, knowledge of the grounds and corporate culture to the table. Although we’ve been with World’s Finest for over 30 years, we never had the 1st unit play our fair. Suddenly we were faced with snuggling up to a different crew resulting in a few very animated discussions but ultimately we got along and pushed through.
Having now gone through a complete fair together, there was a better mutual understanding of what needed to be done and so together with Barry, we formulated a plan to address these concerns.
The results made for a much improved grounds layout, tighter scheduling and consistent public and internal messaging that not only enhanced the fair but helped WFS achieve an OABA audit “Circle of Excellence”, the only Canadian Midway show to do so.
In 2015 we achieved attendance of 125,000 and hope to double it yet again in 2016. The increased concession revenues and healthy midway growth helped us attain profitability. As a result, we were honoured to return from the OAAS convention in Toronto with the “Fair of the Year” award.
We are sensitive to the what a gate admission could mean to the Fair but we are committed to sustaining our growth pattern towards our 5 year goal. So far the gamble appears to be paying off.