Learning from fair friends

By Christina Franc


Several fairs in Quebec have taken a page out of the C.A.F.E. book and developed an informal exchange program amongst themselves this past summer.

Bedford Fair, Brome Fair, Expo Ormstown and Expo Trois-Rivières each sent members to one another’s fairs to have a hands-on volunteer experience. Each person who participated said it was a wonderful learning experience, something they look forward to repeating.

Fairs, whether they are big or small, can all learn from each other. Some problems are universal: the weather, decreasing exhibitor numbers or even how to handle emergencies. Which is why exchanges are great; they provide the opportunity to see how other fairs handle these problems.

Here are the top 7 reasons why you should participate in an exchange with another fair:

  1. It’s mutually beneficial

It was a win-win situation, the hosting fair had a few extra volunteers that were able to help lighten the workload, doing everything from working at gates to stuffing pamphlets or helping with the parades and animal shows. As many in the industry know, those extra hands are a huge help, especially when they are qualified and knowledgeable. At the same time, the volunteers had the chance to observe and participate in activities they have never been able to participate in at their own fairs.


  1. Networking 2.0

Conferences and meetings are a great way to meet people and exchange ideas, but visiting a fair gives you the chance to go in-depth and see first hand ideas and opportunities you hadn’t even considered, from the smallest detail to the big picture.


  1. Perspective

Some problems are universal, others are more specific, but either way the discussion it creates is always interesting. One of the major discussions at an exchange was about partner relations, and how the same partner has different management techniques in each region. The discussion centred around how to possibly encourage the partner to be more supportive using tactics that were successful in other regions.


  1. On-the-ground experience

While working at your fair, you likely don’t have the chance to see what it’s like to work at the gates, or to be the secretary for judging. It’s the ideal opportunity to see if the systems you implement are in fact useful or if there’s a better way to do things. It’ll also serve as a reminder that, yes, making sure your workers have a good supply of water and frequent bathroom breaks is very important!


  1. Ideas

Albeit just by visiting another fair, you can get many ideas from them, but by volunteering, you have behind-the-scenes access to people, activities and buildings. You can make connections with new vendors, children’s programs and concessioners. As well, you can look at how the grounds are laid out and see if there are opportunities to capitalize on your own space in a similar way.


  1. Validation

Not only do you get new ideas, but often you see the ideas you’ve implemented at your own fair are good practice because another fair is doing the exact same thing; likely for the exact same reasons.


  1. Relief

From the perspective of a hosting fair, it’s a huge relief to know you have people around you who are qualified and resourceful. Although they might not be able to answer every visitor’s question, they know how to deal with them in a friendly and helpful manner. They also know what you’re going through and often go the extra mile to help out, working a few extra hours or doing the ‘inglorious’ jobs.

It doesn’t have to have a formal structure. These exchanges started with a conversation around the table, and were organized over a few emails to sort accommodation and working hours, and they worked out very well. Start the conversation and see where it leads, guaranteed it will be a brilliant learning experience.


If you would like any more information or tips, please feel free to contact Christina Franc, Expo Ormstown at manager@expoormstown.com