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How to Organize a Fair

Planning an event of any kind requires creativity, resourcefulness, and flexibility, but fairs stand apart from the rest. Special considerations go into managing an event held at the fairgrounds, especially the large-scale, days-long, grand spectacles that attract thousands of people to tens of thousands of acres of land.

Fairs were tricky to execute in the days before COVID-19, but now all-new safety protocols must be followed in addition to the usual factors like finances, vendor management, and employee staffing. So, how do you as an event organizer pull it all together while accounting for these new developments? Here’s how to plan, organize, and run a fair that’s fun for all – yourself included.

Two women eating cotton candy and laughing while at a fair

Preparing Your Comeback - Re-opening Your Fair

The pandemic forced a shutdown of major fairs all over the world in 2020. Gathering so many people together in one spot just wasn’t feasible with government-mandated restrictions in place. Restrictions are easing up in most parts of the world, allowing a return to business as usual.

Hopefully your fairgrounds haven’t stood completely vacant for the last year, and you won’t need to clear away overgrown foliage and other debris – but even if you do, tidying the grounds is near the bottom of the list of things to consider when reopening your fair. The health and safety of your patrons is what’s most important. Think about the following three points as you plan your return.

Managing crowds. Yes, fairs are largely held outdoors, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore social distancing. Crowds form quickly in places you won’t expect. When laying out your map, consider foot traffic flow around spaces like food vendors, restrooms, and popular rides so you can be proactive about avoiding bottlenecks. Try roping off lines and indicating six-foot distances on the ground with paint or stickers. Staff members can also help guide traffic.

Tracking visitors. Visitor tracking at an event works the same way as website visitor tracking. It lets you see who’s coming to your venue and can give you valuable insights about who they are, including their current state of health. When people register for your event, ask them to complete a simple health survey to help you identify high-risk situations before they happen.

Woman filling out the Ungerboeck visitor tracking form

Keeping it clean. It’s absolutely essential that things stay clean to keep your visitors safe. Pay close attention to restrooms. Make sure they’re tidy and always stocked with hand-washing supplies like soap, water, and paper towels. Place hand sanitizer throughout the fairgrounds in places near ride exits, livestock facilities and food vendors. Use disposable cutlery and provide plenty of recycle bins and trash cans.

Once you’ve gotten your health and safety precautions straightened out, the next thing to consider before you reopen is building your staff. It takes hundreds of dedicated professionals with different skillsets to make a large-scale event run smoothly. Since so many fairs were canceled in 2020, many talented event and venue employees suddenly found themselves out of work and left the industry. Recruiting new staff members is just one piece of the puzzle. You’ll also need to train them and integrate them into your organization to achieve an optimal fair experience.

Show them the ropes. While it’s obvious that new hires need to learn the basics of the job, remember that we all learn differently. Designate a hands-on trainer to demonstrate tasks in addition to providing manuals that people can continue to refer to. Check in with new hires periodically to gauge how things are going.

Make them feel welcome. Acclimating people to your company culture goes a long way toward employee retention. Hold onboarding meetings, introduce new hires to more seasoned employees as well as to each other, and think of ways you can show appreciation (Free Funnel Cake Fridays, perhaps?) so that people feel proud to work for you.

Advance their professional prospects. Offer your best staff members learning paths to professional certifications to help build new skills in digitization and technology. All events, not just fairs, are becoming more and more dependent on modern tech solutions to manage. People look for professional development opportunities, and if you offer them, you’re much more likely to retain a crew that’s prepared to propel your business forward.

Onboarding and training new members of staff

Contactless Considerations For Your Fair

Speaking of modern tech solutions, finding ways to eliminate physical touchpoints is a big part of managing a fair today. Going digital anywhere you can is an investment that will pay off now, and even more so in the future. Try these four tech-savvy tips.

Do everything online. From ticket sales to parking reservations, use your event website or app to handle advanced sales using credit cards. This cuts back on in-person interactions at your venue and eliminates the need for cash handling. You can also include a map of the fairgrounds with built-in GPS so that people can find their way around without a paper map or information desk.

QR codes for check-ins and dining. After a guest buys a ticket, send a digital QR code to their email or phone. The guest will scan their unique code when they arrive at the fairgrounds to gain entrance, taking the place of a paper ticket. QR codes can also replace paper menus at mealtime. Most food vendors can accommodate digital orders and payments.

Digital signage. Prominently placed digital signs can let you announce event details, changes, or other important communications to your attendees all at once. Push notifications using your event app can also help you spread the word by sending messages directly to visitors’ phones.

Say no to sharing. We all love a gourmet buffet, but letting your staff handle the serving is much safer. Never allow people to share utensils. Use disposable items whenever possible, or clean and disinfect things that can’t be replaced between each use.

Customer placing an order on their mobile phone using a QR code

Focus on Your Fairground's Finances

Your safety protocols are now accounted for, and you’ve got a strong digital strategy in place. The next step in managing your fair is knowing where your revenue is coming and going. Your budget affects every aspect of your day-to-day operations. You need to have a clear idea of where you stand financially when putting together your event calendar for the year. Here’s how you can boost profits and keep costs under control.

Track actuals against estimates. Tracking actuals means capturing the real numbers – not the projected numbers – from all sources, including unplanned sources. Compare your original cost estimates against the money that’s actually coming in and adjust your budget accordingly.

Capitalize on concessions. Let’s be real. For thousands of people, the fair means food. Revenue generated from fairgoers looking for a feast can be substantial. Be prepared to maximize commissions on your highest-grossing vendors and exhibitors by featuring them in your advertising and strategically placing them in easy-to-find areas on your grounds.

Plates of food and drink at a fairground vendor booth

Find new sources of revenue. Food commissions and ticket sales are obvious money makers, but they might not be enough to keep you afloat year-round. Charging for parking and priority spots can help boost your bottom line. Sponsorships with local businesses can also open up another not-so-obvious revenue stream.

Support sponsors. If you do secure a sponsorship deal, make it mutually beneficial by promoting their product on your website and social media channels, and featuring their logo throughout your grounds. Offer up the fairgrounds at a discount for their functions. Anything you can do to build and cultivate a strong relationship will be advantageous for both of you, plus it helps attract more sponsors.

Keeping costs within your budget also involves identifying hidden expenses. For example, equipment gets old and needs to be repaired or replaced, often unexpectedly. Have you figured in maintenance fees? What about restroom supplies? Are you sure you have enough – or do you have too much? Consider the following four factors.

Buy in bulk. Things such as picnic tables, paper towels, and exhibitor booths are all necessary to run your event, and you’re going to need a lot of them. It’s easy to overpay for supplies like chairs that you must have in large numbers. Shop around for quotes from wholesale companies and buy (or rent) in bulk.

Keep it fresh. The state fair is an annual rite of summer and a tradition for thousands of people. For those repeat guests, it’s important to freshen up your offerings to keep them coming every year. Boost your attendance by regularly rotating out old offerings for new, exciting options that help drive repeat business.

Expect things to break. Swapping out old exhibits for new ones can also help keep your maintenance costs under control. New equipment won’t need as much attention as equipment that’s seen better days. However, you still need to anticipate maintenance costs because things will break down from time to time. Factor in operating expenditures, labor, and insurance. Calculating equipment depreciation can also help you make smart maintenance decisions.

See where you can save. It’s true that you need to spend money to make money – but keep your spending within reason. Where does the bulk of your money go? What’s draining your reserves? Can you renegotiate third-party contracts, rent instead of purchasing outright, or cut a deal with a long-time exhibitor? Explore ways you can save. Even small savings add up to make a big difference in your budget.

Maintenance worker fixing a fairground ride

How Can Ungerboeck Software Improve Your Fairground Management?

All the fair management considerations that we’ve mentioned can be overwhelming for even seasoned event planners. No doubt it’s a lot to remember. Luckily, Ungerboeck is here to help.

We offer an all-in-one management platform specifically for events held at fairgrounds with features that improve your efficiency and maximize your profits. These features include everything you need to capture the necessities of running an event, from accounting and reporting to vendor management and calendaring.

Since the platform is so powerful and covers so many things, we recommend contacting one of our experts to walk you through the software and explain how it can fit your needs. But since all fairs share some of the same needs, here are four common challenges and the solutions we offer to help.

Staying on top of sanitation. It’s crucial to keep the grounds clean, remove trash, ensure restrooms are fully stocked with supplies, and to provide functional hand sanitizer stations within easy reach. All these tasks can be hard for staff to keep up with. Our Mobile Work Orders solution makes it easier on them by providing a virtual checklist that they can update in real time as tasks are completed. Everyone can see the progress, and you can make sure nothing is overlooked.

Laying out the venue space. Fairgrounds typically cover thousands of acres. How do you optimize your map so that everything follows a natural flow, your best exhibitors see the most traffic, and your visitors don’t crowd in one spot? Ungerboeck solves all of this with the Exhibition Floor Plan feature. A user-friendly grid interface lets you lay out your entire space in minutes and share the final product with each stakeholder with just a few clicks.

Ungerboeck exhibition floor plan for fairgrounds being used on a laptop

Keeping everyone in the loop. It takes an army to make a fairgrounds event run. Use The Hub to make sure each of your stakeholders is always on the same page. Store the latest information in one spot so that all employees, vendors, contractors, and volunteers can read important event information and announcements.

Managing multiple exhibitors. How many exhibitors participated in your last event? And how many emails and phone calls did you make to each one of them related to submissions, acceptances, supplies, and equipment? Ungerboeck’s Exhibitor Portal automates the tedious tasks you used to do yourself and puts the power into the hands of the exhibitors. The self-serve portal allows them to upload documents and submit requests themselves.

These tips, tricks, and tools will guide you and give you what you need to succeed when organizing a fair. And when fair season is in full swing, Ungerboeck has your back with a suite of software solutions built to streamline the entire process from start to finish.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we have a roller coaster to ride.

KEY IDEAS

HOW TO ORGANIZE A FAIR?

To organize a successful fair, you need to know where your finances stand and have them in order. Communication with your staff is crucial since you’ll have to be on top of sanitation to keep your guests safe. Lay out your space giving the most popular vendors the most visibility.

WHAT IS A STATE FAIR?

Part carnival, part agricultural showcase, a state fair is a huge public event held annually in the summer or early autumn. Livestock exhibitions and competitions are traditionally held among a variety of fun activities like rides and games. Fair food deserves its own special category of American cuisine.