WooHoo! – Fairs are Back in Business

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Oregon has 51 county fairs and they are opening again. 

In 2020 they were all shut down because of the COVID restrictions on mass gathering and the financial impact nearly killed them. 

Fairs are a big part of life in Oregon. For a week each year each county celebrates the agricultural community that is required to feed, clothe and employee so many. 

Even in urban communities the fair is an opportunity for fun, education and raising funds. 

Why is the county fair in the Business Journal?

I serve on the Jackson County Fair Board and have studied the fair business model and spoken about future proofing your fair at conferences all over the country. 

In Oregon, the fair operates by state statute once a year and is supported by a small percentage of lottery money. Each fair equally splits the amount, which comes out to about $50,000 a year for the fair to be put on. That is not enough to do much, so many fairs operate from the profits they generate from the year prior and financial support from sponsors, donors and hundreds of community members who volunteer. 

The largest money maker at the fair is the carnival. Kids (old and young) pay to ride rides and a % of the ride revenue goes to the fair. Food and drink come in second followed by gate admission. These profits keep the gates open, grounds clean and staff employed for the remainder of the year. A great fair, make a great year. 

The food vendors are independent businesses that travel from fair to fair and they are critical to the overall customer experience of the fair. 

The fair will hire musicians and grounds acts for entertainment to act as a draw. Concerts are the most expensive cost of the fair and many times the cost is passed on via concert only tickets. The goal is to break even on concerts and use it as a vehicle to get people in the gates to spend money on rides and food and drink. We would love to make money on concerts, don’t get me wrong, but the cost for the concerts and sound and lighting is so high that it would make the ticket prices unaffordable by most if we tried to make a real profit from them. We do make a small profit if we sell out, but that doesn’t happen every time. Like I said, the money we make comes from our share of the food and drink that are purchased during the concert. 

2020 shut the fairs down and the state was lobbied heavily to support the fairs and help keep them alive which they did. But the business loss caused by the shutdown was felt by each fair partner, the grounds acts, music acts, food vendors, drink vendors, marketing teams, stage lighting and sound teams and carnivals. Some did not survive. 

So with the state opening back up this summer, I’m excited to see so many fairs able to happen again. 

I look forward to seeing you there in person. 

If you get a chance visit your county fair and drop some of that COVID cash you saved up. They need it and every dollar you spend helps keep the doors open one more year. 

And if you get a chance to visit the Jackson County Fair from July 14 through the 18th please do. We are very proud of our fair. We have FREE parking, FREE admission for kids 12 and under and Sunday is FREE admission for all thanks to some amazing sponsors. Headline entertainment includes Bull Riding on July 14, Matt Stell on July 15th, The Marshall Tucker Band on July 16 and Colt Ford on July 17 and all of our headline entertainment is included with fair admission this year. Wander around, eat some fantastic fair food and enjoy a cold beverage, check out the livestock projects by 4H and FFA kids and look at the fair as a business. Let me know how your experience went and I promise you will find a couple of cool things you can do in your own business from our amazing and small but mighty staff at the expo. Visit https://attheexpo.com/fair/ for more info. 

I couldn’t find a list of fairs and dates be publication deadline, but when I do I’ll update the article online. 

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