Fairs association members get helpful ideas

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


Fair season is just around the corner.

What fairgoers tend to take for granted is that it is a big task for the fairs associations members, who are responsible for organizing and carrying out successful events in their counties.

On top of the list of concerns by fair board members are issues relating to safety, health and well-being of those attending the fair.

A part of that is wanting everyone to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Another part is the liability aspect of being responsible for hosting an event attended by thousands of people.

With that in mind, the Wisconsin Association of Fairs helps fair board members learn about ways to keep fairgoers safe and to share ideas for making a visit to their fair an enjoyable and memorable experience.

Fair board members from around the state had an opportunity during the last couple of weeks to share ideas, network and learn about legal issues when they participated in one of four district meetings. District hosts included the Price County Fair, Polk County Fair, Crawford County Fair and Washington County Fair.

All four meetings followed the same format with updates from Jayme Buttke, Fairs Association executive director, and Shari Black, 2016 WAF President.

During the networking sessions, members shared ideas about parking issues, youth in barns, beer sales, judge-training workshops at the convention and how to get people into the exhibition buildings.

Adding interests to exhibits

Jill Albanese, director of competitive exhibits at Wisconsin State Fair, shared her recipe for running successful contests. She challenged fair organizers to find new and creative ways to display exhibits that incorporate one part creativity, one part enthusiasm and one part amazing displays.

She encouraged fairs to change their exhibitor books and contests to keep things fresh and new each year and suggested that they look at what would be a good fit for their particular area of the state.

'Try creating some new classes,' she said, 'and you'll create new interest in your fair.

'Make your exhibits of fair entries more interesting by utilizing a theme or including some splashes of color.'

Showing photos of exhibits at Wisconsin State Fair, she illustrated how the fair arranged garden produce baskets following the theme of the entire building. As a result, there was always a crowd around looking at the vegetable displays that were much more interesting than the simple white boxes of produce displayed on a table.

Similarly, State Fair added interest to the photography display by adding splashes of color, again following the theme.

When the theme was 'Cream of the Crop,' the fair utilized dairy memorabilia such as milk cans and bottles to add interest to the all the exhibits.

Regarding themes, she said it ties all the exhibits together. She suggested, for instance, that many people are passionate about their history, and fairs might consider incorporating a history theme into exhibits, such as 'Rooted in Ozaukee County or 'Rooted in Washington County.' That theme can then follow through in all the exhibit areas including gardening produce, baking, arts and photography and more.

'Know your market,' she said.

Albanese illustrated that recipes including beer or alcohol may be popular among those entering in Wisconsin fairs, but in the southern states, they may not go so well. On the other hand, when Wisconsin State Fair tried conducting a Sushi recipe contest, it was not very popular.

One year, the exhibits followed a 'weather' theme. Recipe contests were promoted with slogans such as, 'Forecast Delicious.' Foods entries had weather-related names related to the sun, wind or rain.

When displaying exhibits, she said, at State Fair they place small stickers on the entries because the large ribbons take away from the attractiveness of the display. Each exhibitor does, however, get a ribbon when they pick up their entry.

Attract new exhibitors

Regarding exhibitors, she said, 'Treat them like royalty. Make it easy to enter and welcome them, especially those who are entering for the first time.'

She also suggested having a special class for first time exhibitors so they won't feel intimidated by those who they know win their classes year after year.

As for the State Fair, Albanese said, 'We have 98 percent new contests every year. We get sponsors for many of our contests, and they are part of the judging event, but they do not do the judging.'

The 2016 Wisconsin State Fair 'Eats and Treats' competition offers companies the opportunity to enter their shelf-stable chocolates, candies, salty snack foods, canned products and other items in 12 categories. Fairgoers will be able to attend the judging Aug. 11 in the Horticulture, Craft and Culinary Pavilion, and an addition to judging, 20 companies that enter will be selected to provide samples to fair guests.

Albanese said this is an opportunity for small Wisconsin businesses that have annual sales under $250,000 to promote their products. Many of these are made in community kitchens and marketed locally or on a small scale.

Albandese also talked about the Plein Air, open air painting that was a popular part of last year's Wisconsin State Fair. The program will continue again this year and will be expanded to a day and a half in order to provide the artists the opportunity to capture the lights and the excitement of the fair in the evening.

She described how fairs could incorporate this program into their own locations and encouraged fairs to think of unique contests like this to attract further interest in their fairs.