All's Fair

The Latest Trends in Family-Friendly Community & Concert Events

By Rick Dandes

From multi-day outdoor music concerts to craft festivals and family-friendly street fairs, the best planned events reflect the pulse of a community, creating celebrations of scale, depth and gravity. They also can provide extraordinary opportunities for local musicians, artists and craftsmen to connect with their audiences.

"In my opinion, a successful festival is one that makes memories," said Cody Sorensen, owner of a Salt Lake City-based company that serves the region with amusements such as a climbing tree and bungee jump. "The most successful events are always the ones that leave an impression and keep people coming back year after year. These memories can come from good food, big entertainment, classy shows or a number of other ways. Mostly, it is about standing out. Festivals should expect the vendors to make a good impression and work together to make the event a success. Vendors expect the festivals to advertise hard and bring in a big crowd."

Whether it's a community street fair or concert, bringing in new, signature attractions is a great way to make your event stand out, Sorensen continued. Exciting attractions add firepower to your marketing campaigns by attracting TV media coverage and encouraging related social media activity, Sorensen added.

An event, large or small, is also great opportunity for your sponsoring partners to display their colors to a crowd, added Pierre Luc Rompré, commercial director for a designer and manufacturer of mobile hydraulic stages based in Quebec, Canada. "Making the most of promotion space on a stage at a festival is a must," particularly in these economic times when staging a community event or fair can cost a promoter or municipality thousands of dollars.

Trends in Attractions

Festival planners can find incredible success when you can engage with the attendees. If you put forth the extra effort to make sure everyone is having fun, it always comes back to you in a big way. Then, you have a good day and the crowd has a good day. It does not cost you anything extra to operate with a smile.

Adventure activities are very popular these days at street festivals, particularly those centered on three different categories: climbing, zip line and freefall.

Over the years, zip lines have evolved from a system for moving supplies to a form of "green" recreation found around the world. A zip line is a headline-worthy attraction that draws in the crowds and media. For those who are unfamiliar with the activity, Bill Carlson, director of Channel Sales for a Boulder, Colo.-based company that brings new adventure recreation equipment to the climbing, zip line, adventure and amusement industries, explained that a zip line is an aerial trekking course. Safely clipped in harnesses, participants glide from one platform to another.

Technology has allowed for some creativity in how zip lines operate. High-speed zip lines, defined as any line with an arrival over 25 miles per hour, can now offer riders a fast and thrilling ride that was previously only available at remote mountain or jungle locations. You can find a mobile zip line that can be set up in an area of 20 feet by 200 feet within about 30 minutes. Riders are safely secured by harnesses before taking off from the 28-foot-tall tower. "But make sure your zip line vendor is adequately insured, properly trained and has a clean safety record to avoid making the wrong kind of headline," Carlson said.

High-speed zip lines require an automatic braking system, emergency arrest device and an engineered landing area. Carlson's company offers a self-regulating magnetic braking system that brakes zip line participants comfortably and reliably, and brakes effectively at high velocities.

Use What You Have

You probably already have a platform in place if you operate an aerial park, resort or family entertainment center, Carlson said. Many facilities treat these platforms as single-use structures with a limited purpose. Each structure is used for one specific activity, whether that's climbing, jumping, zipping or as a transition from one activity to another.

While these platforms no doubt serve an important purpose in your operation, they don't actively work to increase revenue, maximize throughput or satisfy your customers.

Carlson explained that building platforms for individual activities is time-consuming, expensive and hurts the overall ROI of your facility. Quickly turn existing platforms and towers into yet another revenue opportunity with minimal investment and a quick return on your investment.

Rock climbing is a physically and mentally challenging activity that can easily be added to your existing tower. Climbing can be a challenging and fun way to get participants up to the top of a high structure, and is particularly useful if you'd like to create a way for your customers to easily return to the top of your tower to repeat activities such as zip lining or free falling.

There are many ways to incorporate a climbing element into your facility, including building a climbing wall on the side of your tower or using a modular climbing kit on existing structural supports or nearby trees. Climbing is an activity suitable for people of all ages, and routes can be set to accommodate anyone from the first-timer to the experienced pro, making this activity appropriate for any of your customers, no matter who they are.

Traditionally, Carlson explained, top rope climbing involves two people—the climber and the belayer. "As the climber ascends the wall," he explained, "the belayer takes up slack in the rope through a belay device. With a brake hand on the rope at all times, the belayer controls the descent of the climber and is also responsible for applying a braking technique in the event of a fall."

Most community festivals, whether large city street fairs or small-town carnivals, feature live music on an elevated stage with adjacent seating.

An auto belay is an automatic belay device that eliminates the need for a human belayer. The auto belay takes up the slack as a climber ascends and controls the descent when the climber reaches the top or in the event of a fall. Rather than requiring one human belayer per climber, auto belay devices allows multiple climbers on the wall with one person as a supervisor.

"Bottom line," Carlson said, "incorporating auto belays into your facility helps you increase revenue while reducing costs and risk." For example, with an auto belay, climbers don't need to rely on having a partner every time they visit your facility. Single climbers can come in whenever their schedule allows, giving them the opportunity to visit your facility more frequently.

Carlson's company also has developed a product that provides a way to transform a tree or pole into a thrilling or skills-building adventure. "What it all means," Carlson said, "is people don't have to build a climbing wall, you can build a climbing activity on any tree you have in your park or location. You can actually have 20 different climbing routes in a tree and have that protected by the auto so that people are protected and won't fall and hurt themselves."

On Staging

Most community festivals, whether large city street fairs or small-town carnivals, feature live music on an elevated stage with adjacent seating. Rompré knows something about staging shows: His company currently is involved in staging events in 46 countries.

The kind of stage you choose is one of the most crucial decisions you make when organizing an event, he said. So it's critical to have a clear understanding of the differences between the two principal types of stage: the mobile and the conventional. Traditionally a stage is built on site. It's an assembly of structures and materials that has to be loaded on a trailer, then unloaded on the site and moved to the spot where the stage will be constructed. All these operations require machinery, they're labor-intensive, and they take time.

But a mobile stage not only has the advantage of being mobile, it's also preassembled. The structure consists of floor and roof panels that deploy hydraulically, electrically or manually into a stage that's easy to install in a short time. A mobile stage is freestanding. Unlike a conventional stage, it requires no external ballast or cables for stability: Stability is designed and engineered right into the stage. This is true for mobile stages whose structure is conceived to resist winds of 80 to 90 miles per hour; otherwise, depending on the situation it may be necessary to consider the use of ballast for stability purposes, just as with conventional stages.

"Basically we are the infrastructure on which the show takes place," Rompré explained. "When the general public and fans come to an event, all they want to see is the artist. They may also want to see a light show, but they are not really interested in the staging component of it. So on our end, we feel like we're doing a good job when the show happens, everyone is safe, they have a good time, and the audience doesn't notice what the stage structure is. We put all the emphasis on the artist, the sponsors that are showcased on our structure and the promoter of the event."

There should be a "wow" factor as well when you go to the concert, and that means not just the artists on stage, but the staging itself, Rompré said. "So the aesthetic of the product is very, very important. Every time we start a project, aesthetics become part of the plan. The seating in relation to the stage, in terms of width, breadth and height is a factor. Where the banners of sponsors are displayed is important to the promoters."

At the heart of every successful concession stand is the large group of customers that demand the old standbys.

An event is a great opportunity for your partners to display their colors to a large crowd. Making the most of promotion space on a stage is a must. But are you aware of all the display options? Rompré asked. Display is an effective way to give your stage a personality with a one-of-a-kind, carefully planned visual. Creating a strong impression on spectators means you're building a relationship with them. A good-looking stage is not only a big factor in the success of an event, but it will feature in the countless photos taken on site and shared then and later.

In choosing the type of stage display that is best for you, two solutions are available, Rompré said. The first are banners. This proves to be a simple and successful way of conveying a brand image and showcasing your sponsors. More recently, digital display is becoming more common for decking out stages. The advantage of digital is that it's interactive, and that's a great way to make a connection with the audience.

One thing that has significantly changed over the years, however, is "the number of rules guiding our industry," Rompré said, "… how stages can be built and the regulations we need to comply with. For example, when we started building stages back in 1987, we set those standards for ourselves. And we decided to build everything to the highest standard, the International Building Code. We based all of our designs on the IBC."

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

The popular trends in today's concession business are "ever changing," explained Tish Hardric, national sales manager, theater division for a Hollywood, Ala.-based provider of concession products. With the influence of 24/7 information and social media, it seems that consumers are moving from one trend to another at record paces. Trends in the concession business also can vary by region and even by the type of event. But the one trend that seems to be at the heart of most is that of nutrition and moving back to more "natural" snacks.

Consumers are more conscious of nutrition today than any time in the past, Hardic said. Concessionaires have to be versatile with their product offerings to include those products that support the movement to more nutritious snacks. While nutrition seems to be at the forefront of today's trends, variety is a close second. Consumers like choice, and concessionaires are challenged with meeting this need by offering as many choices as reasonable.

"When guests are thirsty, they're turning to alternatives to bottled water and soft drinks. Fresh-squeezed lemon shake-ups are a refreshment that all ages can enjoy," noted Bo Wilson, eastern regional sales manager for a Cincinnati-based manufacturer and provider of concession products. "In addition," he said, "they can be paired with souvenir cups, for an eye-catching presentation that will draw in additional customers.

Those who stand out in the concession industry are the ones who focus on quality, said Western Regional Sales Manager Chris Petroff, from the same company. "They offer the customer a unique experience. And people are willing to pay premium prices for a premium product."

One of the items that's currently trending for outdoor events is kettle corn. It's a delicious mix of popcorn, sugar and salt. "Kettle corn is as popular as ever," Petroff said. It's perfect for outdoor events, as patrons can watch as the corn is cooked inside the large kettles.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest changes in the concession industry today are government regulations on nutrition. For example, some locations are beginning to require trans-fat-free oils, which affects how some vendors make kettle corn and fried foods like funnel cake.

At the heart of every successful concession stand is the large group of customers that demand the old standbys. You can't beat the traditional concession stars: popcorn, cotton candy and funnel cakes remain popular no matter what the current trend. They remain some of the best sellers and best profit makers for event concessionaires. There's a nostalgia that's associated with concession foods and people want to capture that experience. Plus, these items are all popular and profitable, making a winning combination for the vendor.

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