By July 11, 2017 Read More →

InterView – Friendly Fair Fun Facts


Friendly Fair Fun Facts
By Chris Murphy

We are truly a Classic American City, but we are also fortunate that we have a Classic American County Fair. Many fairs across the USA and even in neighboring counties are struggling, but here in Stanislaus County, we have a fair that has been thriving, connecting with the community, breaking records, and winning awards for 106 years.

The Stanislaus County Fair is led by two dynamic people that have lived for this fair and used their time and talent to keep this fair vital to our community. Dr. Adrenna Alkhas, Ed.D took the reins of the marketing for the Stan Co Fair in 2009 after a successful marketing gig at Vintage Faire. Under her guidance and vision, our fair took off in the newspaper, magazines, bus benches, social media, and everywhere. Matt Cranford is the CEO of the Fair and has a deep background in event management, previously with the San Mateo County Fair and the State Theatre, and is keeping the fair fresh and interesting. Adrenna is an alum of University of the Pacific and CSU Stanislaus and Matt is an alum from CSU Stanislaus as well. Let’s get to know Adrenna and Matt. (this is a short version for this print edition, the full interview is at www.modestoview.com)

ModestoView:            What was it about the Stanislaus County Fair that tapped into your creativity?

Matt Cranford:  The fair really gets me thinking creatively when I am looking at new contests for our Blue Ribbon contests and what is new, fun and exciting within the community.  I also enjoy trying to find ways to incorporate the latest tech gadgets and items into the Fair. We are a solid, agricultural fair with great livestock and ag support and programs.  But how to intertwine technology, especially within the commercial ag business, within the Fair is challenging.  But always fun to focus and think out of the box about!

 

Adrenna Alkhas:  Have you ever walked the Fair?  There is creativity everywhere.  I also don’t have a corporation telling me what to do and how to write.  I let my imagination come to life.   From our latest #TheFlipSide campaign with the words typed upside on social media and an image of a roller coaster upside down to doing Fear Factor interns where they film themselves doing crazy things at the Fair, or using chatbot on Facebook Messenger for contests and meet n greet contest passes, I am constantly looking at new and innovative ways to market the Fair.

 

MV: Why is it that so many fairs are struggling, yet this fair survives and gets stronger?

Matt: The simple answer is our community.  This fair is one of a few that continues to see an increase in livestock programs and support.  Our livestock program, from the kids and their projects (animals, FFA and 4H programs), the dedication of staff and volunteers all to the way our sponsors, continues to hold its own and grow where many areas see a decline. We have trended well, and opposite of many fairs in the state.  We continue to survive in an era of budget cuts from the State, and it has been our community and dedication to our local Agricultural and Livestock programs that has made it possible.

 

Adrenna:  Our community that has supported from the beginning and because our Fair focuses on agriculture and exhibits, our families and community cherish the traditions and memories they make at the Fair.  They want the same traditions for their children.   Did Matt just say the same thing?  LOL

 

ModestoView: Why is a fair so important to our region?

Matt:  County Fairs are an institution that is the epitome of an Americana Culture.  As Graffiti Night is a celebration of cruising and classic cars, County Fairs are a celebration of agriculture, community interests and livestock. However, we really showcase community interests and hobbies for areas including floral, photography, arts and crafts and more.  While we showcase these items, and create bragging rights among friends, we also become a major meeting point for our community.  Where else can you bring together generations of families together and see friends in a family safe, entertaining environment?  As our community expands and changes, we continue to be a central point for the entire county, not just a smaller, specific community.     We are also very important in many other aspects including the ability to be a multi-use facility during the year.  This year we worked with Stanislaus County OES and American Red Cross to be a shelter during the flooding during February and March.  Our grounds were possible animal shelters in case Stanislaus County needed more resources.   Our buildings, when not used for fair or in an emergency situation, are used regularly for those needing larger event spaces for fundraisers, parties and other celebrations.  Like the County Fair in July, the Fairgrounds is continually used as a space that creates memories and experiences all in a safe place for our community.

 

Adrenna:  I was going to have an educated and really good answer, but whatever Matt just said.  But I do want to say that the Fair is vital to our region not only because it brings our traditions and agriculture together, but also because our livestock kids depend on showing their animals year after year, and for most of them the money they generate is utilized towards their education.  We also have our non-profits that generate their annual income from food or alcohol sales from the Fair.   I am part of the Public Information Officer Team for Stanislaus County Emergency Services, and being at EOC during the floods a few months ago, I saw firsthand just how important our grounds could be during an emergency.  Our grounds were used by the American Red Cross for any of the evacuees, which is why it is highly imperative that any funding we do receive go towards fixing our structures.

 

MV: Describe some of the challenges that make running a fair difficult?

Matt:  The inability to control the weather.  There are days where I wish we had a weather button that I could push to ensure the temp did not rise about 95 in Summer.  Make it a perfect day at the Fair!

Adrenna:  Matt wants to be God!

As an administrator, the single hardest part of running the fair is working to provide an element that is interesting and attractive to each demographic of our community.  I continually tell myself that I am not the Fair audience.  But it is very easy to focus on what I would like or prefer vs what the community is interested in.  And then to balance the budget within that element….like I tell staff, “It only takes money and time to solve any issue.”  We just need more of it…but who doesn’t anymore?

Adrenna:  From a marketing stand point, one of the challenges is that we can’t please everyone.  We try very hard to accommodate everyone’s needs and make it a great Fair for all.  I also want to make sure we are on top of our game with technology and social media, and I do feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of possibilities and don’t want to stress my staff with too many wild ideas.

 

MV: What do you most look forward to each year?

Matt: What new food items may be created for fair.  There has been a push over the last few years to create more exotic fair food.  And anything on a stick that can be eaten with one hand will qualify!  We never fully know what to expect.  From deep fried Twinkies to bbq’d oysters at fair, there is always something to enjoy eating that you don’t get during the rest of the year.  I also enjoy walking the grounds during the evening and seeing the young kids having fun with their parents….from the 12 yr old running ahead of her parents to the next fun carnival ride or the 5 yr old getting to eat a funnel cake for the first time, it is always very satisfying to see how much they are enjoying a night out at the fair.

Adrenna:  I look forward to seeing our returning staff come each year.  I miss their faces, and when I see them it is like a big family reunion.

 

MV: What keep you up at night as the fair gets close?

Matt: That nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I forgot to do something important for the fair. I know that the fair will happen no matter what.  But I do not like to leave loose ends out there, especially with Fair.  And trying to make sure everyone of the 1,000’s of items we have are dialed in for fair….that can be stressful on any level!

 

Adrenna:  Making sure we took care of all the details.  From the computer at guest services working to making sure our passport questions for kids club are not too hard for kids or Did I email a specific ad? Did I get the right banner size for a sponsor? Did I answer the reporter correctly?  And sometimes I’m scrolling through our social media accounts answering questions at night.  I do get my occasional nightmare that I never sent out our media guides or invited media to our events.

 

MV: What makes you smile at the fair?

Matt: Finding a quiet place to have my soft serve, vanilla and chocolate swirl and watching the crowd.  Getting that soft serve puts me in a happy place, and to see the crowd enjoying their time makes me smile and know that we are doing a good job making memories.

 

Adrenna:  Seeing the families having fun.  And a Monster dog, VFW Burger, corn on a cob, 4H milkshakes, Lobster fries, Kettle corn.  I should stop.

 

MV: Is there a tradition that has faded that needs to come back or is the fair where you want it to be today?

Matt:  If you ask this question to anyone in the community, you will get different answers…and all are valid and legitimate.  The problem is that a lot of the traditional items are no longer relevant to the overall community.  I wish they were. It is great to celebrate tradition in our community.  But that support base is slowly changing over time.  I believe that the fair needs to find a balance of promoting the tradition while focusing on the new interests.  And we are getting there, but to get that balance is tough.  I try and have a 80/20 for tradition/new, but things change so much it is difficult.

Adrenna:  If you look at our photos from 100 years ago, it is the same photos of parents holding their kids enjoying the Fair.  Photos from the 1950’s and 60’s you see the same family dynamics yet we introduced better rides and the demolition derby, which have been a staple at our Fair.  When you look at present photos, you again still see families enjoying the fair.  My point is, tradition and the family fun will always be part of our Fair from Derby to VFW burgers to rides and livestock animals, but the only thing we must change and keep up with, is technology.  We now have the Drone Zone, where families can fly their own drones, or from previous years having the big blue robot guy and the gaming expo.

 

MV: If you had all of the budget you needed, what would you do to make the fair better?

Matt:  Where do I start?  From building renovations with A/C, paved parking lots and a large parking structure, larger buildings, LED lighting, more IT equipment and infrastructure to newer maintenance equipment.  We are starting on these items with long range planning and proper budgeting, but I would love to get a blank check from Modesto View for anyone of these items listed!  🙂

 

Adrenna:  You are asking the million-dollar question to a marketing person.  As I twiddle my fingers together, there are various things from a marketing standpoint we could do better.  I always want our marketing to be fresh and innovative year after year, and although content marketing is a vital part of marketing, so are visuals.  I would budget more on video production.  One of my students from Stan State is our videographer and does a fabulous job, but would love to utilize his creativity on a bigger budget.  I would want to have an in house graphic designer and build a better sign shop with professional printing capabilities.  We do have a good printer now that creates our own banners, therefore, we don’t have to outsource too many jobs.

 

MV: Describe a Hall of Fame Moment you have had at the fair.

Matt:  The moment Modesto View gives me a blank check for A/C in a building!   I’ve had the pleasure of working at another Fair and event facilities during my career, but the moment the fair opened in 2016, it was a great feeling.  It was the opening day of my first fair as CEO.  At my hometown fair, it was a feeling that has been hard to put into words, but know that I am home, and guiding such a valued institution, was Hall of Fame for me.  And the ability to meet Kellie Pickler backstage! 🙂  She was one of the nicest performers I’ve had the pleasure of being around, and this goes back to the concert days at the State Theatre!

Adrenna:  BIG TIME RUSH.  If you were here that day, you will know exactly what I mean.  It was 2011 and one of the biggest Nickelodeon boy bands was performing at the fair.  Families were camped outside the grounds all night; people waited in line to get seated at 5 p.m.; by the time we opened the gates we were already at capacity.  Not only was that the largest attended day at the Fair, but we also had guests who flew in from various states to see this Big Time Rush.  From media calls, escorting media to where they needed to be, to guests who were excited to see the band, and me climbing and jumping a fence to get past the crowds, it was a night I will never forget.  Oh and meeting Boyz to Men was a teenage dream come true.

 

MV: If you were a kid again, what you want to see at the fair?

Matt:  I wish as a kid, I could be part of a group that performs at the fair.  We now provide a stage for community dance groups, performers and others to showcase their talents.  I wish I had been given that opportunity.  To see the kids now perform, enjoy performing and know that this could be their start to a career in acting, dancing or performing is great.  Having that opportunity may have helped me develop that talent and become a chart topping musician!  (those that have heard me perform on the piano or trombone as a kid may believe differently though)

Adrenna:  Zoltar from the movie Big, so I can make a wish.

 

MV: What is something that people don’t know about the fair?

Matt:  That the hardest part of fair is the day after fair.  Staff is on a 10-day adrenaline rush ensuring the event goes smoothly.  With lack of sleep, proper food and liquids, we end the 10 days exhausted.  Both mentally and physically.  But the first few days after fair, you are almost depressed.  The adrenaline is gone.  Those days are, in my opinion the single hardest part of the fair.

Adrenna:  What people don’t know is that we work year-round and start planning for the following Fair right after this one is wrapped up.  Oh and yes, it is depressing the day after Fair.  No noise, no rides, no food, no animals, and no guests.  SAD Face.

 

MV: Our traditional question,  Beatles or Stones?

 

Matt:  I’ll will probably be disowned by my brother and sister in law for saying this, but I’m definitely going with the Stones.

Adrenna:  Hands down, Beatles.  Looks like I’m not getting disowned.

Stanislaus County Fair
July 14-23
www.stancofair.com
www.facebook.com/stancofair

ModestoView has teamed up with the Stanislaus County Fair and the MAMA Association to book local music at the fair, see page XX for this info.

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