Smaller crowds at the 2021 Kansas State Fair helped the new manager ease into the event
The Kansas State Fair’s computer server went down on Monday.
Fortunately for fair staff, that was the day after the completion of the 2021 annual event. So, Bryan Schulz, the fair’s new general manager, seemed to take it in stride, much like he did various other issues that popped up during the fair.
“The phone system was shut down,” Schulz said. “We lost our routers and firewalls. There was no internet, computers, or phones. Yesterday (Thursday) at 4 p.m., we finally got it back up and running.”
This year’s fair, returning after being canceled in 2020, was a good transition for Schulz, who just started in the job on Aug. 2.
That’s because crowds were down most days from traditional numbers, likely due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and spike in local cases, though a rough tally of estimated total attendance he made Friday was 281,000, Schulz said.
The Kansas fair, Schulz said, is about triple the size of the Red River Valley Fair, which he managed for a dozen years in West Fargo, North Dakota, before coming to Kansas.
“Overall, the sheer number of concessionaires and vendors was a lot larger than what I’m used to,” he said. “But when you’ve got a good team like we have here, with everybody doing their little piece of the pie, I was able to jump in and get anything taken care of.”
Challenges included learning the fairgrounds, hiring staff
His biggest challenge, Schulz said, was sometimes finding his way around. On the grounds for less than 30 days before the fair opened, he hadn’t been in all the buildings.
The biggest challenge for the event was finding enough workers.
“It’s a challenge everywhere,” he said. “We made sure we had enough at the gate. The board took the opportunity to fill in when needed, including keeping Cottonwood Court clean and working the gate, and it helped.”
Also, the board members were all tasked with being liaisons with different departments or events during the fair. That prompted several of them to suggest wage increases for ticket takers and other temporary staff.
“That’s something we’ve pretty much been told by the state isn’t going to change,” Schulz said. “That’s where the wages are. We might be able to slightly move it, but that’s pretty much, according to the state, where they have to be.”
“They very much worked well together,” Schulz said of the board. “They clicked really well. They saw an end goal of a very positive fair, and they ran for that.”
What he found most surprising, Schulz said, was the volume of people on the grounds on the final Saturday, which more than doubled from earlier in the week.
“It was very surprising,” he said. “It was very heavy traffic. It’s good I got to experience it and appreciate it.”
“We appreciate everybody and thank everybody for coming out to the fair, for believing in getting it off again for the 2021 timeframe,” he said. “Now we’re getting ready for 2022. We’ll be starting to look at entertainment and that stuff shortly. Be ready for a bigger and better show next year.”
On Friday, when he released the attendance estimate, Schulz said that included everyone on the fairgrounds each day, from patrons to vendors to the working Kansas Highway Patrol troopers, contending “they were on the grounds and buying stuff.”
“The reason we didn’t give out numbers daily is that’s just what is clicked in,” he said. “It doesn’t do anything with the vendors who came in early or the comp tickets or the stuff we do manually… We want to count everyone who comes in through the front gates, regardless if they are vendors or staff. Everyone is considered part of the count. That’s what fairs all over the country do.”
Officials don’t have data yet on how the carnival did, though they have determined every grandstand act except two made money, and overall the grandstand cleared 119% of its net cost.
“(Chris) Janson did 73% paid, and Sawyer Brown, which was a fill-in for Tracy Lawrence, did 89%,” he said. “The rest of them made over percentage.”