No, We’re Not a Carnival.
We are often asked to bring our carnival rides and midway games to festivals and fairs. While we’re happy to do so, we work in a very different manner than carnivals do. Carnivals come out to your location and directly charge patrons to ride their attractions, play the games and purchase food. This type of operation is called “Pay to Play” or P2P. An operation like ours, called “rental” for ease of term, does the exact opposite. We charge a set amount to the organization as a whole to come out and operate completely pre-determined dates, time frame and rides/attractions. If the organization that hires us wants to charge for tickets, they absolutely can. Ticket sales and facilitation would be on the organization. Simply put, although both a carnivals operation and our operation is similar in the way that we both carry carnival rides, we operate very differently.
Full carnivals have an incredible operation, they basically move a small city to every location they operate at. A modern day carnival will move between 15-30 rides, 6-8 food trailers, 6-10 game trailers, 2-4 massive generators and 15-30 Bunkhouses and RV’s to each location. Not only is that a ton of equipment, it’s a lot of staff. In fact, a Michigan based carnival can travel with anywhere between 50-120 employees.
So besides a lot of people and equipment, what’s the big difference? With such a massive operation, the carnival companies have to make worth their while especially with them taking all of the financial risk. Currently, every carnival in Michigan has been in business for decades. If the company itself hasn’t been around for decades, the owners of the carnival have been in the business for decades if not their entire life. They know exactly what fairs and events will draw the larger crowds and bigger dollars needed to make it an enticing stop for their show. Unfortunately, not every festival, fair and event is big enough to support a carnival for more reasons than just the size of the community.
With so many rides, housing trailers, food trailers and supporting equipment, your event grounds needs to be quite large. Not only do you need a large footprint, but the grounds need to be accommodating too. While carnivals can be totally self-sufficient, it’s more appealing to a carnival if you are able to provide water, some of their electrical needs, gray water disposal and carnival employee dedicated restrooms. Not all festivals and fairs have every item on that list, but many can provide at least most of it. Even if you were able to provide every amenity a carnival would need, it boils down to dollars and cents.
Frankly, your event may just not be big enough financially to host a full fledge carnival. In today’s world, an average Michigan
carnival has to be able to bring in at least $60,000 to even consider going to a festival or fair. There are hundreds of events across Michigan that don’t have carnivals and this is most likely the reason; not enough people = not enough revenue.
There’s also an incredible supply and demand issue in the Carnival industry in present time. The industry has lost hundreds of carnivals in the last 10 years alone. Factors in those carnivals closing down are commonly contributed to rising costs, transportation regulations and labor shortages. These are all factors that carnivals still in operation have to face every year. Most carnivals now rely on legally sourced immigrant workers to staff their carnivals because getting reliable local labor is next to impossible. Cost of diesel has gone through the roof which is what powers the trucks to move everything from location to location and the generators to power the show. Buying new rides is three to four times more expensive than it was just 10 years ago and it takes 2-5 years to take delivery of a new ride. The list goes on, but needless to say, owning and operating a carnival in 2023 (and beyond) is not for the faint of heart.
For those hundreds of festivals and events across Michigan that aren’t big enough to host a carnival, that’s where we come in. We “rent” rides to events that can’t attract a carnival which is a complete 180 from what carnivals do and how they operate. Now we say “rent” because you as the customer would pay us to bring in the rides. We still setup, staff, operate and tear down the rides and attractions but we are only bringing in what you order.
Our average event is 4 hours long but we’ve operated as long as 4 days in a row. Since we generally only operate for a day, our team comes in the same day and leaves the same day. On occasion we’ll come in the day before or stay a day after depending on the circumstances, but the team will just stay in a hotel. We aren’t carting around an entire village with us when we go to an event like a Carnival does which is just one reason we are able to accommodate smaller events unlike a carnival.
We love our fellow carnival operators in Michigan, in fact we have great relationships with most of them. We wanted to take the time, for our sake and theirs, to explain the differences between the two types of operations. We hope that this article has been informative and thought provoking. If you have any questions, as always please reach out to our team and we’d be happy to answer them for you.
As a reminder, please go and support the carnival at your local festivals or fairs. They work really hard to bring you quality and safe entertainment for the entire family!
Special thanks to Anderson Midways, Big Rock Amusements and Carnival Warehouse for their valuable information and input in writing this article!