Southwood Entertainment Starts Jacksonville Spring Fair
By: Mary Weber of CarnivalWarehouse.com
Brian Ellsworth, the founder of Southwood Entertainment Group, just finished up his first event for the 2018 season: The Jacksonville Spring Fair. The brand new event took place in the Everbank Field parking lot from March 23rd-April 1st. Despite it being the inaugural year of the Jacksonville Spring Fair and getting rain on four of the days, Ellsworth felt that the fair was a success and he will be looking to produce another event there next year.
Admission tickets for the fair generally ranged from $5-$10. Adults (13-59) paid $5 for admission Monday-Thursday of the fair and $10 for admission Friday-Sunday. Seniors (60+) were $5 every day as were military and youth admission tickets. Children 4 and under were free. Ellsworth also provided several opportunities for admission discounts throughout the fair. The last weekend of the inaugural fair fell over Easter; on Good Friday, the fair offered a “Good Friday” special. Form 12pm-5pm kids aged 0-12 were free to get in and everyone ages 13 and up were only $5 a piece.
Amusements of America provided the midway for the Jacksonville Spring Fair. There was a good variety amongst the 30 rides present: spectacular, major, family, and kiddie. Southwood Entertainment Group and Amusements of America teamed up to provide ride discounts throughout the fair.
Most days, unlimited ride wristbands cost $25. On opening night, wristbands were $15. Monday, March 26th was $1 ride night; Tuesday, March 27th was “$10 Tuesday:” unlimited ride wristbands were just $10. Wednesday, March 28th was “Buddy Day:” BOGO wristbands. March 30th was Good Friday when wristbands were $15 from 12pm-5pm.
Ellsworth focused on providing tons of entertainment for families to enjoy. Attractions included pig races, The Fearless Flores Thrill Show, The Wolf Show, a petting zoo, and a celebrity meet n greet. Peyton List is a Disney star who played characters on the hit shows Jessie and Bunk’d. With the exception of the meet n’ greet, each attraction had about two to four shows per day. The robust entertainment schedule kept fairgoers plenty busy throughout their day at the fair.
The 2018 Jacksonville Spring Fair featured 20 independent food vendors. When asked about attracting vendors to a brand new location, Ellsworth says he’s lucky he has plenty of contacts in the business for situations like that. “From working in this industry a while I’ve met plenty of people I can call when I need strong vendors at a new location. I also always try to include local vendors,” says Ellsworth.
Southwood Entertainment Group is holding off from booking musical acts until one of their later spots in the 2018 season. “Music that will draw is a big investment. I want to see if the event has merit and potential to grow before I invest the money for a big, musical act,” says Ellsworth.
To advertise properly, Ellsworth spent about $65,000 and utilized a varied media mix to promote the Jacksonville Spring Fair. “I used a mix of outdoor (billboards), Facebook, Instagram, and radio,” says Ellsworth. The Southwood Entertainment Group team created weekly press releases to tease different aspects of the fair; the press releases were sent to different “mom blogs” to create what Ellsworth calls, “organic traffic” in the area surrounding the event. He also said that he heavily advertised to the Latino market through radio stations, especially around Easter. “You really need a good advertising mix to push the envelope,” says Ellsworth.
Producing an event like a fair is always a complicated task, but building a new fair from the ground up comes with its own set of challenges. According to Ellsworth, connecting major pieces of the event is the most challenging part. “The goal is to bring added value to the city, find the right ride company, and find the right venue,” says Ellsworth. Some cities have more obstacles than others so these large aspects of the fair are not always easy to piece together.
Another focus for Ellsworth when planning this event was safety. “there's a stigma around the Jacksonville area when it comes to events like these,” says Ellsworth. The police came in really heavy for the Jacksonville Spring Fair and, in the end, they experienced 0 incidents. “We made sure our event was very family oriented,” says Ellsworth. He expressed the importance of having strict policies and a presence; “We wanded everyone when they came in. We were making a statement and that helped deter anything from happening,” says Ellsworth. “We don't give second chances if someone gives us a reason to kick them out we just go ahead and do it.”
Currently, Southwood Entertainment Group has 6 events on the calendar for the 2018 season: The Jacksonville Spring Fair, The El Paso Spring Fair, The Mid-South Fair, The Smile Project, the Ft. Worth Spring Fair, and the Broccoli City Music Festival. While fairs seem to be the main focus of Southwood Entertainment Group Events, Ellsworth has recently gotten involved in music festivals such as Broccoli City and The Smile Project. “I broke into some non-fair stuff too, kinda on accident,” says Ellsworth.
Southwood Entertainment Group plans to manage some events in the Fall as well. “We are hoping to have 10 events in 2018, potentially 11, says Ellsworth.” Ellsworth says that sometimes a new event is born through his friends in the carnival industry. “I know a lot of carnival people who need to fill open spots. I take advantage of this relationship to build an event. I’m willing to take a gamble with that,” says Ellsworth.
Southwood Entertainment Group started in July, 2017. Currently, Ellsworth has four full time employees and two part time employees.