Business Perspectives

Forward-thinking attitude drives State Fair

Automaker entrepreneur Henry Ford once said, "The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time."

So true. Those words are becoming more important, especially in the highly competitive, ever-changing economic and business world we work in today.

But how do you make your business better all the time? For the Kansas State Fair, the answer lies in continued relevancy and reinvigoration of the organization.

While the fair is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2013 and we're spending much time reflecting on the past, we've always found benefit in a forward-thinking attitude. We must find ways to balance the historic tradition of the fair with the latest trends that will appeal to new and younger demographics.

We've put into practice several tactics to ensure our organization is on the leading edge of the industry. They can work for you, too.

* Research best practices. Keep an ear to the ground, especially when reviewing trade publications and attending conferences. What are other organizations doing? Ask questions and take notes when out in the community — and put good ideas to action.

* Leverage social media. Crowdsource through Facebook questions or reach out via Twitter: What new initiatives do your audiences want to see? What current initiatives do they feel are outdated or need to be rethought?

The past couple of years our team has used social media as a way to get feedback and engage the public on everything from foods to entertainment to non-fair activities. Social media is no-cost (in most cases) and easy to set up. It also gives your audiences an outlet for input and insights you might not be aware of.

While the fair is a state agency, it is responsible for generating its own operating funds, thus our growing dependence on social media and other forms of low-cost and "outside-the-box" marketing ideas. We must operate like any other business — we can't spend the money unless we've found a way to generate it ourselves.

* Keep up with pop culture and technology trends. This plays into the balancing act of tradition versus the latest and greatest. Do popular magazines give you ideas for refreshing your organization? What's the latest gaming craze?

For example, in recent years the fair has featured Wii bowling tournaments for seniors 55 and older and text-messaging contests for quick-fingered participants. In 2011, look for our use of QR codes to promote various aspects of the fair.

We also merge traditional aspects, such as agriculture, with current technology. For example, Seed Survivor, which debuted in 2010 and will return in 2011, uses multimedia and virtual-reality games to teach about growing plants.

* Survey your internal team. Ask questions during meetings or survey your staff and board members. What ideas do they have for refreshing the organization? Any new initiatives they've seen other organizations use that would be a good fit for your company? Are there any current initiatives they feel should be rethought or removed from the plans altogether?

* Look back while looking forward. Reflect on where you've been and where you're going. Acknowledge the people, strategy and initiatives that have gotten you to where you are. How can you honor them?

As we close in on our milestone anniversary, we're evaluating opportunities to bring back activities and traditions of the 1910s while also making sure we keep a future-forward attitude and meet today's fairgoers' interests.

It's good practice — and a competitive advantage — to make your business better all the time.