This past weekend's KIDSfest at State Fair Expo Center

James family, My-Sugar-Na, Vacation, West Allis

Metroparent Magazine is close to being onto something with KIDSfest, but unless something bold is done before next year, this may turn into an idea whose time has come and gone.  The event planners, who probably think that having something for everyone is a great idea, instead turned it into a mish-mosh of stuff.  I feel they would have been better served by picking a focus and developing it.

KIDSfest was set-up like a business convention... vendor booths lined the aisles, with freebies, brochures and prize drawings to entice people to their booth.  Vendors included just about every tourist trap in the Wisconsin Dells, the Milwaukee Wave and Admirals, various schools and camps as well as a few booths that made me wonder why they were there (Tastefully SimplePyramax Bank?  What do they have to do with kids?)

In addition to vendor booths, there were interactive areas like a petting zoo, a slot-car race track, kids makeovers, etc.  Throw in some side stages for performances, sing-alongs and other entertainment aimed at kids, and you have KIDSfest 2008.

And you also have a nightmare to navigate.

All this was crammed into the State Fair Expo center, and not crammed particularly well.  The aisles were narrow, the wagons and strollers plentiful (and bigger... my God, they are getting to be the size of my SUV!) and some of the vendor booths attracted lines.  We let the two 10-year old girls run loose, while My-Sugar-Na and I went from booth to booth.  Aisles were clogged in some places, other times loose children plowed straight into our legs, and once the bongos started playing on one stage around 2:30 PM Sunday, that is all that was heard.  Because of this, we cut our day short and left earlier than we had wanted to.  We managed to at least walk past all of the booths, but we wish we had some patience to spend more time at some (like summer camp booths).

If they could do one of three things, I think this would have been a wonderful event...

  1. Take the same number of exhibits and stages, but in a much larger setting.  As stated above, there was too much crammed into a small space.  It was so crammed - and those damn strollers - that it was hard trying to figure out where to go next, much less how to actually get there.  Especially with kids, people need more room to navigate and decide where to go next.  (I realize that a larger venue with the same number of exhibits would cost more money, but how many people that were there this weekend won't be back next year?  Wouldn't you want them coming back?  That would be the money maker).
  2. Keep all of the vendors and exhibits, but DON'T allow kids (and thereby the kids activities).  Once we told the girls to get lost, My-Sugar-Na and I wanted to visit the exhibits to think of new places to go for vacation, to see what camps are available, etc.  But each booth seemed to have a giveaway, and many seemed to have stuff for the kids and contests for the adults in the same booth.  Try talking to somebody about the wonders of Milwaukee Admirals playoff tickets while a lady with a double-decker stroller was watching her kids get temporary tattoos on their hands nudging in.  Try to even get to the Noah's Ark table with all the kids buzzing around.  Change the event to keep the kiddies at home, allowing adults to talk to vendors about adult stuff.  Trust me, if I could have spent more time at some of these exhibits, it would be BETTER for the kids.
  3. Make it 100% for kids, and drop the contests and pretense of selling stuff to adults.  Have each booth sponsored by somebody, and feel free to drop those sponsor's names.  The Mini Golf Hole sponsored by Pirate's Cove (the really had this, but the line was in the middle of the aisle, and the guy with the brochures looked lost), for example, would be perfect.  Stone Fire Pizza Company had a booth giving the kids makeovers, and didn't have one brochure.  That would put the focus on the kids, and the parents would remember the suppliers that gave their kids a good time.

I know that this is just too logical, and that some focus group in 2003 in Cody, WY said that this is the way that kids events had to be.  But by not trying to serve too many gods, the event could be much better, and have a much greater impact for everybody.

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