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Rides, fried food, everything on a stick — those are just a few reasons people flock to the state fair, but they're not the only ones. Hot tub dealers across the country find the state fair is a hotbed for spa sales, with many accomplishing in a week what would otherwise take months.
"It's 50 percent of my total yearly sales in 12 days," says Jerry Schiltz, president of All-American Recreation, which has two locations outside Minneapolis. All-American Recreation has been a mainstay at the Minnesota State Fair for 35 years and counting, and Schiltz has no plans to stop anytime soon.
"For me it's a must because my volume happens there. The Minnesota State Fair draws over a million people every year — that's a tremendous number of people. And I'm not saying all of those people walk past my booth, but it gives us a lot of opportunity," he says.
Another dealer in the Midwest, who prefers to remain anonymous, says he generally sells 80 to 100 tubs during the state fair, a figure he estimates is "a good 70 to 80 percent better" than typical showroom sales each month.
However, booming sales don't come easy. State fairs can be grueling, with long hours, high temperatures and the stress of juggling staff between your booth and your retail store. But those who do it well, like Schiltz, find it's like hitting the top of the high striker. Here, he shares just a few ways he's been successful.
For Schiltz, keeping overhead as low as possible is critical to success at a state fair. Booth space comes at a premium (especially for highly visible locations on the fair grounds) and staffing both your showroom and your booth can add to your cost as well, particularly if you decide to hire on extra manpower just for the fair. And that doesn't take into account the physical and mental toil of working long days.
"I had to come up with a system because I had a lot of rookies coming out of my store and they're just not used to the war zone at these fairs," Schiltz says.
This past year, All-American Recreation rolled out a price freeze program at the state fair. After putting down a $150 deposit, customers received a price sheet that outlines all of the spas available at the state fair, along with their regular prices and special state fair pricing. Any time over the next two years, they can bring the sheet into the store and purchase a spa at state fair prices, or apply the initial $150 to any other merchandise in the store.
From a retailer perspective, the price freeze program helps Schiltz and his team assist more customers in less time. And customers, of course, appreciate having more time to contemplate such a big purchase.
"They don't feel the pressure. It's not like they have to make a decision today," he says. "And a fair amount of them put the $150 down and then within a year or so say, 'We're never going to buy a spa,' and some don't even come into the store to claim the $150 in merchandise."
Schiltz also finds the price freeze program lessens the stress for his salespeople.
"My people, even some of my inexperienced people, are good at presenting the product without the extra pressure of making the sale," he says. "So I do something unique. If you present it well and collect the $150, you did your job. And I will do my job — not only will you get your commission when the spa sale is finalized, I walk right up to you and give you a $50 bill in cash to say good job."
Schiltz says there are five or six other hot tub companies at the Minnesota State Fair, and competition can be fierce. Some companies, for example, refuse to put prices on their products, instead requiring customers to ask for that information. Schiltz does the opposite.
"I price all my products, I show them what my normal showroom price is, I show them what the state fair price is, I show them how much they're saving, I show them retail value, which is an MSRP or an inflated number," he says.
And yes, such transparency occasionally comes at the risk of losing a sale. Some customers, for example, take All-American's price sheets directly to other spa booths and ask them to beat the cost.
"Stuff like that can happen," he says, but Schiltz believes the benefits of the approach are worth it.
In addition to the price sheet, Schiltz has prepared several other documents to distribute to potential customers. One explains why he carries Four Winds Spas, a document he created after customers kept asking why his spas were "so much less money than the competition." (And sometimes asking, "What's wrong with your spa?") The document outlines quality, selection, warranty and factory location, and how carrying Four Winds allows All-American to save money that they pass along to the consumer.
Another document clarifies the spa shopping experience, with honest advice about the risks of online spa dealers, the true meaning of "interest-free financing" and more.
Schiltz finds that cumulatively, being open about price and sharing honest information about the product line and the spa industry as a whole often improves his chances of making a sale.
"Surprisingly, I'm going to say more than 50 percent of the fair customers we see have shopped around the other spa booths. We get a lot of sales when those customers come back from the other booths saying, 'I'm willing to do this. You've given me an honest presentation and we like the product and we like the company.'"
What About County Fairs?
"I've tried county fairs, and I've not had luck. The attendance is not big enough. It has to be a high-attendance fair because so many people are going to these fairs for the food and entertainment. So you've got a lot of tire kickers; only a small percentage are serious."
— Jerry Schiltz
Most people who buy a hot tub at the state fair have given it a lot of thought. (Emphasis on most.) Here, our Midwest dealer shares a funny tale set at the fair — whether it's fact or fiction, it's entertaining nevertheless.
"There was a guy at the Budweiser tent having a few drinks to celebrate his finalized divorce. He told his buddies, 'Well, I'm going to go buy a hot tub.'
Early the next morning, the company showed up at his door with a hot tub; he'd told the company he bought it from that if they could have it there by 10 a.m. the next morning he'd take it, or else the deal's off. And they showed up with the hot tub and he was just waking up! He forgot all about it."
In short: What happens at the state fair doesn't always stay at the state fair.
If you think you'll be stretched thin by working a state fair and keeping your store open, it might be tempting to consider hiring a traveling road team to bolster your sales staff. Schiltz advises dealers to very carefully consider that decision.
"You may have to increase your prices to cover that cost," Schiltz says.
In addition, without a single unified staff, it's harder to implement unique offers, like All-American's price freeze program, because of the commission a pro team expects to make for each hot tub sale.
"Now with a traveling road team, you would never be able to do the price freeze because they're going to say, 'I'm not just accepting $150. You have to give me my whole 7 or 10 percent commission. I don't trust you to give me my commission when the sale finalizes.'"
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