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Old School Sales At The San Diego County Fair

Aired 7/3/12 on KPBS News.

The San Diego County Fair attracted huge crowds again this year, and that is great news for those with products to sell. Salesmanship is as much a part of the fair landscape as the midway, junk food and music.

— A curious woman is here for the demonstration. She wants to see what the steam cleaner will do for her.

"We are cleaning with steam-- 266 degrees of steam. We clean every surface of our house with this," announces the salesman.

"Let's start on the toilet, no more toilet brushes, let's bring out our steamer."

A swoosh of steam and the crowd grows a bit. The practiced routine starts with the toilet, moves to floors and eventually the stove. Pitchmen fill the San Diego County Fair's buildings and they're here to move product. There is no shortage of variety. There's eye glass cleaner, soap, mops, cookware, children's toys, hair care products, popsicle makers, indoor grills, jewelry, even little brightly painted ceramic graters.

Old School Sales At The San Diego County Fair
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"Take a clove of garlic, pick a direction, forwards, backwards, left or right. There's no pressure. There's no force. Simple speed and motion that's getting the work don for you, said La Mesa resident Daniel Winfield. "Before you've figured out if you're doing it right or wrong, the job has already been done."

Winfield makes a career out of direct sales like this. In fact, he's teaching others how to be successful pitchmen.

"As soon as one person stops, that's it. That's when the pitch begins," according to Winfield. "As soon as it begins. A crowd draws a crowd. So people stop and before you know it that one person's changed into 20-30 people."

The pitch may sound casual, but it's a script that's repeated hundreds to thousands of times a day.

"The people that you're talking to, they don't know what's going to come out of your mouth. You know what's going to come out of your mouth but they don't, so even if you mess up, it's not a problem. So as long as your getting the basis, the guidelines on how to use these products, along, then you know you will be fine," said Winfield.

Winfield doesn't sell a grater to everyone who passes by, but he knows thousand will walk within earshot, and each person that hears him is a chance to sell. The dynamic has been around forever.

Old School Sales At The San Diego County Fair
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"People crave human interaction," said Steven Osinksi, a lecturer at the San Diego State University Department of Marketing. "And the idea of a pitchman in a midway having one on one communication or one on group communication with a group of people walking by is something that human beings crave."

This old style of salesmanship continues to deliver the goods, according to Osinki, and that's why it has survived mass media age and now the internet age.

"The direct marketing industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry. And basically, in the most pure sense, a pitchperson at the San Diego County Fair is seeking out an immediate response. Which is buy his product in those next ten seconds while your walking by my booth versus the other 300 there," said Osinski.

The fair is the longest month of the year for Sharon Price. The San Diegan regularly works 12 hours a day demonstrating high-end blenders in a noisy warm room. She is not trying to make a sale, she said, she's just showing people how her product works, and for that to end up a sale, she wants a connection. Being there in person helps, Price said.

"People are a little leery about where a product works or not. So if you're in a live demonstration situation and you can show them, this is what it does, for real," said Price. "Not as seen on TV. This is like, here. Taste this. They see and touch and feel it for real."

For some, like Price, the San Diego County Fair is their busiest time. Others travel all summer, working fairs and trade shows across the country. Some of the pitchmen are practiced pros. Others are trying it on for a summer. Good or bad they all hope move product.

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