Old School Pitchman’s 11th Year At San Diego Fair
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Aired 7/4/13 on KPBS News.
The salesmen and women hawking their wares at the San Diego County Fair are trying to close the deal as the fair comes to a close. For an old school pitchman from New Jersey, selling is a way of life.
Larry Scheidt is an old school pitchman. The 67-year-old New Jersey resident has been a salesman all his life. This was obvious as he charmed a crowd at the San Diego County Fair on a recent Saturday night.
Scheidt sells vegetable peelers. He wears one of those headset microphones that he secures to his upper cheek with a band-aid, the supply of which comes in handy in case he nicks a finger while chopping all the vegetables at his booth.
“My aunt and uncle used to say to me, ‘sell cars, sell cars!’” Scheidt explained in his New Jersey accent. "I told them 'no, I like what I do now. I can sell anything.'”
Working the crowd, Scheidt holds up a vegetable peeler.
“We have to fly these in on a jet plane.” He reaches across his demonstration table and holds the peeler in front of a woman wearing glasses. He asks her to read where the peeler is made. 'Can you read that with your cheaters?' he asked, using a throwback term for glasses.
“Switzerland,” she replies.
“Isn’t that amazing, she didn’t say China?" Scheidt announced and quickly added, “not that they make bad things there.”
Scheidt has worked at the San Diego County Fair for 11 years. He arrives at 9 a.m. to stock the booth. Doors open at 10 a.m. and he’s on his feet, talking to people until 10 p.m. He wears comfortable sandals and stands on a box to rise above the demonstration table.
A small spiral notebook tucked in his shirt pocket helps him track the vegetables he needs. Scheidt goes through 150 lbs of vegetables a day: carrots, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, beets, onions and even jicama. The vegetables used to be delivered to his booth. Now Scheidt has to shop for them himself, so he stocks up for four days at a time.
Scheidt also has apples on hand, which he carves into birds for garnish. He can turn a radish into a rose using a small knife, food coloring and a dab of beet juice. The garnished eye candy is a draw for the booth.
“Everyone loves the garnish,” Scheidt beamed. He tells crowd after crowd, “if you have these at a party, they’re going to leave talking about you. They’re gonna talk about you anyway. Might as well have them say something nice.”
Another of his go-to lines: “If it pleases your eyesight, it pleases your appetite.”
Scheidt talks all day. “You don’t have to say the same thing over and over again. You say different things depending on the time of day,” he explained. As he whizzed through the different ways to skin a vegetable, or turn a zucchini into linguini, he asked the crowd, "Am I going too fast for you?"
A well-dressed woman replied, "You kind of are. Are there directions? Or do you come home with it?" she asked.
Scheidt is a self-proclaimed "workaholic." Walking through row after row of venders, it's clear Scheidt's style of salesmanship is from a bygone era. Few of his counterparts seem to have the gift of gab, the ready pun, or the verbal fire hose pitch that makes suckers out of once disinterested marks.
"You create the desire and everyone's with you and having a good time, then you have everything you want," said Scheidt. "And keep it simple. Or KISS as they say in the business. Keep it simple, stupid."
Scheidt has a wife and grown children back on the east coast. He sees them between fairs. Sometimes he’ll be gone for as long as a month.
“I do this one, then Orange County, Milwakee WI, Spencer, Iowa, Texas, the Minnesota State Fair, then I start some flower shows, home shows, and Christmas shows,” he explained. “I just keep going.”
“I don’t know how long I’ll keep doing this,” Scheidt replied when asked if he’ll retire at some point. “But I like what I do. I don’t feel 67. I feel like I’m 24 all over again.”