The Puyallup Fair Offers Fairly Good Sales Lessons

This past weekend, I went down to the Puyallup Fair, which dates back to the early 1900’s and is one of the largest in the country. Amid the rides, games, gastronomic atrocities, and livestock competitions, are hundreds of sellers pushing practically any product you could think of, and many you didn’t know existed.

The halls of the fair, and the outdoor pavilions were lined with products of all kinds. Cookware, linens, massagers, cleaning gadgets, and everything in between. There’s no e-commerce here—it’s all old-school, person-to-person salesmanship (or saleswomanship if you prefer).

It’s a sensory overload. But I did find a couple of products that piqued my curiosity – an mp3 player attachment that projects music through any open type of container, like a pizza box or styrofoam cooler. And a DIY print your own photos on canvas kit. I walked up and listened to the pitches. A few things stood out to me:

1) The sellers get you involved. I was asked to touch parts of both of the items I looked at, and asked for my impressions. Of course, they lead me to respond affirmatively. But it’s a very effective sales technique.

2) There’s always a special price. Both times when I asked the price, the sellers wouldn’t tell me right away. They continued their spiel, then proceeded to offer me a special “Fair price” based on buying two or more of the items. I snuck away to check Amazon and eBay to see if I could find the same items at the same special price—which I did.

3) Placement is everything. Like a trade show, I suspect the top sellers pay a premium for a good location at the fair, because foot traffic in some spots is much higher than others. And that has a direct correlation on sales. It doesn’t matter if you have a terrific product–if nobody’s there to see it or listen to you, you won’t sell anything.

4) Good signage doesn’t necessarily equate to good art direction. There’s a lot of clutter and bad typography all over the place—which might actually correlate to higher sales. Everyone is screaming, at least from a design standpoint.

While I didn’t purchase anything, I was tempted. And the sellers didn’t act terribly disappointed when I walked away without buying. They were polite, not bitter. Some sellers, as I passed by them, were incredibly friendly and wanted me to come over. Some didn’t.

I suspect this kind of selling is really good training for anyone in marketing. Because even in a few minutes of a sales pitch, there’s one-on-one relationship building, audience engagement, and some product magic on display. Isn’t that what we’re all aiming for?



About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.