Friday, August 27, 2010

The great Minnesota sweat together (unedited)

John Hines, a longtime radio personality in the Twin Cities, used to refer to Minnesota's state fair as the great Minnesota sweat together. That's about right.

People flock to the fair, crowd streets, retail buildings, dining areas and everywhere else, for reasons I still can't comprehend. I am working at a retail booth in one of those sticky, nasty retail buildings for the fourth consecutive year. It's no picnic. Screaming at teenage girls within the confines of a haunted maze is much more entertaining, but you take what you can get.

A few things have changed near and around my booth.

The Canadians who use to set up a big display of fancy, expensive dishes are no longer present. I think they were husband and wife, and they had fancy table settings they'd sell. You didn't carry the dishes home with you, you merely ordered them at the fair. My boss tells me they were very expensive, and only slightly fancier than you could buy retail. I wondered how much they could make setting up shop at the fair for 12 days. I guess not enough, unless they moved to a new location and none of us have figured it out.

The new guy last year, selling fancy scenic inserts for the underside of your hot tub cover, is gone. You'd buy a sunset scene or something like that and slap it on the underside of your cover. When the cover was turned back off the tub, it was supposed to look like you're sitting on the beach with the sun setting over the ocean. They didn't seem very busy last year, so I doubt they've returned.

In their place is a guy with a harem of young chicks hawking genuine Austrian crystal jewelry. He has a couple of young chicks who like to wear short shorts when they work. Their legs aren't going to be insured by Lloyd's of London, but they're not hideous.

I don't know much about jewelry, but his jewelry -- a lot of pendants, evidently -- is all the same price, $17.95 for each piece. And if you buy two, you get one free, so you can get three pieces at $12 each. I don't know anything about Austrian crystal, but it can't be worth much if a dude can sell jewelry made from it for $12 per piece. That or he's lying about how genuine the crystal is. I wonder how many pieces he has to sell per day to make money during the 12-day fair. The fair would provide an intriguing economics study, if only I could find a textbook covering the subject.

It appears the lovely girls selling the fancy hair extensions and other hair services are gone, at least from our building. They were always entertaining to see.

Thus far we've been reasonably busy during the first two days of the fair. I did notice one change in shopping patterns this year, the crowds gathered around the Shamm-Wow booth aren't as big.

The Shamm-Wow guys in our building have been piggybacking on the name a guy named Vince has popularized on television. My guys have been there for several years, but two years ago they started calling their product Sham-Wow, noting it's as seen on TV. I seem to recall they used Vince's exact product name two years ago.

That changed last year as they added a second M to the name. Vince must have made a stink about using his name, which I would presume is trademarked.

The shammy guys did a brisk business three years ago, and it sure seemed to grow two years ago, thanks to Vince's presence on television. Last year's demand remained rather high.

This summer, however, the crowds seem to be down. I'm guessing that thanks to Vince, and the presence of his ShamWow in every Walgreens in America -- as well as other retail locations, I'm sure -- the market is over-saturated. It was a nice run, but like everything else, when you're hawking a hot product you'll soon find competitors stealing your thunder.

There may be fewer buyers, but there still appears to be plenty of rubes who feel the need, inexplicably, to vocally acknowledge Shamm-Wow when they see the booth, usually for the benefit of whomever is married, related or joined at the hip to the rube.

Shamm-Wow somehow continues to elicit a celebrity-like awe among rubes at the state fair. Today I saw a couple of people getting their picture with the local pitch man at the booth, and somebody else was shooting video of pitch guy in action.

I don't know who those people were, but if you look up "life, empty and meaningless" in the dictionary, you'll see them pictured.

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