Meet two pitchmen at the California State Fair and see how they are thriving in the digital era
A man wrinkles and smooths out a shirt with a mini hand-held steamer. Nearby, a woman uses a squeegee with a water reservoir so “you don’t get water in your armpit.” And in another building a man sings famous songs with his own special lyrics touting the joys of microfiber cloth mops.
Welcome to the Shopper’s Indoor Expo, a rarely advertised California State Fair attraction: four buildings that let visitors experience “As Seen on TV” commercials brought to life.
As customers walk through the complex maze that is the indoor bazaar, pitchmen staff booths, calling at passersby and demonstrating their blenders, mops and cookware. Others are less demonstrative, and let their products – items like personalized head sculptures, garden hose nozzles and flag pole lights – speak for themselves.
Marissa Paris and Ann Gonzales of Roseville flock to the indoor expo year after year. Paris spends so much time at the expo that she knows her favorite jewelry vendor’s precise booth location in building C.
“This is the only reason we come to the fair – to buy things,” Gonzales said. “We go to (Marissa’s) favorite places – she has her toe rings – and we always find something that they’re demonstrating.”
On Sunday, both Gonzales and Paris purchased a microfiber cloth mop called a Green Mop that sales representative Steve Pineda was demonstrating at a booth. Pineda sang songs and showed how well the mop can clean mirrored surfaces, while claiming it only requires water - no chemicals - to clean floors better than other mops.
“I’ve tried a little bit of everything throughout the fair. I can’t wait to give this one a try,” Paris said of the mop. “I think it’ll save in the end, it’s all about saving the environment.”
The duo said they buy some items – like zip clips, a bag clip that claims to keep chips sealed better than other clips – in bulk to give to friends and family as gifts.
Rheba Malone, CEO of the specialty scissor company Lakeside Scissors, said she has been selling scissors at the State Fair for 28 years. Some vendors, like Malone, travel across the state during the summer to sell their goods at county fairs and other shows. For others, like Green Mop pitchman Pineda, who hails from Miami, selling products is a full-time job that takes them across the country.
The key to catching a customer’s eyes, Malone said, is to “have unique items to make it exciting to look at the booth.” That’s particularly true given the recent popularity of online shopping, Malone said.
“I hear them say, ‘oh, let’s check Amazon, let’s check online and see if it’s cheaper,’ so it makes it hard for us,” Malone said. “But if you keep your products fresh and unique, they still like to shop.”
Pineda agreed with Malone, though he said he thinks that demonstrating his product in-person gives him an edge.
“The whole purpose of the demonstration is that people love watching them,” he said, “and if you look around there’s a crowd watching. This is what they love about being here - it’s called the pitch.”