Fresno businesses look for sales at Big Fresno Fair

Mary Palacio of Fresno’s Kool Designs shows the vast array of sports team items for sale at the Big Fresno Fair.
Mary Palacio of Fresno’s Kool Designs shows the vast array of sports team items for sale at the Big Fresno Fair.

Fairs are known for food and entertainment, but they’re also where people go to find the latest in home improvement, cleaning tools, kitchen gadgets and gizmos.

Nearly 300 commercial vendors, some with smooth-talking salespeople, are showing their wares and selling their services at the Big Fresno Fair, which runs through Oct. 18 at the fairgrounds on Chance Avenue, between Butler Avenue and Kings Canyon Road. Sixty-eight merchants are from the central San Joaquin Valley.

For some local businesses, fair time is a chance to make sizable sales. Others use the 12-day event as a branding opportunity to get their name in front of customers who they hope will circle back to their storefronts once the fair closes.

Andy Hebert, owner of Homecrafters Spas & BBQ in Fresno, has shown and sold his hot tubs at the same spot outside the Commerce Building near the Chance Avenue entrance for 36 years.

For some reason fairs and hot tubs go together, Hebert said with a smile. “Fairs are hot tubs.”

Popular these days are exercise spas that create a current, and shoot streams of water or waterfalls from the side, allowing owners to walk, jog or swim in place. He has several tubs, including the exercise spa, on site along with a selection of outdoor kitchens and barbecues. The business, at Herndon and Blackstone avenues, also specializes in custom gazebos, arbors and decks.

Hebert, who has a team of four employees working the event, typically sells between 30 and 60 spas at the fair, which makes up 30 percent of the business’s income. “It’s a nice, significant part” of the company revenue, he said.

But it isn’t always that way. The company has weathered three recessions in its fair booth. One year, the team sold only three spas.

A wait list for space

Being at the fair is “an investment for a lifetime,” said Hebert, who also joked that if he missed a year the fair would give his vendor’s spot away. It’s about making connections with customers who may not be ready to buy now, but years down the road return to the fair booth with an old flier ready to buy, Hebert said.

“Whether we get something here or six to seven months from now because they come to the store, it’s about planting the seeds,” he said.

Solar City is hoping to educate homeowners and sign some up for solar consultations during its first appearance at the Fresno fair. The solar company recently started to attend county fairs – 13 so far this year – to show off its brand.

Dan Roberts, field energy consultant, said he has tried to get a booth at the Big Fresno Fair for a couple of years, but didn’t succeed until now. The solar energy consultants are located next to the butterfly garden in The Greenhouse.

There is a waiting list every year for commercial space, said Stacy Rianda, the fair’s deputy manager. The length of the wait list depends on the products the booth is selling.

“We work diligently to keep a balance on the product offered,” Rianda said. “If we already have several booths that have the same thing you are selling, you won’t be able to get in until one of them drops out. So in this case, that could be years.”

Solar City has operated in California for 12 years. People recognize the company, but still don’t know much about it, Roberts said. “You’d be astounded by how many people don’t know about solar,” he said.

The company made 24 appointments at the Caruthers Fair last weekend and is expecting to do better in Fresno.

Where the customers are

One overcast October day two decades ago, Gil Palacio sat in his small East Belmont Avenue sports apparel and memorabilia store wondering where all the customers were. Then it dawned on him. They were at the fair, and he knew he had to be there, too, Palacio said.

Palacio and his son, Robert, close their shop, Fresno’s Kool Designs, every year to sell their sports-themed license plate frames, blinged-out car decals and T-shirts for sports fans from a booth at the Commerce Building.

They cater to fans of the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, but carry items for other teams, too. The money generated from the fair booth varies from year to year, but like other vendors, being at the fair is a chance to show off the specialty items the shop carries, Palacio said, so local shoppers know where in Fresno to get it from later.

For example, Palacio carries baby onesies that read, “Daddy’s girl, Steelers” and bibs. He also has slim cut T-shirts for women and some in plus sizes with sports teams names on them. New this year is a Raiders car decal in rhinestones.

“It’s fun,” said Palacio, a vendor for 18 years. “It’s entertaining. I get to meet a lot of people. A lot are sports fanatics.”

For his son, Robert, 19, interacting with customers is the best part of the job aside from fair food.

“During the weekend, a lot of our out-of-towners come in to see what we have for the year,” Robert Palacio said. “It’s Fresno fun.”

BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee