The Expo is coming! The Expo is coming! The Western States Horse Expo is coming to Sacramento, CA, again!
(Hubby calls it the “Sexpo”. Now, he isn’t being crude… It is just that when I speak of it so excitedly, I say HORSE EXPO really fast and often. Try it. Say, “Horse Expo” 4 times fast. Or, even 2 times fast… You will see what I mean. And, of course, Hubby is always ready for a laugh so Sexpo seems to be more fitting of a title for this event since I’m so enamored…)
Anyway, I am one of those people who goes to the Expo all day for at least two days every year. I know, I know… but at least I usually go alone. I don’t drag some unsuspecting person along as I dissect each booth and quiz weary vendors. Nope. I’m a pro. I have the whole routine down. So, today, I thought I’d tell you my strategies for the Western States Horse Expo, which can be applied to any Horsey Expo in your area.. ;)
STRATEGY #1, PREPARATION
WHEN TO ATTEND
When to go: OK, this is easy. For me, I want to get there when the booth participants are fresh and giddy. They’ve got all their shiny things and product collateral, they are ready with all their answers and most of them are cheery — even if they did spend all night setting up and left that one particular item back at the house which their booth partner is now gone retrieving. Yup, Day One Hour One is the best time. The halls aren’t mashed with tire-kickers and the food court and bathrooms are still fairly clean. Day One Hour One is for the professional Expoer since you really have to be serious to take off work to attend on the first day. I like to get there as close to Hour One as possible. (However, this is NOT the time to make any deals. Hour One is the time to get fresh information and a free pen or hoof pick. But, don’t do anything rash. Make sure to comb the entire show before deciding if you want to purchase an item. We’ll speak more on that later).
When to go again: The other prime day is the last day. On the last day, you won’t get any cheery information or happy booth people. You’ll be lucky to get anyone to pay any attention to you at all. The poor vendors look like our horses when they are locked legged and sleeping standing up… But, this is the best time to get the best deals! The fabulous thing about cranky and exhausted vendors is that the last thing they want to do, but have to do, is pack everything up. Ugh. Dread. Here is a tip: All you have to do is ride up all perky (well, not too perky because that would be really annoying to a very tired person…) and suggest that you would be happy to take said item off of their hands for a mere (name your price). Many of the walking dead vendors will succumb to this tactic because they are so sleep deprived and achy all over that one less thing to pack, no matter the bad business, just makes sense at that moment. So, do your bargain shopping on the last day. However, don’t be insulting because a bad buyer notification will blaze through the halls like a wildfire. If you give one booth person a bad time, your shirt and carry items will be branded onto a “do not sell to” poster which flashes to every booth from here to the parking lot. After a few days in the trenches, these booth people may be competitors but they are friends in this battle of attrition. Remember, no atheists in fox holes. Yup, so don’t piss ’em off. Make a deal but don’t be impolite.
WHERE TO PARK
Ok, this may seem easy. Park where there is a space, right? Ahhhhh, nope. Park where there is shade and the closest to any outlet door with a hand stamp person. I say this because I have been the person schlepping my schtuff all the way back to my car parked in the back 40. About half way there you just feel like dropping your whole load and sitting there crying. Its hot. You have on the wrong shoes and your water ran out hours ago. So, don’t do that. Park close to any exit door and preferably with some shade. Don’t forget your windshield sunglasses thing. In fact, if you don’t know the parking lot, go there early for a recon mission. Or, take it from me, get there early and park in the first several spots under the shade and have a cup of coffee while you wait. Or drive deeper into the lot and park next to a tall hedge. You see, if you do decide to drop one of your product loads in your car so you can continue to shop freely, you don’t want your saddle creme to melt or your new French milled soap to bake. And, heed this, those of you with visible hatches, please bring a blanket to cover your goods because professional bad guys are lurking in the lot just waiting to sell your brand new stuff on Ebay.
After you park, please make a mental note of where you are. The lot will look different when you come back, mostly because you will be exhausted, dehydrated and bleary eyed, but also because other cars have come and gone. So, before you enter the wave of pedestrians merging onto the well worn path to the show (I always want to moo here but I think it would be taken badly by the others in the crowd…), look back over your shoulder and remember how fresh you felt as you parked your car in A6 or where ever…
You want to scope out the lockers, bathrooms, water fountains and cheap water vendors — not the vendors, the water. Either mark them on your map when you arrive or take note when you see them. Trust me, there will never be a bathroom near when you need one. Or, it will be swamped and nasty. I tend to find the obscure bathroom up in the quilting building or near the half empty hall, something like that. The locker is good to stash smaller things without having to go to the car. And as for the water, well … you will need it, trust me. And, honestly, not many things irk me more than spending $3 on a bottled water. Grrrrrr.
WHAT TO BRING
I say pretend you are going on a hike with a mob. Think comfort, hydration, heat/sun and stability. Stability? Yes. When the day marches on, the halls become filled with a deal hungry mob. People are hot, tired, hungry, sore and pissed that they cannot see whatever widget your little head is blocking. You will get knocked around a lot. I know. I’m little and seem to get stepped on or have a huge wood stirrup whack me in the face as some cowboy whirls around with his new show saddle. So, I come prepared. First off, I wear the most comfortable shoes I own. I have worn flip flops and survived although many people say to wear closed toed shoes. I wear layers because some building have arctic air conditioning and other building have fans circulating hot air because their AC just broke down. And for sure, outside will be Sahara arid. So, layer up. Then, make sure to bring an over-the-shoulder-and-head type of hands free messenger bag. I say this because you will pick up stuff. A lot of stuff. And, yes, they do give you the infamous yellow Pyranha bags so you might think you don’t need your own hands free bag. But, have you ever had a yellow plastic Pyranha bag with heavy stuff in it cutting off the circulation at your wrist? I have. It hurts. You end up putting it down to rub our wrist and then leaving your shiny yellow Pyranha bag some place where it looks just like every other Pyranha bag that everyone else has abandoned. So, bring a comfy messenger bag and put your freebie yellow bag inside of it.
For sure, bring a hat that either has a string or can be smooshed into your bag. It will be on and off a lot. Do you know how many Fair Hats I have now? You know how it goes, you buy the cheapest most ridiculous thing posing as a hat just to keep the relentless sun off of you and then it hangs off of your bed post or mirror or whatever until you throw it away just before you forget to bring your good hat to the next Expo… I am sure that is why there are more hat vendors than saddle vendors at these things!
You also will want a single water bottle — a little one, and some chapstick. Believe me, larger water bottles get heavier and heavier as the day goes on. Last year, I got lucky and happened upon a booth that had lanyards with little rings to put around your water bottle so you could carry it across your other shoulder for some relief. It was great at the time but I have to say that the lanyard was just a bit too long and that bottle sloshed and slapped my poor leg to shreds. Still, that felt better than one more ounce of water in my bag.
And now for the trips to the car… When your bag is full or you cannot lug stuff around any more, just do it. Find the gate nearest your car, get your hand stamped and make a car or locker run. Besides, the fresh air will do you good. And, if you are smart, you might get to your car and decide that you have spent enough money and LEAVE before you whip out another credit card…
Which brings me to another key point. Don’t bring more money than you can easily spend. There is so much stuff there, you will be going through cash like a one armed bandit. This notion brings me to Strategy #2…
STRATEGY #2, HOW TO PURCHASE (Vendors everywhere, please don’t hate me for this…)
KNOW WHAT YOU CAME FOR AND ONLY BUY THAT ONE THING
My best advise is to know what you might need before you attend. Make a list of things you would like to understand or learn about and go to those booths first. Usually, they are all grouped in the reference brochure. Except for Hall D. It seems like the last hall is just a hodgepodge of last minute entries. I kinda like this hall the best because the vendors seem scrappier or newer or more willing. And, since they see less people, they aren’t as grumpy.
Anyway, here is my strategy. I mark my book on where I need to go (need is relative here). I then tell myself that I cannot spend any money until I have figured out what I came for. To do this, you need to walk up and down each row and take a quick inventory of what catches your eye. Make a mental or physical note. Keep going. Go through all the buildings. When you have identified the items you need to research and the others you want to check out, go back and do the research. Ask all the questions. Believe me, you will find new items and interesting twists on old items and a bunch of information if you bring up the competitor item in a conversation. For example, go to one saddle maker that you might like and ask them why you should buy their saddle over the other competitor you might also like. Ask nicely. “So, talk me into your saddle.” Or, “Sell me on why your saddle is better than that saddle over there.” This only works on Day One and maybe Day Two. After that, vendors are numb and dumb. Anyway, get your real shopping done first. Then, stroll.
MAKE FRIEND WITH THE LITTLE GUYS
While strolling, I love to go to the booths in the last hall (newer vendors, newer products, more ‘hungry to get known’ people). They may be selling soap, belts, hats, logo jackets, a homemade horsey treat, a new horsey toy, handmade gear… these are the smaller folks who are not yet jaded and are usually pretty willing. Be friendly and hospitable. These folks put out a lot of work to get there. And, if you are nice early, they will remember you on the last day…
While milling about purposefully, you might earmark the items you think are deal worthy for the last day. You probably won’t get any deals from the big dealers. They have minions that pack and ship everything. So, concentrate on the single booth people. See what you like and make a plan. Also, on your stroll, sign up for every raffle you see. Heck, you never know… If you win something you don’t need, gift it or donate it to a horsey charity or sell it on Ebay. Besides, it feels good to win. I have heard from vendors that many people skip the raffles so your odds are higher if you play.
If you aren’t going to come back on the last day, do your best at smart shopping. The last thing you want is to walk out with an expensive saddle pad, let’s say, and then see a better one walking out with the gal next to you. Huh? “Where did you get that??!” “Oh, over by the hot dog guy… He’s kinda hidden but he has great stuff.” Oy. I do watch what other people are buying. Not to copy, just as an observation. You really want to do your homework so you don’t have to pout when you see someone else with a better item.
If you want to buy something that is heavy, BEFORE you purchase, ask if you can leave it in the booth while you walk around. This is very important. If not, go back at the end of the day and buy it then. Or, use a nearby locker.
Also, if you are negotiating for something, you might pull out a fresh bottled water and offer it to the vendor. Or, a bag of candy…
Ahhh, my favorite. Most of the bigger guys will have a show special. Usually, it is a pretty good deal. Some have twofer deals or some items at half off or no tax or free shipping… whatever. You want to make sure you ask vendors that interest you what they have as a show special. Don’t ask “if” they have a show special, ask “what” is their show special. Usually, I have found that they scramble to think of something. Or, they throw something into the deal. And, I have found that show specials get better the deeper you go into the halls. It seems like Hall D gets the memo that someone in Hall A is selling blahblah for blah. Well, they get smart and offer blahblah for less. Word gets around and suddenly a bunch of shoppers are hoarding into Hall D to save a buck 59 on a fly mask. It happens every year. Last year they had a fly spray war. I swear, every hall had dueling fly spray prices. Down, down, down they went! I just held on and waiting for the market to settle. Once the final lowball had been rolled out there, I pounced! Wahoo! I lugged around a gallon of quality cheapo fly spray. But, I was happy! I love that stuff! Anyway, don’t be afraid to ask for the Show Special.
If you are thinking of purchasing a trailer, this is a great venue for comparative shopping. Definitely go ahead of time and study. But, make your offer on the last day in the afternoon. And, if they sold the one you wanted, they will probably offer to make one for the same price or offer you a deal on another. However, if you are not going back the last day, the trailer people certainly have the last day looming in their minds. They know they have brought a lot of stock to this show and they don’t want to shuttle it home. So, be kind yet firm and you will probably get a deal of a lifetime… unless you like to pit bull stuff. If so, don’t harangue the little sales guy hanging outside. Find the biggest trailer of the brand you like, go inside, and the fat cat with the crisp logo shirt is the one you want to go a coupla rounds with. He’s the boss. So, have at it!
In any event, do your best shopping and be prepared to either drive the trailer home or come back before the show ends to drive it away.
LAST DAY BONANZA
Ok, here is the fun part. If you are a betting person and it doesn’t matter if you don’t get the deal you want, this is so much fun! The poor vendors just want to sit down in a fetal position and never speak to another attendee. So, do your best at compassionate understanding and be friendly. Ask them how it is going. Ask them how it has been this year… Sadly, attendance has been down at the last two Expos because of our rotten economy so show some empathy. Then, offer to help them out by taking whichever item off of their hands. Or, perhaps ask for a twofer. Last year, I got 6 small leather pillows for the price of one large one. I was thrilled! I also got a grab bag of damaged soaps and several testers. Have fun with it! Many of these items are losses to them anyway. Except, of course, huge tack. Here you need to deal. Think of the shipping costs and perhaps add maybe 25% and offer that as a sales price. Anyway, it is fun and if you strike a deal, most likely you both win.
I think this is very funny. I carry around the bequeathed freebie yellow Pyranha bag that is given to all of us as we enter by the ever shiny greeting committee. All of us keep stuffing it with all the items that we pick up during the day. “Oh, that looks cool…” or “Hmmm, I’d like to look into that more…” or “Yeah, I wanna go to a Dude Ranch someday…” and the infamous, “Can I have your card” card. Well, I do it, too. I have a yellow freebie bag from every year I’ve gone. And, every year, I take the yellow bag and put it in my office closet in a space reserved to Horse Expo Yellow Bags. Then, I never look at it again. Honestly. I never open that bag again. Inside is a treasure trove of things I wanted or thought were interesting or something… Yet, I let those tidbits of wonder just sit there. So, today I decided to look through my last two years of bags…
TO BE CONTINUED…
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