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Lessons From My Lake County Fair Experience

Lake County Fair

Record-low temperatures fell upon the Chicagoland area last weekend.

But that didn’t stop my beautiful wife Michele and I from following through on our plans to attend the annual Illinois Lake County Fair.

Unfortunately, thousands of other would-be fair-goers chose to stay home, leaving the fairgrounds eerily near-empty.

On a positive note, that would allow the vendors to engage in more substantial interaction with us and other fair-goers, right?

Wishful thinking.

Two summers ago, I wrote a post about the downright horrendous marketing strategies and tactics used by the overwhelming majority of business people who set up booths at these type of events.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the past two years. The continued frustrating and stagnant economy doesn’t seem to have motivated small business owners to seek solutions instead of just continuing to complain and blame.

(*If you know of and care about any of those folks, feel free to alert them to the existence of this website, and my $1 Scholarship Offer at!)

Michele and I dressed as if heading out on a chilly October day, and set off for the Lake County Fairgrounds. On the way, we discussed our plans to buy some fresh, locally-grown produce and spices and to play a few carny games like darts and ring toss.

Oops! As we discovered upon examining the map (and inquiring at the Information Table), none of those opportunities existed at this particular fair.

Undaunted, we decided to make the most of our adventure (and we snapped some photos for your enjoyment)…

I got up-close-and-personal with a couple of hard-charging rhinos:

Rhino Shield

The Rhino and Steve

And one lazy, contented cow:

Rhino & Cow

We felt that the “Chicago Flower & Garden Show” was a disappointment, since there were very few displays. Most of those were excellent, however, including one by a former favorite client of mine, Cindy White of the nearby Country Bumpkin Garden Center:

Country Bumpkin Mundelein

We watched a little bit of the pig auction and petted some goats, then headed inside to the Expo Building to my favorite part of the Fair: the chance to interact with the businesspeople manning the various booths!

First up, I met this well-dressed gentleman:

Steve Sipress & President Obama

I asked him if the record-low temperatures were due to Global Warming, but got no response. Then I decided to hand over my money to him before he tried to take it to redistribute to others who don’t take as much of the right actions as me. (*The “Lake County Democrats” weren’t too pleased with this “renegade” choice of pose.)

Next, I took advantage of the opportunity to flash my trusty Joe Sugarman Batman Credit Card in front of the actual Batmobile:


A few people enjoyed the interactive show as a classic pitchman hawked his cookware (and heckled me for taking this photo):


…while the host at another booth was so bored (and incompetent) that he stood there staring at his phone with his back turned, ignoring me for at least a full minute before I gave up and moved on:


Most vendors at the Fair made the same mistake as almost all small business owners and sales professionals: Thinking that people shop mainly by price.

One booth practically chased away anyone not looking for the lowest quality merchandise, because their signs proclaimed “Buy One For $19.99, Get TWO FREE!” Yikes! That sign might as well have said, “Please Buy Our Crappy Sunglasses.”

*NOTE: These were NOT the sunglasses for sale at that booth:

Bulgari sunglasses

More than one of the contractors couldn’t believe that I didn’t want their free estimate or free diagnostic test. “But it’s free!” they repeated in disbelief when I chose to move on to the next vendor. They also made the common mistake of being unable to get out of their own heads to see things from the viewpoint of their prospects. I asked the contractor at the booth below: “How would I know if my ducts looked like that?” His response? “We come to your home and take photos of them.” Ouch. Alas, that was the best he could do…

Duct Cleaning

Finally, I met local inventor Fred Martin, and bought a test packet of his “Colorful Fire.”

Steve Sipress & Fred Martin - Colorful Fire

The timing was excellent, as we made a fire that night to take some of the summer chill out of the air. This photo doesn’t really capture the full, exciting effect of this fun product:

Colorful Fire

I really enjoyed Fred’s entrepreneurial passion, drive and dedication — and his product, too.


I also noticed that Fred made several classic, unfortunately all-too-common mistakes:

  • He was almost completely focused on his product vs. the marketing of it – His website is easily found on Google (for the relatively few people who would actually search for it), but otherwise he told me that his main sales strategy is simply to keep traveling to fairs and events, doing manual labor to educate and sell.
  • He failed to collect my contact information, even though we spoke for at least 10 minutes, AND I even bought his product – Michele and I enjoyed our Colorful Fire that night, and immediately decided we wanted more, so wouldn’t it have made sense for Fred to use a “Thank You” email and/or phone call to follow-up our purchase with an offer for a repeat order and request for a testimonial and/or referral? (How easy a sale would THAT be? About a zillion times easier than humping around every weekend, setting up booths at all kinds of events to try to sell to new prospects who are completely unaware of his product.) Same goes, of course, for those who stopped by his booth and discovered his product, but weren’t yet ready to buy (it was the middle of summer, after all).
  • When I suggested Fred try to get onto the “Shark Tank” show to vault himself and his product into the big time, he replied “Why would I want to give up a piece of my company to one of them?” – I made that mistake myself with my first multi-million dollar company, wrongly thinking that owning 100% of my small company would be better than owning 55% of a MUCH larger company. It wasn’t until years later that a business coach taught me that “The only reason to start a business is to sell it.” I often have to correct my own coaching clients, reminding them that “your business is NOT your baby — it’s a business!”

And now my final lesson from the recent Lake County Fair…

It comes from a comment on my Facebook post that day where I suggested that I thought very few vendors would collect my contact information for follow-up purposes. The commenter wrote: “better question—-how many of “their” contact info will YOU collect for follow up and consulting to show them how you can take them to another level?

My answer is fairly simple — yet it’s a key to marketing success than many, many business owners ignore:

I don’t cold call or otherwise “chase” prospects. Instead, I implement powerful “attraction marketing” strategies and tactics — the same ones I teach to my clients — that cause my ideal prospects to approach me, asking for my help.

In closing, I ask you three questions, dear reader:

  1. Do you have a system for attracting all the ideal customers, clients or patients you can handle — without you ever having to engage in the ugly, unpleasant, uphill battle of cold prospecting?
  2. Do you recognize the fact that “the money is in the list,” and focus all of your efforts on gathering the contact information of more and more prospects and customers and building a solid relationship with them, so you can then sell to them over and over without the need for extra grunt work or advertising costs?
  3. Do you have any interesting “fair/festival/show” experiences of your own to share?

4 Responses to Lessons From My Lake County Fair Experience

  1. Phil Brakefield Reply

    July 31, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Lots of gold nuggets in this post, Steve. But the BIG one for me, found towards the bottom of the excavation, was the simple truth that the reason to start a business is to ultimately sell it. TERRIBLY difficult for me to adopt, but what’s cool about it is that while one can indeed sell a business, it’s then very easy to mine the same customer list and sell them a new product or service. Talk about a short-cut to success! Most of the hard, expensive, time-consuming work is already done when you have a list that already knows, likes, trusts you and is eagerly primed to buy your next offering.

    • Steve Sipress Reply

      July 31, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Good for you, Phil. Yes, that’s definitely a possibility — just make sure not to get tripped up by the wording of any non-compete clause in your sale agreement.

      Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary alludes to this principle fairly often on the Shark Tank television show, whenever he offers to completely buy out an inventor from his product/company. He casually tells him or her something like, “Just take your money from this, and go on and start another one. You’re rich.”

      Think of yourself as a real estate investor, who buys or builds a property and then sells it for a profit, then does that over and over. Won’t he or she make more money from real estate than someone who buys a home just to live in it their entire life?

      There’s a BIG difference between being “self-employed” or “a business owner” and “being an entrepreneur”…

  2. Benny Valenzuela Reply

    July 31, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    “Then I decided to hand over my money to him before he tried to take it to redistribute to others who don’t take as much of the right actions as me.”


    • Steve Sipress Reply

      July 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      Isn’t that an accurate description of our President’s economic policy?

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