Barenaked Ladies fall deeply in love with Softub.

Posted on Aug 31, 2015


NYS Fair: Softub® business is a ‘crazy job,’ dealing with drunk fairgoers, loud concerts

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By Katrina Tulloch | ktulloch@syracuse.com

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Last summer, Barenaked Ladies lead singer and guitarist Ed Robertson fell so deeply in love with the Softub® tent near the Chevy Court stage that he played a song about it.

“I got a hard hot tub / It don’t give me no love.”

Both the audience and Softub® employees got a kick out of it. Julie Pettis, vice president of Rochester Pettis Pools which distributes Softub® products, is a huge BNL fan herself. “That was awesome and it’s totally Barenaked Ladies,” said Pettis, at the time. “They are masters of coming up with stuff on the spot. They probably just saw us from the stage. We were psyched about it.” It was just one advantage of setting up shop near Chevy Court, one of the prime places for passers-by at the New York State Fair.

 

Pettis has been selling Softubs® at the fair since 2003, back when it was located in the former Family Fun Center. “We did a fraction of the business back there, than we do back here,” she said. Softub® moved in front of the International Food building for about three years, before moving next to Chevy Court in 2011. Each move came with a significant increase in rental price, Pettis said. We’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars. “We’re a local family business, not a national corporation like Chevy or Toyota, so to us, the money is significant,” Pettis said. “It’s been worth it though. You need to do the numbers to afford being in these locations.”

 

The NYS Fair is the largest and often most lucrative event for Softub® each year. It takes the staff three full days to set up the booth in time for Opening Day. Softub® is one of three hot tub vendors on the grounds this year. “I equate it to Christmastime at the malls,” she said. “Being at the front gate definitely has made the difference. I wouldn’t want to give this spot up.” However, Chevy Court night concerts certainly present a challenge to business. With the prime location comes a trade-off. Vendors have no choice but to talk over every concert. It’s impossible to do an interview, let alone close a sale when a hard rock concert is happening 50 feet away. Many vendors and customers end up shouting to hear each other, Pettis said.

 

“We literally can’t conduct business during some shows,” Pettis said. “Melissa Etheridge was loud, but we could still talk. Buckcherry? Forget it. I love music and I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here, but does it have to be that loud? Can’t we dial it down just a notch?” As a result, sellers at Softub® must resign themselves to a few hours of poor sales, if not zero sales, during each raucous concert. “Different concerts bring different crowds,” Pettis said. “We’ve never seen fights or anything, but some people have a bit too much to drink and come into our tent, thinking they can sprawl all over our stuff and watch the concert.”

 

At Saturday night’s Buckcherry concert, the fair provided two security guards to stand near the Softub® booth. “The worst thing was people sitting on our tubs, drinking, eating and smoking, then putting out their cigarettes in our tubs,” she said. “That was bad. We learned to put up caution tape around our shop during Chevy Court concerts.” Surprise! The heavy drinkers never want to buy a tub. Pettis has seen plenty of odd things working the booth late at night. No one’s fallen in a tub at this fair, but it’s happened at Oswego Harborfest. Often, careless passersby or children use the front tubs as hand-washing stations. “It’s a crazy job,” Pettis said. “It gets grungy. We have to clean the front tubs a lot. I joke that someday I’m going write a book called ‘Step This Way: My Life as a Softub® Salesman.'”

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Pettis does have concerns about how closing the grandstand will affect business. “We see a correlation between how good we do on a day and who’s performing at the grandstand,” she said. “The big names bring in the big crowds. It’s a numbers game.” Jason Aldean‘s presence last year, for example, brought a huge day of sales.

“I’m not privy to how the fair will handle the new amphitheater, but it’s a fear, for sure,” she said. “We’re heading into the unknown. Maybe it’ll work out.”

 

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