Fort Worth Stock Show

February 7, 2013

For vendors, good weather leads to brisk sales

Big crowds are eager to spend money, whether it's on potato burritos or plush horses.

FORT WORTH -- On the road for eight months a year, mobile jewelry vendor Sharon Archer of Bandera knows special events, and she's putting this year's Stock Show in a class by itself.

"I've been doing this for 15 years, and this is the best show ever. And last Saturday was the single best sales day I've ever had anywhere," said Archer, who runs the Hy O Silver jewelry booth.

Crowds last weekend set a single-day attendance record of 157,800, and Thursday's sizable mob likely pushed the show past 1 million. "I always think this show is too close to Christmas and that will hurt sales. But that's not happening," Archer said.

On cue, Shelby Eberley, who works at a ranch near Era in Cooke County, scooped up two pendants, upping her Hy O Silver collection to four necklaces, two rings, earrings and a locket.

"I drove down just for this. I'm not glitzy and this is perfect," she said.

The same could be said of the weather, and that's what drives business, said Keith Houchin, who owns The Texas Skillet, a popular food vendor that dishes up hunger-busting steak and potato burritos as its mainstay.

On Thursday morning, the breakfast taco line was 30 deep at 9 a.m. By 10:30, the queue had seamlessly morphed into a lunch bunch. Manning the operation's giant skillet, which Houchin calls the product of "redneck genius," he was slinging steak at a breakneck pace.

"This is going to be a record year for us. It's all about the weather. It makes us or breaks us," said Houchin, who switched to the skillet after a career in banking. "This year it's making us."

Jay Blackmon, the show's commercial-exhibit manager, gets over 300 applications a year for the 10 percent or so turnover among the 200 vendors.

Last year, she started focusing more on exhibits that could catch a man's eye, and she stayed with that emphasis this year.

"It's working good. If the men are shopping, the women have more time," Blackmon said.

One new vendor, Pony Pal Stables, which has a line of ridable stuffed horses that don't just sit there, has been a hit right out of the chute, she said.

With two kid sizes priced at $225 and $275, grandparents appear to be the booth's key demographic. There's also a $1,000 adult model, but those are on back order after a run on them at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, vendor Sherry Marshall said.

"Basically, they all got bought by drunk cowboys," she said.

But plenty of other big-boy items are available.

At Peters Bros. Hats, a show fixture since 1933, sales have been brisk but haven't quite set a record, said Brad Peters, part of the fifth generation working at the Fort Worth company. The handmade hats range from $275 to $800.

At the Ag-Power Inc. booth, with John Deere tractors, eight salesmen will be hopping during the show, Monty Hambrick said.

Each salesman will turn five to 20 tractors, he said, noting that the most popular item is a $20,295 package that includes a 32-horsepower tractor, a loader, a cutter and a trailer.

"People know we are going to have specials on packages, and that brings them in," said Hambrick, who added that he rings up sales all year from his Stock Show contacts.

Jeff Hartz, a designer for Langford Construction of Burleson, which builds custom rock and log homes, also takes the long view. The prices range from $400,000 to $1 million, so nobody's making an impulse buy. But the Stock Show generates a couple of sales a year, he said.

"We build eight to 14 homes a year, so that's pretty productive. It's where we spend our marketing money," Hartz said.

"We get people who visit three times over five years that eventually buy a house."

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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