Country fairs may not be all sunshine (or any sunshine), but at least you know what you’re getting

Philip Moss categorises town market shoppers according to their creative range of avoidance techniques, despite traders giving it their all to encourage them to part with their cash

Over the festive break, it’s easy for traders to forget that they occupy a hot-house retail atmosphere for most of the year, and there are very differnt trading environments out there. After all, the punters at game and country fairs have already paid at the gate to get in, so they are committed to spending and making a day of it. Traders who I see regularly have offered searing political and economic insights in response to my proposition on the subject. Here are a few samples:

“You’re drunk! Get off my stand… and don’t touch the stock!” (John Byfleet, owner of John Halifax Hats)

“Now what have you sat on? And you clear that up, too.” (Sean Leak, chief potentate of Kemsdale Outdoors)

“Give it back, or I’m calling the police!” (Paul Newell, head honcho of Global Rifle)

On closer inspection, the proposition really does stand up to close scrutiny. A few weeks trading at Metropolitan markets or general events reveal a huge difference between buyers at game fairs and elsewhere. At game fairs, customers who aren’t going to buy usually make up their minds quickly and move on. At town markets, non-buyers employ a range of strategies to prevent them from going to the trouble of introducing a search party into their pocket to find their wallet:

The Boomerang

Shoppers have been reluctant to part with their cash at markets since 1662. This painting by Pieter Cornelisz Van Rijck demonstrates the boomerang. He’s definitely coming back…

Boomerangs stand before you, meekly listening to your entire presentation and often asking encouraging questions, which give every indication of an intention to buy – before finally losing their bottle at the critical moment and using the old boomerang line, ‘I’ll come back later’ to awkwardly extricate themselves from a buying commitment.

History is full of ‘I’ll come back later’. The last words that Captain Cook heard from his bosun on the rowing boat as the irate crowd of tribesman gathered around him on the beach; the last words that Napoleon heard from the captain of the Bellerophon as he set foot on St Helena and who can forget the classic prank by the NASA control team played on Neil Armstrong as he set foot on the Moon. ‘We’ll come back later.’ Apparently they washed that space suit over twenty times and still could not get the stains out.

Les Philosophes

Named by my French-Algerian neighbour at Bath Christmas market who sold secateurs and became increasingly enraged by once again being encouraged to go through the whole of a lengthy presentation before the would-be buyer shrugs and meanders off with the comment ‘I’ll think about it’ trailing behind them. It’s rare that I feel sorry for anyone; let alone the French, but I did sympathise with my neighbour when this happened to him 10 times in a row. He turned to me, and in exasperated Franglais said, “Zere must be menny University in this town. Zey have so menny thinkers.” I almost felt like interceding on his behalf by seizing the getaway, shaking them and shouting:

“Don’t you realise the bargain of a lifetime when you see it? Are you just going to walk away from this secateurs deal?”

Needless to say Mrs Moss was thrilled by her Christmas present of a pair of secateurs – as were my two kids, my mother, brother, sister-in-law, nieces…

Les Arrivistes

Another Anglo-French joint project with my secateurs-selling neighbours: The second week of Bath saw the arrival of Parisian Phillippe, a man whose beard and confidence knew no bounds. A man whose sales technique was breath-taking in its daring. Having found a suitably attractive female potential buyer, he would fix her with a cheeky gaze – that type that makes all of us want to smack the Parisians – and announce:

“Madam! Look at my wood!” (nudge, nudge). “Have ever seen finer wood?” (wink, wink). “Come, Madam.” (I bet she does; I bet she does). “Place your hand around this,” (placing the crimson faced woman’s hands onto the secateur handles). “And now, Madam. Permp!” (A Parisian version of the English verb ‘to pump’). “Permp my wood. Permp it, hard! As is if your very life depended on it.”

I was truly amazed at how often this technique resulted in a sale, most likely from embarrassment as opposed to need. However, on many occasions Phillippe’s efforts were unfruitful. He would appeal to the small crowd who gathered to view his efforts, and you could guarantee that one of the excuses trotted out at the end of the demonstration would be: “Oh, we aren’t buying now. We’ve only just arrived!” As if they have travelled through time and space itself all the way from Alpha Centauri to visit the Christmas market in Bath. Do they honestly imagine that there’s more than one secateurs stand at a Christmas market?

Phillippe suggested something altogether earthier, visceral and containing four letters (answers can be sent on a postcard to Colin Fallon c/o The Blaze Publishing Empire) in French before we settled on the name for this group of non-buyers.

Les Voyeurs

Bath Christmas Market – enough to make you thankful for a year of game fairs. Credit: Rwendland

A peculiarly annoying sub-species of non-buyer, voyeurs occupy one stand while looking fixedly at another. This enrages the seller of the object of the voyeur’s interest as etiquette forbids him from addressing the voyeur while he is on someone else’s stand. It also enrages the owner of the stand where the voyeur has taken up position as it crowds out visitors who may be genuinely interested in buying. These people are the market equivalent of those tiresome social climbers who spend entire parties looking over people’s shoulders for someone more important to talk to.

Les Fantasistes

Commonly known as ‘Bullshitters’. “I’ve already got one,” they cry, trying to pass by in the crowd. “Oh really,” responds the incredulous salesman. “When did you get it?”

“Er! Last year.”

“We didn’t make them until August of this year. Where did you buy it?”

“Er! The Greenland Whale Blubber Fest in September!”

“Strange – we didn’t have a stand there and Greenland has banned the import of our products since 1952. How much did you pay for it?”

“Er! Can’t stop. Got to go. Remember me!”

We will. Oh, we most certainly will.

Debretts or Social Climbers

“Oh look, George. That’s just like the one you bought in New York.”

“Oh yes.” says George languidly. “Of course it’s not as well made or as important because I don’t own it.”

At this point, the urge to tell the highly unlikely buyers to f**k off and move on is irresistible, but morbid interest helps me keep my mouth closed.

“Cynthia, doesn’t Jocelyn have one just like that?”

“Yes, She does, George. How clever of you to notice. And Quentin had one of those but – don’t you remember – his dog ate it at Easter. These must be copies; I don’t think either Jocelyn or Quentin would own anything you can buy at a market. Do you?”

How well you remember selling that last-of-the-line to the cheapskate Quentin on the second day of the CLA. The fact that he owns most of Aberdeenshire and has the social pretensions of a Victorian archdeacon didn’t prevent him from bargaining hard for the better part of an hour to get the cheapest possible price and then having the brass cojones to hand over a Coutts Private Wealth Management credit card afterwards. I also remember that he bought some cheaper items for presents.

George’s phone rings. To my joy, he produces his iPhone 5 from his pocket and it is clad in one of my iPhone covers. Adopting the demeanour of a Turkish sherbet salesman, circa 1880, I gleefully move in to offer some helpful advice, handing over a phone cover:

“Perhaps when you upgrade to an iPhone 6, I can sell you a cover for it.”

Cynthia and George adopt the same facial expression as my Patterdale when the vet is taking his temperature. They recoil and I overhear Cynthia say:

“Really, George. You don’t think that Quentin actually bought your phone cover from that man, do you?”

“Pas devant les vendeurs,” replies George as they move to the next stall.

“Monsieur” intercedes Phillippe, helpfully. “I am French.”


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