Countdown to IPM '17 - Carters breaking souvenir sales records
BY DENNY SCOTT
Souvenirs are a big part of International Plowing Match (IPM) process every year, but, with the 100th iteration of the event, merchandising has taken on a life of its own according to souvenir committee chairs Allan and Karen Carter.
From their Seaforth-area home, the couple have been selling everything from scale model trucks adorned with IPM logos to blankets to apparel for the past three years getting ready for the event.
“We have a committee of six couples and we try and be everywhere we can,” Allan explained. “The committee-members are from Exeter, Wingham, Bayfield, Winthrop, Clinton and Seaforth.”
Both Allan, a former insurance broker and farmer, and Karen, previously of the Avon Maitland District School Board, retired three years ago and have been tackling the souvenirs as a full-time volunteer job since then.
The Carters have been selling in Huron County for three years and, after the 2016 IPM, expanded their markets through farm shows and other agricultural events. The dedication over the past several years is likely why they have had such success according to the couple.
The couple, still more than two months away from the event, said they had brought in more than $290,000 in sales, double what other years have brought in, figures that included sales at the match.
The committee has already set record sales and, part of that, is because they don’t see each sale as a chance to raise money for the IPM and local organizations, but rather every sale as an opportunity to advertise the match.
“Every sale is a chance for someone to advertise for us,” Karen said. “Everything from garden stakes to sweaters to jackets help get the word out about what we’re doing and what we have for sale.”
Allan agreed, saying that souvenirs are equal parts selling and marketing.
Members of the committee have travelled to all corners of the county over the past three years including every firefighters’ breakfast, nearby plowing match and community event they could attend to showcase their merchandise to ensure people had their chance to wear, and spread the word about, the IPM.
“Visiting those events has been a good way to cover the county,” Allan said. “You get some really great exposure.”
“People are always talking to us as well,” Karen explained. “They want to know about what’s going on and we’re able to let them know.”
While they didn’t know of particular statistics for any event, the Carters said they had yet to attend an event and not sell a single item.
“We’ve gone to places where we haven’t sold as much, but we’ve never been skunked,” Allan said. “We’ve also gone to some places where we do really well.”
He said local farm shows that feature an agricultural fanbase are usually a good market for the goods, saying they had travelled to Chatham, London, Lindsay and Drayton for events.
“Even if you don’t sell as much, you are there representing the event,” he said. “Sometimes we are just there as ambassadors.”
Sales aren’t just through the mobile shop and, more recently, the IPM headquarters at the Walton Community Hall but also online.
“We have sold some items overseas through the internet,” Allan said.
While there is no online shop, the Carters have shipped items for people interested in collecting items from the show.
The scale-model IPM truck, for example, has proven to be so popular that it has been sold out since shortly after it was unveiled, Allan said. When they were in stock, however, one made its way to Costa Rica. A blanket was also sent to Qatar in the Middle East.
The IPM cookbooks have also been shipped internationally, which gave the Carters pause as, if anyone orders more than one, it costs just as much to ship the books as it does to buy them.
Regardless of shipping cost, the cookbook has been a big hit according to the Carters, who said they have sold more than 5,000 of them.
As for the hottest item, the Carters say there are some things which are always on the verge of selling out, but everything is selling.
“Some things move a little faster than others,” Karen saidadding that they won’t re-order some items as they don’t want to be sitting on stock when the IPM is over.
The committee is locally sourcing everything it can find, but some things just aren’t feasible for the necessary volume.
Walton’s Barmy Tech, for example, has produced bags for the event and Gerber’s Work Wear and the Goderich Print Shop are among the committee’s suppliers as well.
When it comes to the goods, Allan has only one rule: No freebies.
Regardless of the cause, he said that nothing has left the inventory that hasn’t been paid for.
“If you see IPM items in auctions, they have been purchased by someone and donated on their behalf,” Allan said.
The stance on giveaways also includes the shirts for the IPM which have become permanent fixtures in the Carters’ wardrobe for the past three years.
“Even the volunteers will have to buy their own shirts,” Allan said.
“The volunteers should probably look to buy theirs soon,” Karen said. “We’re not sure what we’ll have left when it comes time for the volunteer day on Sept. 9, let alone what we’ll have left for the match as far as colours and styles go.”
The Carters said they will have ample stock left for the event, but specific colours and styles may not be re-ordered once they sell out.
While there are no ‘freebies’ from the souvenir stands, the Carters both said that they would not have been as successful were it not for the people who have helped out. They pointed to people who have donated to the cause like Shannon Craig of McKillop Insurance which provided the trailer and Tiesma Industrial Coverings in Holmesville who provided a shelter to allow the group to sell rain or shine.
The Carters said that the portable, wireless bank machine provided by BMO through a sponsorship with the IPM is also a big help, saying that people rarely attend some of the events with the funds necessary for some of the more expensive items.
The souvenir tent will be a pretty big attraction at the event as well, though the Carters won’t know what they have to sell until that day.
“We’ll be in the middle of Mutual Square, near the main stage with a 40 foot by 60 foot tent,” Allan said. “It’s pretty much right at the centre of the match.”
The committee members feel like they’re ahead of the game as, with 43 volunteers to help, they already have lined up every shift necessary to keep the tent staffed for all five days of the IPM.
While the Carters are happy to help out, they are looking forward to seeing their house return to how it was before they took on the job.
The two said, with a laugh, that part of their kitchen has become a full-time office to keep track of sales and funds and, early on, their spare bedrooms became display centres for the clothing.
“We had four locations in the house for display with men’s clothes, women’s clothes, and two other collections,” Karen said.
This isn’t Allan’s first time being a part of the plowing match. In 1966, during the Seaforth ‘Mud Match’ as it came to be known, he drove tractors, delivering everything from people to other tractors and helping people get out of muddy situations.
At the 1999 match near Dashwood, now known as the ‘Dust Match’, he was in charge of the Huron County Showcase with Keith Elston and Jacquie Bishop who is now the chair of the IPM.
“She was our secretary for the event,” he said. “She really kept us on track and helped, so when it came time to help for this year, I couldn’t say no.”
Allan also said that Bishop used to weigh the Carters’ milk, so they have a long relationship with her.
Like many other volunteers The Citizen has interviewed, the Carters said they were approached by Bishop and just couldn’t say no.
Those looking to secure their souvenirs can look at the IPM’s Facebook page which shares the location of upcoming sales or visit the Walton Hall or contact the Carters at 519-522-0399.