Few fairgoers were surprised to hear that the No. 1 selling food vendor at the Minnesota State Fair in 2016 was Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar.
But which nonfood vendor had the highest sales last year?
It’s one that appeals to another primal craving: the need for cash — potentially lots of it. The Minnesota State Lottery easily topped the list for highest revenue at the 2016 state fair among nonfood concessionaires. Fairgoers spent nearly $712,000 on lottery tickets last year.
The Minnesota State Lottery at the corner of Judson and Nelson has been at the fair for a decade and produced nearly as much revenue as the second, third and fourth bestselling nonfood vendors combined.
“Our most popular game at the fair is the scratch offs,” said Vicki Holets, marketing director of the Minnesota State Lottery. “People want to have fun right now, so scratch offs are 90 percent of our revenue.”
The Minnesota Lottery missed out on one potential cash cow this year, Holets said. The recent $700 million Powerball jackpot was won the day before the fair started.
Other top concessionaires included souvenir/novelty stands, Minnesota sports teams, Playland Amusement Arcade, Henna Tattoo Art and Old Time Portraits.
Lucia Perez, who’s been operating Dandy Souvenirs booths at the fair for 19 years, was No. 2 on the list for revenue. She sells bubble blowers, superhero inflatables like Batman, plush figures and light swords at eight locations within the fair.
“People always tell me what a fun and easy job I have,” she said. “I sleep about three to four hours a night during the fair. I do well, but I’m a workaholic.”
The list of the top-selling nonfood vendors is somewhat incomplete because many don’t have to report their revenue to the fair. All food vendors are required to pay 15 percent of their gross revenue, minus the amount collected for taxes, but only a portion of nonfood vendors have to report revenue and pay a percent of it, said Jim Sinclair, deputy general manager at the Minnesota State Fair.
The majority pay a flat rate based on the size of their booth front. Rates range from $70 per front foot for exhibitors such as roofing and siding companies to $105 per front foot for commercial concessionaires selling brooms, salsa makers or faucet sprayers that fairgoers take with them.
Whether a vendor pays by size of booth or a percent of revenue depends on the activity or item being sold, Sinclair said. Vendors that offer entertainment, such as Old Time Portraits and Henna Art, generally pay a percentage. Those selling a simple product such as books do not have to report sales or pay a percentage to the fair. All are charged utilities, a daily entry fee, parking when used and the daily price of admission for the vendor and employees.
Nonfood sellers on a percentage contract pay between 15 to 40 percent of their revenue to the fair, based on their activity. Ticketed attractions such as the Giant Slide and Sky Glider pay 40 percent of revenue to the fair. Trinkets vendors Dandy Souvenirs and Wee Dazzle pay a higher rate than 15 percent because they have eight and four locations throughout the fairgrounds, respectively, Sinclair said.
“I only have two fairs out of 19 where I sell that charge a percentage,” Perez said. “If you have a really busy fair, it’s good. It all balances out.”
Why do some vendors pay a flat fee based on the size of their booth while others pay a cut of revenue? “Rates are not determined by longevity or where concessions are located at the fair,” Sinclair said. “If we apply a percentage, we need a mechanism for an audit. That’s easier to do when an item is retailed and distributed on site.”
In 2016, nonfood licensees who paid under the percent of revenue formula reported gross sales of $4.5 million. Total gross sales of all food and nonalcoholic beverages was $36.5 million.
Fair officials also can switch a vendor from paying a flat rent fee to a revenue percentage, which can cost significantly more. For example, a vendor might pay $2,100 for a 20-foot-by-20-foot booth. If the business is paying 15 percent of revenue and made $100,000 during the run, its fee would be $15,000.
Deena Drewes, who has been running her Henna Art by Sole Shine business for 16 years at the fair, said she was originally charged a flat rate, but the fair switched her business to a percentage after two years.
“Maybe the fair saw that my business was successful,” she said. “I have done very well by the fair. If I didn’t have the fair gig, I’d have to get a real job the rest of the year,” she said laughing.