Corn dogs, elephant ears and spas … at the fair

The Indiana State Fair brings to mind images of deep fried foods and carnival rides, but fair-goers sometimes buy big ticket items—like hot tub spas.

At least four exhibitors, some in adjacent tents, are back at the fair this year hawking their spas hoping to cash in on an expected 1 million fair visitors.

Fair-goers spent $3.3 million in 2008, $1.8 million of it on shopping, according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

Master Spas Inc, a Fort Wayne-based company, has been a state fair sponsor for 13 years. In the past, the company has sold anywhere from 30 to 100 spas at the event, said Sam Badiac, vice president of the company.

"It’s hard to say how this year will be with the economy," he said. "We are hoping for the best."

Hauling the hot tubs to the fair not only creates a marketing opportunity for its exhibitors to display their products, Badiac said, but people actually buy spas on the spot.

"We had someone that lives 15 minutes from our factory in Fort Wayne come all the way to Indianapolis and buy a spa here," he said. "A huge 4-H fair is something people are drawn to."

Master Spas spent about $30,000 on sponsorship and merchandising for the fair, including $5,000 for renting the space and $4,000 in equipment to get the spas to Indy.

Top-quality spas cost $7,800 to $11,000 at the Royal Spa tent, according to Jeremy Westland, store manager for the Pendleton Pike location. Indianapolis-based Royal Spa has taken part in the fair for nearly 20 years.

"We do very well at the fair," Westland said. "It creates a frenzy with buyers."

Noblesville-based Recreation Unlimited also sells hot tub spas, as well as playground equipment, child-size log cabins and Goalrilla basketball goals. General Manager Heather Sink said her company made about $30,000 in sales at last year’s fair, with hot tubs as the No. 1 seller.

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