Posted on Leave a comment

Going Glamping at the Minnesota State Fair!

The Minnesota State Fair one of the largest state fairs in the country, a very close second only to Texas in attendance size. This year was no exception, with an all time attendance record set at 2,126,551. Half of the 12 days of the 2019 state fair set new daily attendance records. It has long been known as an impenetrable fair for local face painters who have tried for decades to get a booth space. After years of my fellow artists urging me to get into the fair so they could work in my booth, I had tried applying several years ago to no avail. The fair simply had no interested in adding any more face painters besides the one booth already located near the kiddie rides. However, one night last summer as I was drifting off to sleep on a family camping trip the idea came to me to combine several things I love into a new concept: Camping, bling, and retro 1950’s style. The “Glitter Glamper!” The Glitter Glamper would bring all forms of body glitter, focusing on bling rather than face painting, and be marketed at a wider age range to include teenagers and adults. I resisted the urge to wake my husband up and tell him my exciting idea and saved it ‘till morning, and instead proceeded to scroll through vintage camper listings on Facebook marketplace into the wee hours of the night.

Conveying the Concept

My extended family ends every summer with a big camping trip on Labor Day weekend, so I decided to take advantage of this captive audience of my kids and their cousins to capture photos of some of my ideas over Labor Day 2018. My nieces modeled my first ever unicorn horn, monster horns and mermaid designs, and a week or so later my husband let me glitter his beard for a photo shoot! 

I bought the url and created a quick website and Facebook pages so I’d have at least some online presence. I designed and printed one business card to put with my application. I worked hard to put together a colorful, glittery proposal as soon as my boys went back to school, complete with a photoshopped rendering of my booth design concept, and sent it off to the fair. Finally my brain was able to relax…my idea was out there, on paper, and now OUT of my hands. If it was meant to be, it would return to me in the form of a state fair licensing agreement. And if not, well, at least I had given it my best shot! 

My glittery application

Knowing that it can take many years before hearing back from the fair, I had no expectations of hearing back any time soon.  While my Photoshopped rendering included a retro camper, lighting, awnings, and a vintage barber chair, I was not ready to take on the expense of building and storing these things with no idea if or when I would ever be able to use them at the fair.

And then the phone rang…

Summer turned to fall, fall to winter, and then one day in the middle of May 2019 I received a call.  The folks at the MN state fair had been following up with their regular vendors, and finding that there were a few who were not returning.  A few spots had suddenly opened up in their new “West End Marketplace,” and they thought my concept would be “perfect for that hipster crowd” that frequents the West End. Would I like a spot? Um…YEAH! Where do I sign and please take my money! 

My space at the fair…the West End Marketplace “cages!” These are a really cool hybrid between an indoor and outdoor space. The fair provides this nice structure with lighting and electricity, and each vendor can close and lock up their own booth at night.

The woman on the phone was super nice and really loved my vintage camper look and feel, although the space wouldn’t be able to accommodate an actual camper. (This is still my goal and I do plan to have an actual “Glamper” soon!) I assured her that with my background in retail display design, I would achieve the retro camping feel in whatever space they give me. She said “oh I just love your antique barber chair, that will look great in your booth! And your flower planters can go here and there…” In my head I’m thinking “oh, you mean the non-existant chair and planters that I digitally rendered? I guess it’s time to start shopping for a vintage barber chair!”  If you subscribe to my free online e-newsletters, you’ve read about my tendency to bite off more than I can chew, and then proceed to teach myself to chew faster, haha! This was certainly another one of those cases! Heck, the glitter beard she saw and loved in my application was literally the only one I had done…ever!

Photoshop rendering that I included with my application

Ready … Set … GO!

Naturally, my head began flooding with amazing ideas, crippling fears, immense excitement and an endless list of what-if’s. How on earth would I pull this off? My boys were going to be done with school and home with me 24/7 in just a couple weeks. June and July were already jam packed with leading VBS crafts, family camping trips and a 16 day road trip, and the first day to start setting up at the state fair overlapped with my busy county fair week in early August. This was about to be a huge. HUGE. Undertaking.  What am I going to DO? Well, there’s nothing to do except GET STARTED! I immediately dove into sketching ideas and scouring Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for the things I needed. I drove to the fair to take measurements of my 10’ x 20’ “cage” for design purposes. I set to work designing banners, sewing custom awnings, creating original graphics and signage, defining all of my offerings and their prices (many of which I had never “technically” actually done before), and finding just the right furniture and decor for the booth. 

My boys helping me haul foam floor tiles down 3 stories in an apartment building we drove 45 minutes to get to!
Vintage steel cabinets I rescued from a curbside for free, cleaned up and painted! 
Lit sign! I designed a banner first, then made a wood base for it that hinged in the middle for easier transport. I mounted all the letters, then delivered it to my brother who got them all wired up for me!

My dad helping to repair an antique secretary desk I had purchased at a local shop. Here it is partially painted. This would function as a decoration and storage when not in use, then fold down when we had enough artists, to function as an artist station. 
Sam helping me sort gems by color

Some of the fixtures I covered in shelf paper. This is the checkout counter and register cashwrap. They sat in my living room for a couple months!

Navigating the fabric warehouse in search of the perfect fabric to make my awnings
Figuring out how to recruit, organize and compensate other artists was new and stressful territory for me. (The county fair booth I had done for over 20 years has really only been run by myself, with my mom taking one partial day.) But the one thing I knew for sure was that there was no way I could run a booth 12 hours a day for 12 days completely on my own. I sent out a call for interested artists, thinking maybe I’d get a handful if I were lucky. After all, I was as transparent as possible in my communications, letting them know that this first year I have no idea how much they’d make, if it would be worth their while or their cost of entrance tickets and parking, if weather would be gorgeous or unbearable, etc. To my wonderful surprise, I ended up with 13 of my fantastic, highly qualified painty friends who were eager to take on the uncertainty and join me in this adventure! Oh how very blessed I am to live in this area with such an incredibly talented and giving community of artists!

Then there was the bling itself…how on earth would I know how much to make? Having never done this before, I simply made as much bling as humanly possible over the next couple months. I hauled all of my supplies on our road trip in giant Rubbermaid bins, creating bling clusters and unicorn horns at campground picnic tables across the US and Canada. 

Making horns at a campground picnic table

I had some fun with it, posting my ever changing “bling count” on social media. I spent countless hours on the road on my laptop, working through artists’ paperwork, contracts, and figuring out the giant puzzle of a schedule with 13 different preferences and no clue how many people I would need on any given day or hour.

The seemingly rare moments I was actually home were spent building and painting a giant Paul Bunyan and Babe photo board, wire brushing and re-painting vintage steel cabinets I had picked up on a curbside, turning our old bbq grill into a glowing, gem-filled decorative prop, coating our rusty old lanterns with glitter and lighting them up with colorful lights, visiting the used retail fixture store in search of the perfect horn display, and running around town picking up Craigslist finds and scouring garage sales and thrift stores. Honestly, God’s fingerprints were ALL over this entire process as everything seemed to just fall right into place! (I could write a whole blog just on that!) A lot of things just CAME to me…by “things” I mean stuff I bought, and by “came to me I mean” I mean they were delivered by the Amazon fairy. I probably could have built a three story playhouse out of the Amazon boxes I acquired! But really, just the right items turned up just when I needed them at sales and thrift stores!

Paul and Babe in process! Yes I drove to the hardware store and loaded up a sheet of plywood, brought it home, drew it out and cut it out myself! My dad built me a base for it so people would have a step stool and it wouldn’t blow over!

Me and Wayde trying out the photo board! Notice the cobalt blue glitter beard on Paul…it quickly went from blue to purple to pink during the fair from the sun!

I was on a mission and my background in retail display design had given me enough experience to know that I did NOT have much time. This fact did force me to eat, sleep and breathe Glitter Glamper all summer, but it also thankfully kept me distracted from the reality that this was a HUGE undertaking: I simply could not afford to waste any time on worrying. Every time the enormity of the situation started to sink in, I dove into the next task, crossed one thing off my to-do list and then added three more.

Some of the many things I collected, made, found, refurbished, etc over the course of the weeks before the fair

The summer months slipped away in a flash among fair prep and family trips, and before I knew it August was here. My county fair which I had always previously considered my craziest week of the fair, seemed this year to be more like the calm before the storm. Five 12-hour days at the fair to simply paint, something I’d barely found time to do all summer, left me both energized and exhausted at the same time. I was ready to start setting up at the state fair, but had to push through the county fair as it’s entire profits would go towards chipping away at my state fair booth expenses!

No Time To Rest

On the last day of the county fair my husband, boys and I tore down my booth, unloaded the truck, and re-loaded the truck for the state fair. The next morning my boys and I took the first trip to the state fair. We laid down foam tiles (to save our feet on the concrete), a layer of astroturf (grass for our “glampsite!”), and hung banners. The next day a dear friend with a trailer helped us haul all the big, heavy stuff, including the elusive antique zillion-pound barber chair I had searched and stressed over and finally found just in time. Each day I drove to and from the fair to build and arrange my booth, as the radio personalities announced how many days left until the opening of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, sending shivers of terror and anticipation through my spine. It was going to happen, and I was going to be there, whether I was fully prepared for it or not!

Finally…the PERFECT barber chair!!

Needless to say, I didn’t get a ton of sleep in the month of August. I didn’t take the best of care of myself, and while I didn’t have time to worry, my body decided to stress on it’s own. I lost 5 pounds but thankfully stayed healthy throughout the month. (don’t be jealous, I immediately gained it back when the fair ended and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep, hahaha!) I shudder to think of what a simple cold virus could have done to me that month!

And Then There Were Artists!

Three days before the fair started I held an on-site meeting for my 13 wonderful artist friends who had graciously agreed to give up part of their busy, profitable summer month to take a chance with me on the fair. It was an emotional day, as it all became more real…I handed out sparkly hats with the Glitter Glamper logo and name tags, went over processes and the booth and answered lots of questions. All of my sweet painty friends were absolutely amazing! Not only did they all hike out to the fair for a meeting, but they even surprised me with sweet gifts, a cake, and sang to me! All I could think was that I didn’t want to let these amazing people down! 

My “Glampettes!” There’s NO way I could have done this without them!!

Naturally, with 13 artists and a handful of family members come dozens and dozens of ideas for ways to change or improve things. Everyone was very excited to see how the booth was coming along and had great ideas, and I was able to implement many of them in the couple days I had left before the fair started, though had to table some for next year as I just simply had run out of time! 

A few pics from our meeting day! My son Sam also filmed me opening up the booth so I could make an instructional video for the artists.

I would later learn that my husband had told my family wanting to help, to not suggest anything new or any changes to me…simply do what I ask…because I tend to take every suggestion as an item on my to-do list. This is true, and my desire to make my booth the most comfortable, fun and functional space possible for all of my artists, I left the meeting totally overwhelmed with new suggestions that I wanted to implement but simply couldn’t physically address them all. I had to force myself to prioritize and let a lot of things go. On top of that, my cash register drawer was not working, internet was not working, and I only had a couple more days to figure it all out. Aaah! Oh, and did I mention my vehicle which had never had issues in the decade I’ve driven it, suddenly decided to NOT start on random occasions for no clear reason? Yup, I ended up stranded at the fair during setup a couple times, and we still to this day have no idea what is wrong or when it will act up again and leave me stranded. Thankfully my best friend (who’s husband also hauled all my stuff with his trailer) loaned me her van for the entire fair and then some, and took my boys for multiple day-long play dates so I could get work done. 

The one thing I really, really wanted to do but just ran out of time for was hosting jams for all of the artists to practice what we were offering and develop some amount of consistency. Once again my wonderful friends stepped up, without me even asking, and hosted their own jams! Jodi hosted a jam, fed everyone pizza, printed out my “Glamping Guide” for everyone and even roped in a real beard to practice glittering on. Tricia hosted an ALL DAY open house style jam at her house, turning over her entire living room to glitter and made countless videos of her experimentations with various glitter products, tools and methods to share. Tiffany hosted a jam immediately following our on-site meeting to squeeze in some more practice before go time! They really picked up my slack and I’m eternally grateful! Jamming is one thing I will definitely make a lot more time for in 2020! In the huge list of things I had to “let go,” jamming was on the TOP of the list as far as importance to the whole operation, and will be the first item to move up to my DO list next year.

I really tried to capture pictures of every “shift” throughout the fair. Here are a few of our “Shift Pics!”

It Takes a Village!

I am really terrible at asking for or accepting help, and this state fair adventure really forced me to rely on friends and family! My engineer brother figured out how to wire up my lit sign so that I could plug it in instead of turning on individual battery powered letters. My husband let me basically take over the entire garage for the summer and overload the house with glitter and furniture. (As of this post it’s still too full to park in as we try to figure out where & how to store everything!) He even dropped me off and picked me up for the first few days of the fair and some of the last, and worked as my booth “babe” for two full days, sporting a colorful glitter “wannabeard!” (If you don’t have an actual beard to be glittered, we can give you a “wannabeard!”) My in-laws took our boys for the first 5 days so we could focus on the fair. My dad hung my beast of a sign above the booth and fixed countless little issues in the booth, and my mom made sure my artists and I had an assortment of yummy snacks and fruit for the fair, and worked the register one day as well! My boys were such good sports about finding glitter on all of their stuff, and happily helped me sort gems, trim laminated pieces, count glitter tattoo stencils and run a zillion errands. My niece worked as my booth babe for the first few days, which was her first job ever at 13! The amazing Lori Hurley made sure that I took a break to eat, and one day even brought in fresh salad ingredients so I would get something healthy! I definitely couldn’t have pulled it off without everyone’s help! But I have to say it was really cool to finally let my family catch a glimpse of my painty friends and how AWESOME they all are.

My husband Wayde and one of the several “Wannabeards” he wore while working in the Glamper!
Learning As We Go

My artists are really a class act and were so absolutely vital to the success of the first year! They were so open and crazy flexible, knowing that I had no clue how many of them I’d need on any given day, yet willing to set aside their time for me, just in case. I went in thinking the night crowd would be bigger with concerts nearby, but it turned out to be opposite: we were busiest before lunch. I had people “on call” in case we got busier than expected, and people on the schedule as “maybe’s” unless we were slow or it was rainy. They were true friends, sticking it out as we all learned as we went…(hopefully) not taking it personal if I had to cut them. I had to cut shifts, move people around, and rearrange things almost daily. By the end of the fair of course we had learned a lot, and next year I feel like I can arrange the schedule better to maximize everyone’s earning potential.

A few photos of the booth in action

Learning to Let Go

The first thing I did after receiving the call in May from the fair was contact everyone I knew who had worked at the fair, or other fairs, for advice. I got a lot of great advice, including the suggestion to take a couple days off to get my kids ready for school. Thanks to my spectacular team, I was able to take two days off in a row in the middle of the fair to get my boys to their respective school open houses, and pack for our big family Labor Day camping trip that now overlapped the fair. (yeah, I know…crazy…) This involved some of my artists arriving early to set up, staying late to tear down, and running my important paperwork on daily income totals to the fair office for me before the deadline every day. They were simply amazing. I knew the booth was in excellent hands, but handing over your baby to anyone is hard! 

On day 5 of the fair I was there sitting in my fancy barber chair, my feet throbbing and so happy to be there but so unbelievably exhausted. I told my mom who was being my “booth babe” that day, “I feel like I’ve just given birth, and it’s all I can do to just lie here and watch other people interact with it!” I wished I had more energy to take it all in, but just getting to this point had wiped me out! My fellow artists certainly carried me! And for those two days off, though MUCH needed and refreshing, I felt like I had just handed my 5 day old baby off to a babysitter already!


My first “day off” at home I had just missed a call from one of these awesome artists, Tricia. It was hard to hear her voicemail over the noise (we are located right by an amphitheater), but what I made out was, “Call us as SOON as you get this! We are DYING over here!” Oh. My. Goodness. Which of my worst fears had happened? Did the Square terminal crap out on me? Is the register drawer stuck? Did Paul Bunyan blow over and crush a small child? Were there so many people they couldn’t handle the crowd? Had we run out of unicorn horns? Oh my goodness, why did I ever think I could miss a day at the booth?! 

With my heart pumping I called Tricia back immediately and to my complete surprise was informed that members of the fair board had just stopped by to present us with an award, for “Best of the Fair” of 2019! WHAT?! 

Turns out they were “dying” of excitement, haha! I was to appear a couple days later at one of their stages to accept the award with any other members of my staff. Tricia, Stella, Naomi and Jelly were all there that day, as were my husband and two boys, since it was the morning I had taken off to actually visit the fair with them. We were the only brand new booth to receive the award, which is given to only 12 out of 1,200 vendors. What an honor!

Live TV? No Pressure!

Even with my thrifty ways, I spent a LOT of money on the booth. I knew that this was the one and only year that I would be the NEW thing at the fair that the media would be interested in covering, so it had to be amazing no matter what. Money was no object. Well, okay, I limited myself to my credit card limit!

Boy am I glad I went all out, because the media requests came flooding in before the fair started! I had lined up several news station appearances during the 12 days of the fair, with the first being just two hours into the first day! Two local news personalities from KARE 11 came to our booth the first day for a short interview, and got glitter tattoos. 

Being filmed for KARE 11
It was a really fun time and their camera man stuck around for quite a while afterwards capturing more footage. Later we’d learn that they wanted me to come to their studio at the fair, where they’d play the recorded footage and have me do a live demo on camera. 
Me with my boys and one lucky girl from the audience, live on KARE 11
This live demo also happened to be the same day my family was visiting the fair with me, so they not only sat through the award ceremony but also the live newscast, but they loved it. My boys were so excited to spend the entire day at the fair which they had never done, and both of them got to be on the news, modeling our monster horns and glitter tattoos. Our wonderful friends (with the trailer, the van, the play dates…) were also there that day in the audience. Tricia accompanied me to the station and unbeknownst to her, got roped into doing a glitter beard live on camera! She rolled with it being the amazing person she is, and somehow not only found me a girl with her hair pulled back and ready for a unicorn horn, but snagged herself a guy with a long, white beard from the audience in a ZZ Top t-shirt willing to let her glitter him up!

Tricia and her epic orange beard, done live for KARE 11! I’d later learn that Reggie, our beard model in this photo, loved it so much he didn’t shower for a couple days!
Besides our visit from KARE 11 and live demo on their stage, I also went live on KSTP channel 5’s newscast as well as their “Twin Cities Live” show, demonstrating mermaid tails, unicorns and the like. Tricia was so sweet to accompany me to a couple of these, leaving her chance to make money on the booth behind to help me haul stuff and keep my mind off of my nervousness. She even had her mom and kids one day, ready to go as models! Many of my other artists found themselves on camera from the booth coverage, and were surprised one day when a personality from FOX 9 just showed up and filmed them. I never did get to see that one since nobody saw it coming! 

The final live TV appearance of the fair I had to go it alone as we were short handed, but was relieved to have been given specific instructions this time for what they wanted. They were going to have me paint ears and affix a unicorn horn on one adult woman. Great, I thought…I’ll bring a few other pieces of bling just to show what we have, and will bring just what I need for one unicorn: a split cake or two, black, white, a couple brushes and glitter. Finally, I knew exactly what to expect and didn’t have to try to pack up everything to make anything, just in case. Well, it turned out when I arrived for this last appearance, and just before going on camera they decided instead that they wanted me to paint one of the news personalities’ kids because his family happened to be there. Okay, so there was a little girl instead of a grown woman…no biggie! “Oh, but he actually has three kids, and we don’t want the others to feel left out. So can you do all three instead? And by the way, one of them is a boy so just do something more boy-ish.” I proceeded to panic inside…I had this opportunity to also showcase our awesome monster faces, and I had a pair of horns but no scale stencils, no blues or greens, and no glitters to match. And I had another horn or a mermaid tail I could use on girl #2, but no fun mermaid pattern stencils, and no blues. I told them that I had so many cool boy things and other things I could demonstrate but just didn’t bring anything with for them, and their reply was, “well if you can just be flexible and do something boy-ish that would be great!” 

My inner perfectionist was freaking out, looking down at my pink and purple split cakes and unicorn horns, knowing I could do so much better with the right tools. However, in the end it all worked out. I had just enough time to quickly complete a unicorn, and partially complete the other so that I could finish it live on camera. For the little boy I was able to hand paint some colorful scales by picking a few of the more primary colors out of my TAG Pansy split cake with a round brush, and adding colorful festival glitter on top for a rainbow monster. In my mind it was not the ideal monster design, but this little boy totally pulled if off, roaring enthusiastically for the camera! And hearing the audience “ooh” and “aah” as I attached the final unicorn horn and spread on a layer of festival glitter was icing on the cake. The moral of the story: just wing it. It’ll work out. This ended up being a really great news spot and they even let everyone know that we do parties as well!

On Twin Cities Live

Me with the Twin Cities Live’s anchors and family after the segment was done!
I won’t lie, it was super stressful having to pack up my gear and leave the booth, hoping I remembered everything, not having planned on extra artists to fill my place…not to mention just hoping I didn’t pass out or throw up on camera, haha! The nerves tore me up and I was never able to eat until I finished with the TV stuff, but just like when I arrive at a gig, as soon as the paints come out, the nerves melt away. I survived…I wasn’t super eloquent and am definitely not made for TV, but every TV appearance brought a new rush of people who saw us on TV and had to come check us out!

Glamper Offerings

Here are a few photo collages of just a handful of the fairgoers we adorned with glitter this year!

I had a display book full of bling clusters that our guests could choose from! Bling clusters themselves ranged from basic to premium, all had glitter of course, and could come with or without a little painted embellishments.

Our festival faces included unicorns, mermaids and monsters! I’m excited to expand on these a little more in 2020!

Festival glitter was our most popular item at the fair!

Glitter freckles were popular and fun! Guests could choose to add star or heart patterns within their glitter freckles.

Glitter tattoos were a hit, and a great option for those rainy days because they are waterproof!

I have SO many photos…I may add more in the future! But in the meantime you can check out our Facebook and Instagram pages to see more!

So How Rich Are You?

Tell any Minnesotan that you’ve landed a booth in the state fair and the first thing they’ll say will be something in reference to Sweet Martha’s and how rich you are about to become! For non-Minnesotans, Sweet Martha’s is a wildly successful vendor that sells fresh baked chocolate chip cookies to the tune of about 1 million cookies per day. They are the fair’s top grossing food vendor, with over $4.73 million dollars in gross revenue last year among their three locations…almost $3.4 million more than the next highest grossing vendor on the list. So, naturally, everyone in the state fair leaves filthy rich, right? Well, not quite.

I had no grand expectations for profit this first year, and may have been the only one with realistic expectations. Maybe it’s because I’ve been running county fair booths for over two decades,  or maybe it’s because I was the only one watching my business credit card balance climb daily! But making money, while always something a business owner aims for, wasn’t really my main goal this year. My goal since trying to get into the fair was simply that…to get in…to prove to myself that I could conquer the impenetrable fair, land a space, design the heck out of it, create something that the fair had never seen before, become a new tradition for fairgoers, and finally provide a place in our own state fair for our own local, professional artists to showcase their rock star talent. Not only did I achieve all of these goals, but I did it in record time and got an incredibly exclusive award in the process! I’d say the first year was a raging success just by those standards!

Financially, I maybe broke even this year at best (still tallying up expenses)…though still have more expenses to come as I figure out how to store all my stuff until next year. However, in talking to the many friendly vendors around me, I learned that it typically takes 3 years to become profitable at the fair. The booth itself did very well, and I feel that if I can just restrain myself from making TOO many big, expensive improvements for next year, I may make some profit in 2020. 

The buzz was just incredible around the Twin Cities about our booth! Each day we seemed to draw more customers, even if the fair’s attendance had not necessarily increased from the day before. The word was getting out fast, and we soon were getting repeat customers already during the fair week. The media spots definitely drew in more people who wouldn’t have found us otherwise, and really helped to educate the community about what we actually offer. Countless fairgoers commented that next year they are coming right to our booth first thing, and many people said that this was just what the fair needed. The wonderful comments and encouragement from visitors to our booth were such great fuel to keep up our energy and excitement, and keep me looking forward to next year! Adult women were regularly commenting on how special they felt, how much fun it was to get blinged up, and how they were going to come back with their friends. We did over 50 glitter beards during the fair, and many of the men came back at the end of the day just to tell us how much fun they had all day with people stopping them for photos, and all the attention they received! The Glamper is out there, the word is spreading like glitter, and I am confident that our local following will grow more every year!

Want more?

This post got loooong, but if you want to know more, including my list of tips and advice for running a booth at your own state fair or similar event, you can find the full article in the Fall 2019 issue of Wet Paint Magazine