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Johnson's business alone in NFR booth


Last updated 1/3/2008 at Noon

In 2006, Bonsall’s Sue Johnson made her debut as a gift show exhibitor in conjunction with the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, but shared a booth at the Mandalay Bay with another company.

In 2007, Johnson had a booth of her own at the Mandalay Bay Cowboy Marketplace Gift Expo while also helping coordinate assistance to Fallbrook fire victims.

“It was time to go on our own with Tarachel just to get the name out there,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s company, Tarachel – named after her two daughters – sells custom-designed belt buckles, jewelry, denim jackets, and scarves.

Johnson, whose full-time job is as a financial services officer for Pacific Coast National Bank (that bank doesn’t have a permanent Fallbrook branch, so Johnson usually commutes to Encinitas), started Tarachel in spring of 2006.

Her sister is married to Alex Hassinger, a partner in the Sturdee Brothers apparel line. In 2006, Tarachel shared a booth at the Cowboy Marketplace Gift Expo with Sturdee Brothers.

The term “Cowboy Christmas” initially referred to the rodeos held during the Fourth of July weekend, when a cowboy could enter multiple rodeos and earn significant money for suitable performances.

In the 1980s the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association sanctioned a Cowboy Christmas Gift Show to provide activities during the day for visitors to the National Finals Rodeo city (NFR has been held in Las Vegas since 1985 after spending 20 years in Oklahoma City).

The Cowboy Christmas Gift Show is now held in the Las Vegas Convention Center and attracts between 150,000 and 175,000 visitors for the ten-day exhibit coinciding with the NFR dates.

Although the gift shows at Mandalay Bay and elsewhere are not official PRCA events, the PRCA does not discourage those shows.

Approximately three-quarters of the official show’s vendors return for the following year and the Convention Center booths are usually sold out by July, so the cowboy gift expositions at Mandalay Bay, the Sands, and elsewhere in Las Vegas allow new exhibitors an opportunity to display their products.

Hassinger, a former racehorse trainer, is also the West Coast representative for LubriSyn, an equine nutritional supplement used for the treatment of joint pain and inflammation.

In 2006 LubriSyn had booths at both the Convention Center and Mandalay Bay, allowing Hassinger easy access to his Sturdee Brothers partners, although in 2007 the company’s only booth was at the Convention Center.

Sturdee Brothers did not have a booth in 2007.

Johnson noted that teaming with Sturdee Brothers was a good way to get started. The 2007 booth had solely the Tarachel logo and products, which improved recognition of Tarachel.

“The booth has a different feel,” she said.

Johnson’s sister was assisting her husband at the Convention Center booth, and the lack of a Sturdee Brothers presence also meant the absence of Sturdee Brothers personnel to assist the Tarachel exhibit.

“It’s tougher,” Johnson said of having a booth by herself.

Johnson’s parents, Al and Frances, assisted with the booth. Johnson’s father helped with the closing tasks while Johnson’s mother handled customer service in her daughter’s absence.

“She loves this,” Sue Johnson said of her mother. “She talks to all these people. That’s what it takes.”

In 2006 Johnson, her mother, and her daughters took shifts at the booth so that the dogs in Bonsall could be cared for while other family members were in Las Vegas. This year, Johnson’s daughter Tara stayed in California to take care of the dogs.

Johnson’s daughter Rachel, who currently attends Texas State University in San Marcos, TX, was returning from school with two friends and had planned to go to Las Vegas before adverse weather forced a direct route to San Diego County.

“She was going to stop here but because of the weather I told them to go south,” Sue Johnson said.

The show’s limited number of hours allowed Sue Johnson and her mother to handle the booth by themselves. “This year’s easy, because it’s a [10 a.m. to 5 p.m.] show,” Sue Johnson said.

That allowed Johnson to work on orders after hours, although the need for glue on buckles to cure still meant that most customers would be receiving their products through the mail.

“It takes the whole family to do this,” Johnson said. “The pluses are there’s not a whole lot of overhead.”

Johnson was also responsible for the booth decorations. The 2007 NFR, and therefore the Cowboy Marketplace Gift Expo, took place December 6-15.

Johnson arrived in Las Vegas December 5 to set up. “Because I have these walls right now, it makes it a little more difficult,” she said.

Johnson is also the master of ceremonies for the Student of the Month award ceremony for Fallbrook Union High School District students. In 2006 she made two trips to Las Vegas, returning to Fallbrook for the Student of the Month breakfast.

The December 6 date of the 2007 student award ceremony didn’t allow her to return from Las Vegas, so Johnson called Fallbrook High School Principal Rod King and asked if he would fill in for her.

“I don’t think three in 12 years is too bad,” said Johnson, who missed a Student of the Month breakfast in 2001 due to illness and one last April while with family in Texas. “I hate missing them, though.”

Johnson’s father spent more than 30 years in the Marine Corps and brought the family to Fallbrook after being stationed at Camp Pendleton. Johnson’s father was born in San Antonio and Johnson’s mother was born in Taylor, TX, which is outside of Austin. Johnson, the third of four siblings, was born in Virginia.

Johnson and her parents were in Texas when the Rice Fire devastated Fallbrook. Johnson’s parents live in Fallbrook, and Tara Johnson evacuated valuables from both her mother’s and grandparents’ residences with the help of two of Sue Johnson’s siblings.

During the Cowboy Marketplace show, Sue Johnson learned how well-known Fallbrook had become following the Rice Fire. “They find out where you’re from, they immediately know Fallbrook,” she said.

Following the fires, Phil Delaney asked Johnson if she would help the Legacy Foundation in interviewing fire victims for potential assistance. That created a possible conflict with her Las Vegas activities.

“I thought I was going to have to fly back,” Johnson said.

Eileen Delaney handled much of the coordination while Johnson was in Las Vegas, and although Johnson worked with the Legacy Foundation during NFR she was able to remain in Las Vegas.

“You can handle a lot on a cell phone,” Johnson said.

Johnson is also the chair of the Poway Rodeo Queens Pageant Committee. She missed the PRCA’s California Circuit finals in Norco November 16-18 due to the After the Ashes fundraiser November 18 which involved some organizational work on Johnson’s part as well as her presence at the actual event.

The fires also caused Pacific Coast National Bank to open a temporary but full-time office in Fallbrook, so Johnson will be available there as needed.

Johnson noted that one of her highlights at Cowboy Marketplace was seeing customers from last year wearing Tarachel buckles as they walked by the booth.


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