Alex Sample took a childhood hobby and turned it into a business with an annual show that is now opening in its biggest venue to date — and he envisions even bigger things in the future.
Sample’s fourth annual Agate, Gem and Mineral Show is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, at The Brainerd Exchange, new event space at the Northern Pacific Center.
Just four year ago, the show meant fitting 40-50 people in two rooms at Sample’s grandmother’s house. Mary Sample-Andersen has the Second Time Around store along Highway 371, where her grandson has his store. Alex Sample also grew his business online with Facebook shows.
The show, which he set for the first Saturday in January, was picked as a way to have something to do when hunting agates was no longer an option.
Hunting agates was something Sample started to do as a young boy of 5 or 6. The variety of the rocks, the different colors, textures and the joy of being outside where phones were put away along with troubles was enticing.
“It’s a super relaxing, calming thing to do,” Sample said of agate hunting. “It’s kind of like a getaway honestly. It’s just a great escape and great thing to do as a pastime. … It’s hard not to fall in love with it.”
Sample said it’s easy to put all your energy and effort into something that matters to you.
He started his Sample’s Agate Gem and Mineral Shop business when he was 15. Now 19, he said the business provides his income and a 365 day a year job. Sample said he recently spoke to eighth grade students about agates and his business, telling them if you have a drive and motivation you can turn anything into a business and have the lifestyle you are willing to work to obtain.
The first two years, the agate show took place in his grandmother’s house. He had higher goals and expected to work for it and for the show to be successful. Last year, he moved the event to the Northland Arboretum. Cars filled area parking lots and when he looked at the attendance records, he found about 700 people attended.
“I didn’t expect that many people,” Sample said. That prompted a move to an even larger venue this year with 37,000 square feet of space. “I expect 1,500 to 2,000 people this year.”
The show’s variety and ability to attract people who are both dedicated rockhounds and those looking for a family outing on a winter weekend are part of its success, Sample said.
The show includes door prizes, concessions, sphere making, demonstrations and stone cutting with vendors and special guests Agatology and Yooperlites. There are agate marbles, jewelry and raw rocks to capture a variety of interests.
Sample said he looked for a community program he could partner with and picked Smiles for Jake for a silent auction benefit and also plans to give half of the admission proceeds to the organization. Admission is $2. Sample said he chose Smiles for Jake, a suicide prevention movement, because so many people struggle with depression and he wanted to help a smaller organization.
“It’s refreshing to know that even though you grew up in a really bad place, you still have the choice and ability to do something good with your life and that you can give back,” Sample said, noting that can provide a comfortable living when an individual may have thought because they grew up in a bad situation, they weren’t going anywhere. “You can ultimately do whatever you want to do in life and you just have to choose. You just have to know that is what you want and you have to give it all you’ve got. It’s all on you.”
Sample said he told the eighth graders when others say that a dream won’t or can’t happen, they just have to say they’ll prove them wrong. And Sample sees a future where his annual show is able to draw 5,000 people in the next three to four years.
“He is one remarkable boy,” Sample-Andersen said of her grandson. “He sets his mind to something, he is going to do it.”