Marketing never tasted this good.
By KEVIN BRADY
Businesses from Riverview and Brandon turned out for a savory shindig at the Florida State Fairgrounds last week at what has become one of the largest business to business gatherings outside of Tampa.
Chefs and CEOs rubbed shoulders at the event, which saw more than 150 local firms showcase their wares for an audience of more than 1,500.
“It’s a great chance to get out and network and get to know people,” said Joe Nichols, branch manager of Riverview’s Railroad & Industrial Federal Credit Union. The company, founded in 1936, has been a fixture at the Expo for more than a decade, time and money well spent said Nichols.
“We really see a return throughout the year when customers who have met us here come in and open an account,” said Nichols as he manned a booth at the Brandon Business Expo and Taste of Brandon where hundreds of business people dropped their pens for plastic forks to sample treats from area restaurants.
The May 16 event was sponsored by the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
“It allows people to see what we are all about and is also a great cross-marketing opportunity with all the other businesses here,” said Emily Cole-Gifford of Riverview’s Anytime Fitness.
Companies have opened cash management accounts and applied for business loans as a result of meeting Marie Pszonek at the Expo.
“It’s definitely a worthwhile event,” said Pszonek, vice president and business manager at the Riverview branch of Regions Bank.
“It’s a great way to not only meet new people but also an opportunity to have a rapport with other local businesses,” said Bonnie DiBella of Women’s Health & Wellness which has offices in Riverview and Brandon.
While networking was the order of the day, the main event was the Taste of Brandon contest which challenged local restaurants, caterers and food vendors to come up with the tastiest dishes.
“We have been in the area for 13 years and it still amazes me how many people have not tried our product so this is a chance to let them know about us,” said Rhonda Duke, a manager at Cheddar’s Casual Cafe in between handing out free samples of ribs and spinach dip.
The samples paid off: Cheddar’s took home the Expo’s Best Taste award. Best Booth winner went to the Tampa Bay Times with Bahama Breeze winning Best Dessert.
Celebrating its silver jubilee this year, the Expo is much more than an excuse to sample some savory treats, according to chamber leaders. Great food and a chance to let more than 1,000 potential customers know about their products and services is the recipe that has kept the Expo going for 25 years, said Laura Simpson, the chamber’s Vice President of Engagement and Programming.
“We received a lot of great feedback from attendees, sponsors and exhibitors this year,” said Simpson who reported a run on ticket sales on the day of the event. “It’s been successful for 25 years because guests know that they’re going to get a first look at some great products and services,” she said.
With three booths this year, Candice Alford, co-owner of Brandon’s Traventours, was hard to miss at the Expo. At $275 a pop for the each space her high visibility doesn’t come cheap but it’s a good investment said Alford whose firm specializes in group trips for schools and youth groups and individual luxury travel.
“We have a whole bunch of people who have never seen us who come through the Expo. People come to eat the food but they also get to see the local businesses. It’s another set of eyes,” said Alford who has been a regular at the event since she opened Traventours three years ago.
Alford’s minivan, a mobile marketing device featuring an ad for the Sandals resort that wraps around the entire vehicle, took up two spots at the Expo.
“People will come up to us and remember seeing the van around town and are then able to put a face with the business. We have come to realize that people need to see you a couple of times before they decide to do business with you.”
Contacts made at this year’s Expo may lead to a booking for at least one school trip, Alford said.
“We pick up leads every year here,” she added.