I’m a fan of business fairs, business expos and all kinds of business showcases. These are the kind of event where different businesses come together in one place and set up booths or displays. Good fairs bring together business people with new customers and with each other. It’s good for everyone.
In my area, we often see craft fairs where people who make all kinds of handicrafts get together and display, or antiques fairs with lots of dealers. During the holiday season we have holiday fairs with home-based businesses and independent sales reps that normally sell in home parties, like jewelry and gifts. I’ve seen all kinds of business fairs, though. Colville, Washington, (pop 4600) did a fair with all high-tech businesses.
There are a lot of reasons I like these fairs.
- It’s a small scale that more people can afford than a storefront business, so more people can try a business through fairs.
- Businesses get a chance to connect with new customers as the crowds walk through.
- Business people get a chance to connect with each other. They may find ways to work together after the fair, or just find another business they didn’t know was available.
But I have a huge problem with where these fairs are held. Too often business fairs are isolated in the fair buildings at the edge of town. This is a missed opportunity.
Bring your business fairs downtown. Connect the fair businesses with the existing businesses downtown.
- Put the booths on the sidewalks in front of your businesses.
- Put booths inside of existing businesses.
- Put more booths inside empty buildings.
- Put booths in roofless buildings or empty lots.
Can you see what a big difference this would make? You’ll be drawing crowds into downtown instead of away from town. You’ll be helping the smaller businesses connect with existing businesses. You’ll be showing customers more than just the fair booths; you’ll be showing them all the existing businesses as well.
Michele Robles told me a story of how her village did this.
In the process of creating a mailing list, our village’s economic development group discovered we had a lot of home based and rural businesses that were unknown to most people. So we had a Business Expo in an empty building on Main Street. We had a great response and are now planning our third annual expo for July. It also resulted in the creation of at least two new businesses in town. The seed of the concept was a local business owner needed a custom hose for a piece of equipment. He had to drive 17 miles to the closest city for them until he found out that a small business in the rural area just 2 miles away could make them cheaper. He had no idea they were there!
Maybe it’s too late to move this year’s business fair, but don’t reserve that fair building for next year. You’re moving it downtown.
Get more ideas like this
If you want more examples and ideas for drawing businesses together and creating more jobs in your town, join Deb Brown and me for our webinar, Rural Jobs Creation Strategies: Collisions, Serendipity, and the Hybrid Vigor of Ideas. The live webinar will be this Wednesday, April 20, 2016, 6pm Central time.
The cost is $20, and it will be recorded. The recording will be available for two weeks. You can invite friends to join you to watch the live event, and you can hold more replays in your town, as long as you’re personally present each time. You have two weeks to make the most of your replay. The deadline for registering is Wednesday, April 20, 2016, 6pm Central time. Get the webinar details and register here.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.