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Gearing up for Mississippi Market

Spotlight turns on Mississippi`s entrepreneurs

They`re risk-takers and shakers, believers and achievers. They`re entrepreneurs.

And on Aug. 12-13 at the Mississippi Trademart in Jackson, some of Mississippi`s best entrepreneurs from all over the state – from Marks to Pass Christian – will have their wares on display at the third annual Mississippi Market tradeshow.

The event is put on annually by the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (MDECD) with the aim of providing Mississippi manufacturers, craftsmen, wholesalers and service providers, a sector added to the show for the first time this year, a vehicle to reach prospective buyers and a chance to network with other exhibitors.

“We recognized that not all Mississippi companies get the regional attention they deserve and need if they are to grow and prosper,” said Jimmy Heidel, executive director of the MDECD.

At press time, some 57 businesses had committed to exhibiting. The show is open to exhibitors, wholesalers and retailers only.

Three of this year`s Mississippi Market participants include:

Robicheaux`s Specialty Candy Inc., Poplarville

Laura Robicheaux went into the chocolate business for one reason – for the joy of it.

“We moved here (Poplarville) from Louisiana,” Robicheaux said. “I had retired from education after 30 years, and I was looking for something to get into. This seemed like something I could get a lot of pleasure from.”

Robicheaux opened her candy shop in 1992 in Poplarville, making chocolates the old-fashioned way – by hand. Today her chocolates are sold all over the U.S., primarily in gift shops, florists and drugstores. Robicheaux maintains a staff of six, but she said during busy times she has employed as many as 15.

The shop boasts a product line of 22 different handmade chocolates. (She highly recommends her pecan turtle.) She also offers sugar-free chocolates, which she said are popular with drugstores.

Robicheaux has attended the Mississippi Market before and said she is looking forward to the show.

“The show really helps by letting you display your products to Mississippi stores, and Mississippians are really great to Mississippi vendors,” she said. “I`ve gotten a lot of business, and I`ve been able to meet current customers. And the show is affordable, too.”

Olde South Candles, Ridgeland

If you`ve been looking for a piece somewhere between a candle and a work of art, Olde South Candles will take your call.

Owner Will Richardson and his four employees make handmade candles poured into containers produced right here in Mississippi by another company. They are intended for the candle connoisseur.

“Our candles are hand-poured into handmade ceramic pieces, which are hand-painted.” Richardson said.

Olde South Candles was founded 10 years ago in Canton by Richard`s parents after some friends of theirs in the candle business got them interested. Richardson took over the reins in 1992.

As might be expected, Olde South`s candles are a higher-end product, and Richardson said some businesses find his product a little out of their price range. “But I feel like our line is like no other out there,” he said.

Richardson has found enough buyers, however, to have his product on shelves across the nation. He said his biggest customers are upper-end gift shops and florists.

Richardson said he attended the show last year and enjoyed it. He said he was returning this year to increase his customer base here in Mississippi, and also see the other exhibitors.

“We have a policy of using only Mississippi vendors whenever possible,” he said.

Iron Horse Grill, Jackson

The gourmet salsas and mustards of the Iron Horse Grill in Jackson sprung from idle hands and an active mind.

“After the Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibit ended a couple of years ago, I worried about what I was going to do with my time,” said Ken Crotwell of Iron Horse Grill. “I always thought we had an excellent salsa and I thought it would sell.”

So, in 1996 Crotwell went into the kitchen of the Iron Horse Grill, a Mexican eatery that`s been a part of the Jackson landscape since1986, and after a week emerged with Iron Horse Salsa.

“I was just planning on making that one salsa. But I started experimenting, making some hotter and adding other ingredients,” Crotwell said.

Today Iron Horse offers five different gourmet salsas and three kinds of mustard. Some of his Mississippi customers include the Everyday Gourmet in Jackson, Big Jim`s in Ridgeland and the Indianola Pecan House, also an exhibitor in this year`s Mississippi Market. He said Mississippi State University has “sold a ton of our salsa.”

Crotwell said the trade show is very important. He said he has been traveling the circuit to promote his product and has found Mississippi a tough nut to crack. “Why buy it when you can get it for free at the Iron Horse Grill?” he said. Thus, he said he`s hoping to reach out to those potential customers outside the Metro Jackson area.

About Wally Northway

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