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Mississippi trade show results better than national average

Exhibitors see incalculable value in time spent at EXPO

Robbie Pendleton cannot pinpoint the tangible benefits of being an exhibitor at the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO, but he’s happy to be involved.

“It’s not like selling widgets, which you can count,” said Pendleton, whose family established Pendleton Security in 1920. The third-generation company president has been involved in the business since 1982. “However, we realize how important name recognition is in this business, and we feel there’s a benefit when we’re exposed to the public in this type setting.”

About 92% of last year’s 200 exhibitors are returning for the 2005 EXPO, where they will showcase their products and services to more than 4,000 executives, managers and purchasing agents.

“The exhibit floor will be full of one of the broadest assortments of business types we’ve ever had,” said Robbie Bell, special projects director for the Mississippi Business Journal. “It is the traditional trade show in every sense. This is known as a ‘horizontal’ show, because of the broad span of participants in the exhibits. A national trend in trade shows has been toward more ‘vertical’ marketing. This refers to industry-specific vendors and exhibitors. In very large cities, more shows today are designated for one specific industry segment, such as tourism, technology, construction, finance, staffing, to name a very few.

“Starting with last year’s EXPO, we began to integrate the two concepts together. We added three vertical markets to our show, offering special aisles or areas where exhibitors serving targeted markets are featured. These are Technology, Construction, and Meetings, Conventions & Tourism. It was very successful, and the areas devoted to these markets stayed very busy.

“The effect on the overall EXPO was that people who might have come for a particular solution in one of these targeted aisles stayed to visit the other exhibitors and therefore gained from the horizontal approach as well. Our population is not large enough to indicate a need for going to vertical marketing only. This is the 22nd annual EXPO for Mississippi businesses, and it continues to grow and thrive. We’ll always look at new trends from other places, but then we’ll consider what our state’s business people will find most helpful to them … and that’s what we’ll try to produce.”

According to Exhibit Surveys Inc., a nationwide research firm focusing on trade show audience quality and exhibit performance, the average trade show attendee spent an average of nearly nine hours visiting exhibits in 2003. About 83% of attendees represented the buying power for their companies, and 54% planned to purchase products or services exhibited at the trade show within the next year.

The 2004 Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO post-event analysis, conducted by Southern Research Group, indicated better results than the national average. According to surveys from last year’s attendees, 97% planned to return in 2005. Two-thirds of attendees — 56% male, 44% female — said they had a significant impact on purchasing decisions for their company and 74% said they were likely to purchase products or services represented at the EXPO within 12 months.

About 72% of attendees represented companies that had been in business for five years or more, and 26% were company owners, presidents or corporate officers who visited the two-day EXPO an average of nearly three hours. One-third of last year’s visitors attended the EXPO to learn more about new products and suppliers.

“Obviously, people keep coming back,” said Bell, “so they must perceive that their business results are enhanced.”

Rhonda Fisher, lead marketing and outreach specialist and a 18-year board member for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in Mississippi, said the government agency has “manned an exhibit booth at the event for as long as I can remember.”

“Primarily our involvement has been limited to setting up and manning exhibit booths,” said Fisher, even though “we have also participated in breakout sessions and luncheons.”

“We participate … to educate and provide information on SBA programs to resource partners, small businesses and individuals,” she said. “This will facilitate in bridging the competitive opportunity gap and increase small business access to capital.”

Cingular Wireless has been associated with the EXPO for 10-plus years, said Doyle Warrington, Cingular’s director of sales for North and Central Mississippi, because “we continue to see value in the EXPO, which provides a great opportunity for Cingular to meet with leaders in the local business and government community.”

The Better Business Bureau of Mississippi has maintained a booth for four years, and its president, Bill Moak, has been involved in EXPO events for longer than that through his previous employers.

“There is not a single more important or extensive business networking event in our state,” he said. “Each year, we are able to meet members and potential members, and we help our members identify themselves as BBB members in their exhibits. A number of memberships have come from this event, so we consider it worthwhile in many ways.”

TempStaff has also participated in the EXPO for several years, said company president Carolyn Boteler, because “we find the EXPO is an excellent opportunity to network with business people and showcase our services.”

“Each year, we generate new business and also use it as a recruiting source for applicants,” she said. “We look forward to starting each new year at the EXPO.”

Because TempStaff has experienced a tremendous increase in business in the last two years, and has added new staff to accommodate the growth, this year’s theme is “Meet Our Team,” and the company will be giving away a TempStaff CD/radio/alarm clock, said Boteler.

“Our display includes pictures of all of our staff because when people come by our booth, they like to see who they talk with (on the phone),” she said. “Most of them have met the staffing supervisors, but many times, they do not meet the back office people.”

BellSouth Real Yellow Pages will add pizzazz to its booth with performances by marketing magician Lee Lentz, who will entertain attendees from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 19, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on January 20.

Tony Bailey, CEO of Business Communications Inc., will have techno-gadgetry “trinkets” to give away at the company booth.

“The EXPO is the premier trade show event in Mississippi … and allows BCI to showcase our new technologies, vendor affiliations and partnerships as we ‘network’ with our current customers and look for opportunities with new customers,” he said.

During the EXPO, Cellular South will be giving away an Audiovox 8900 camera phone with a professionally installed hands-free kit, and visitors to the booth will receive a detailed free rate plan analysis of their wireless service.

“Cellular South has participated in the EXPO since 1999, and the benefits we receive increase each year,” said Cellular South’s Jim Richmond. “Cellular South and other exhibitors appreciate the EXPO as the only event in Mississippi that offers such broad exposure to thousands of business people over a two-day period. Cellular South believes this year’s EXPO is the perfect opportunity to get face to face with many of our business customers and to discuss wireless options with potential customers.

“We are looking forward to sharing our corporate customer support initiatives with businesses, including our advanced plan analysis, which is geared toward helping businesses better manage their wireless phone accounts.”

BellSouth Mississippi spokesperson Mike Walker said securing an exhibition space at the EXPO “allows BellSouth to interface with key business leaders and decision makers.”

“It also gives us a chance to promote our line of products and services, which runs the gamut from local and long distance service to dial up and high-speed Internet access, satellite television and Cingular Wireless service,” he said.

Scott Sledge, manager of the Cabot Lodges in Jackson, exhibitors since 1999, said “many fellow exhibitors are customers of ours and EXPO allows us an opportunity to visit with them.”

Visitors to Cabot Lodges’ booth may sign up to receive promotional e-mails about special offerings throughout the year.

“In addition, those that sign up will be eligible for a weekend night’s stay for two at either Cabot Lodge in Jackson,” said Sledge.

Dorothy Gray, a business partner with GranthamPoole CPAs, said 2005 marks the accounting firm’s second year to host a booth at the EXPO.

“Our evaluation of last year’s involvement was very positive, and we made the decision right then to be involved again this year,” she said. “We have a very diverse client base of various professions, businesses, professionals and business owners. We also provide a wide array of services. The combination of our client base and our portfolio of services means we have something to offer many of the EXPO attendees.”

Each day, GranthamPoole will be giving away a basket of Mississippi-made products.

“Last year, we let everyone guess how many beans were in the toy dump truck, and the best guess won the prize,” said Gray. “Even though we do not consider ourselves ‘bean counters,’ we will do it again because everyone had such fun with it.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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