Trade Council's Expo Deflated By Economy

Promotional Items Abound

Employers Do Not

September 12, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

There was no shortage of mugs, key chains, stress test cards or chocolate-covered strawberries yesterday at the biggest trade show in Anne Arundel County.

But unlike six previous business-to-business expos sponsored by the Anne Arundel Trade Council, there was a shortage of bankers, only one temporary agency and not a single developer.

To the Trade Council's executive director, that said something about those hardest hit by an economic downturn.

For the first time in seven years, fewer exhibitors rented booths.

"People just don'thave the money to do the things they did before," Jeanette Wessel said.

"People were candid. They said, 'We've always benefited and wewant to, but we can't afford it.' It's just quite obvious the economy had done that," she said.

Last year, 136 businesspeople put their companies on display at the BWI Marriott.

This year, the show moved to Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, which could provide a larger amount of space.

But a poor economy prevented a sellout.

Representatives of just 90 businesses manned booths this year.

Accountants, designers, property managers and security systems salesmenall hawked wares and services, exchanged business cards, renewed oldacquaintances and made new ones.

They did whatever it took to getthe attention of passers-by -- floated an enormous balloon overhead,set off alarms, wore a loud carrot-colored suit, handed out lollipops and cookies.

By day's end, nearly 2,000 people had wandered the long aisles in the ballroom, Wessel estimated.

Some exhibitors found the show more than worth the price of the booth -- even early in the day.

"Cold-calling is the pits. Networking is the way to go," said Bill Voelp of Custom Printed Sportswear Inc. in Glen Burnie.

"We paid for this show in the first hour. There are three or four people I'm confident I will close sales with."

Likewise, Lori Novak, who started a new home and office decorating business called Step IntoDecorating, reported similar results.

"We got 10 good prospects in the last two hours," said Novak, who displayed fabric and wall paper patterns at her booth.

"Five good leads are considered lucky," she said.

But most businesspeople said the show's value came more in the form of exposure than direct business.

Even with the aid of gimmicks and gadgets, most exhibitors said they had to work to promote themselves.

"You've got to be in a cheerleading mood," said Jim Applegate of Apple Signs in Annapolis.

"You have to make sure you feel good before you come.

"You can do a lot of selling here," he said.

For the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants, the expo offered a way to let the public know that accountants do more than audits.

"CPAs' services are many times misunderstood," said Rhonda Bedell. "It's always good to get out and show what CPAs cando for you."

More often than not, the booths with the biggest crowds clustered around contained food.

A sign at the Fedder Management Corp. booth proclaimed, "We're making sweet deals."

"It's well-known that it's a buyers' market," said leasing agent Frances Kingsbury, promoting office space in the newly renovated Harundale Office Park, next to Harundale Mall.

"Tell me what I need to do to get yourbusiness," she said. "I'm ready to make a sweet deal."

As if to prove it, she offered a plate of strawberries, grapes, bananas and pineapples, complemented by a bowl of chocolate syrup.

It didn't bother Kingsbury much that people were eating chocolate-covered bananas instead of signing leases yesterday.

"Today, people may not have moving on their mind," she said.

"Six months from now, they might."

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