Pot-bellied Pig Enlisted To Bring Home Bacon From Expo

March 11, 1993|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

The last thing you might expect to see at a business exposition spread out in the corridors of a mall is a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.

But search among the 80 exhibitors at the Howard County Business Showcase tomorrow and Saturday at the Mall in Columbia and you'll find one.

The small pig will be the star at the booth of the Animal Authority. The store on Dobbin Road in Columbia doesn't actually carry pigs in its inventory, or other pets except for a few goldfish and gerbils. It specializes in supplies from bedding and cages to feed.

"The pig is simply an attention-grabber. We want to hook people to stop by our booth," said store manager John Mooney, who paid a Montgomery County breeder to provide the pig.

"This show is a very important event for us. It's an opportunity to let people know where we are in Columbia."

The Animal Authority won't be the only business with an inventive display, said Carol Baily, executive director of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, the sponsor and organizer of the event for 17 years.

"The exhibitors really take this show seriously. We estimate there are potentially 10,000 people who'll come through the mall over the weekend, either to shop or see what's at the show. It's a chance for some rather significant exposure," she said.

Other expected attention-grabbers are free neck rubs from massage therapists, posture examinations from chiropractors and plenty of drawings for giveaways.

Jansie Rogers, owner of TransDesigns, an interior decorating service in Columbia, is among the participants who believe an impressive booth can be a key to generating new customers.

TransDesigns' double booth will include a display of a new line of "value rooms" that the business thinks could be a hit with budget-conscious homeowners.

The business also will display fabrics, picture frame and mat styles and other home decorating ideas.

Besides a captivating booth, Ms. Rogers believes a critical element is for those running the booths to be personable and friendly.

"You can't just sit in the booth at the table. That's intimidating. Our people are all outside the booth, saying hello to people walking by. You have to put people at ease so they'll want to see what you have to offer."

Exhibits in this year's expo will range from the staple of computer shops, real estate agents and home improvement companies to day care and nanny referral services.

In recent years, professionals such as doctors and dentists have

signed up for the show, and several have done so this year too, said Lee Rees, communications director for the county chamber.

The mall donates the space, and the chamber charges a booth fee ranging from $200 to $750 depending on size, Ms. Rees said.

The chamber is planning a survey to determine whether the show generates new customers.

The event, originally scheduled for January, was bumped to this weekend because many exhibitors had just participated in a county business-to-business trade show.

Participants in past business expos agree that the show generates new business.

"We find a lot of people who stop by our booth do so just by accident," said Ms. Rogers of TransDesigns.

"Many tell us they have never even considered hiring an interior decorator. They are either intimidated that it'll be too pricey or their tastes will be considered unusual. The show is important for us because it gives us a chance to meet people like this and explain to them how our service can work for them."

Mr. Mooney considers the show critical for generating new customers.

"Columbia made us take our blue awning and sign down, so a lot of people drive right by our shop and have no idea we are there," he said. "This show gives us a chance to correct that."

Along with the pig, the Animal Authority will have brochures outlining what the shop offers and directions to the store.

Mr. Mooney said he was sold on the expo's value even before he worked at the Animal Authority.

When his family was considering moving to Columbia four years ago, he said, "we walked into the mall to shop and came across the expo. The next thing we knew we had a Realtor helping us find a house."

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