Small Business Expo postponed indefinitely

Apr. 19, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

After a decision Wednesday to cancel the annual Lee County Small Business Expo, plans are now being discussed to simply postpone it from the original date of May 15.

Bob Joyce, president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, said Thursday that the expo will be held sometime this fall and might move permanently to that time of year. Explaining that the spring now has many competing events — Broadway Our Way, Temple Theatre’s Art Walk, various golf tournaments and more — some vendors just couldn’t commit to everything that was happening. Moving to the fall, Joyce said, will hopefully solve that problem for the expo and also help vendors by spreading their appearances out over the course of the year instead of bunching them all in the spring.

But timing alone can’t be blamed when only 39 spots are filled for an event that attracted 80-100 vendors in years past, he added.

“I think it’s a sign of the economy,” Joyce said. “I think our economy in Lee County is definitely improving, but we still have a lot of small merchants that have not recovered. ... Also, we need to think about what audience we target, and we need to make this valuable for our vendors.”

Some vendors were disappointed in the decision Wednesday, during a meeting of the Small Business Expo Committee, to cancel the expo — and surprised to hear Thursday that the event was potentially back on — but took it as good news.

Heather Vaughan, a communications specialist with Central Electric Membership Corporation, which has been involved with the expo for nearly 20 years and is one of the event’s three main sponsors, said her office only heard about the change in plans through a press release sent late Thursday afternoon.

“I wasn’t at the meeting, but my boss [Marketing Director] Nancy Gust was, and she said that the impression everyone there had was the decision had been made to cancel it,” Vaughan said, adding that the expo is beneficial for the citizens and businesses of Lee County, so it’s good to hear that it might happen after all.

Richard Feindel, president and general manager at Sanford’s WWGP and WFJA radio stations, whose news director Margaret Murchison is a member of the Small Business Expo committee, said Thursday he thought the expo had been canceled. His media group is another of the event’s main sponsors, along with Davenport, Marvin, Joyce and Co.

He said the decision made Wednesday surprised him, and that he was happy to hear that Joyce said the event would be postponed instead of canceled. Feindel’s radio stations have participated in the expo every single year — this year’s will be the 25th annual event if it happens — and he said last year was, in his opinion, actually one of the best years yet.

Feindel said spring or fall makes no difference to him — after all, he remembers the first few years, when it was held in a building without air conditioning at the Lions Club Fairgrounds instead of at the Dennis Wicker Civic Center. He added that he just hopes his business and others around town get the chance to show off their services and connect with existing and potential customers.

“It’s been great, “ he said. “... You network, and you get exposed to not only (fellow) vendors, which is important, [but] the public as well.”

But it still remains to be seen exactly when it’ll all be happening. Joyce said no date has been set yet, and that decision might simply revolve around when the civic center has an open date. David Foster, director of the civic center and a member of the expo committee, said Thursday he hadn’t yet spoken with anyone from the Chamber of Commerce about rescheduling, but that he hoped it would happen because the event has a special place in the history of the building. The 1991 Small Business Expo was the very first event ever held at the civic center.

Another Chamber event, the Small Business Banquet, is still scheduled for May 9 at the civic center. Tickets are $20 to that event, which honors local business people and a statewide figure.

Joyce said he hopes the expo can make it to 25 years and then some, but that it might require changes above and beyond the date — such as a renewed focus on the audience that is targeted. Ideas like holding the event in the evening or during the weekend have been suggested, he said, but it nevertheless remained during the day on a weekday, prohibiting high school and college students, not to mention working families, from attending. He also said there might have to be talk of changing it from a single general event into multiple, more specialized expositions. The yearly Boomer, Caregiver and Senior Expo is a great example of a successful and specialized event, Joyce said.

“I think we need to look at the audience that’s attracted to the expo, and make some changes there,” Joyce said. “... We’ve been talking about these options for several years, but there just hasn’t been a consensus from exhibitors.”