Rather than businesses populating floor space at a venue while waiting for potential customers to drop by their booths, an April 18 event in Branson is flipping the trade show concept.
Called a reverse vendor fair, more than 80 members of the Missouri Association of Public Purchasing have signed up for the event at Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center. The members represent over 40 agencies statewide, said Kara Daniel, MAPP president and senior buyer for Springfield Public Schools.
SPS, along with the city of Springfield, Greene County, City Utilities, Ozarks Technical Community College and the city of Nixa are among confirmed attendees, she said.
“What we’re hoping to do is grow our members’ vendor base,” Daniel said.
Over 100 vendors were signed up as of April 2, she said, and the registration deadline is April 10.
The event is held every two years, and last time it drew 145 vendors at Lake of the Ozarks, she said. Organizers expect vendor numbers this year to reach or exceed the 2017 total.
“Instead of vendors having tables and selling their product that people walk up to, we, the public procurement professionals, are at the tables and the vendors walk through the room to engage with our members,” she said. “It’s a really unique opportunity for vendors and contractors to get exposure to all of these agencies all in one space.”
Daniel, who worked in the area of procurement for the city of Springfield for 14 years before joining SPS six months ago, has attended three reverse vendor fairs. The event started in Missouri in 2011.
“As an attendee walking through a trade show, you might not stop at vendors because you’re not familiar with them or you’re not familiar with their product,” she said, adding the agencies distribute business cards to vendors upon request. “We get more exposure, not only to those agencies, but for that one-on-one contact. Whereas at a trade show, sometimes they can be a bit overwhelming.”
Darren Henderson, CEO and co-owner of Springfield-based Ion Wave Technologies Inc., said he’s a veteran of both trade shows and reverse vendor fairs. His software company, which has its own procurement division, attends 30-35 reverse vendor fairs a year across the country.
Henderson said several MAPP members already are clients, citing OTC and the city of Nixa.
“That’s who our target market is for our particular software,” he said.
Henderson said IWT has over 200 customers nationwide in procurement that provides software to governments wishing to automate its bids.
“Anytime they release a bid, it’s a lot of paperwork,” he said. “We put all that online and automate it.”
IWT was formed in 2002 after online procurement company Way2Bid shuttered the same year, Henderson said.
He was one of Way2Bid’s founders but quickly found success with Ion Wave. The company hit $1 million in revenue by 2006, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.
Henderson said IWT has grown to 35 employees from four at its inception. He declined to disclose 2018 revenue.
From his experience, Henderson said reverse vendor fairs aren’t necessarily a sales goldmine for vendors. Instead, vendors should change their mindset to ask themselves if their product or service can really be a value to government entities.
For IWT, it’s considered marketing.
“It’s part of our strategy to be at these events, either to make the connection or to reinforce the connection,” he said.
To better help facilitate connections, Daniel said MAPP members at the Missouri reverse vendor fairs are set up based on their locations in the state. That keeps the flow in an organized manner and allows vendors who may only be interested in the southwest region, for example, able to find them in one general area, she said.
Following the rules
Established in 1972, MAPP represents over 240 members of public procurement agencies in the state, Daniel said. Those agencies have standard procurement policies and practices, including some required by state statute.
At SPS, the procurement staff purchases everything from school buses to janitorial supplies.
“It differs from the private sector because everything that we do, we operate in a fishbowl,” Daniel said. “Everything that we do is a matter of open record. We have lots of rules we have to follow in procurement.”
A competitive bidding process for products and services is an important part of procurement, which Daniel said makes the April 18 event a valuable resource for vendors and MAPP members.
“One of our goals – not only maintaining that level of transparency and openness with our vendors – is to also encourage maximum competition,” she said.
“That’s where the reverse vendor fair comes into play.”
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