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Springfield Business Expo returns after several years of absence

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The Springfield Business Expo is returning later this month for the first time in six years – and with a new organizer at the helm.

Springfield Business Journal is behind this year’s expo, set for Oct. 26 at the Springfield Expo Center, 635 St. Louis St., with a goal of returning the event back to an annual occurrence and providing networking and promotional opportunities for participants. The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce previously presented the daylong expo for 17 years, according to officials, before stopping in 2017.

“We are constantly evaluating our programming for what serves our members best, and based on the feedback received the decision was made to pivot and introduce new events,” said Tiffany Batdorf, the chamber’s vice president of communications and community relations, via email.

SBJ Publisher Jennifer Jackson said her company was among those that annually participated in the event. Officials at the publication began talking in July 2022 about possibly reviving the expo.

“We missed it and had heard chatter in the business community for a long time,” Jackson said. “We went back to the chamber of commerce, and they indicated they had no desire to bring it back. We asked for their endorsement, which they quickly and wholeheartedly gave.”

The Springfield chamber is among 87 vendors on tap to participate in the expo, which also will include 12 seminar sessions on topics covering employee retention and engagement, building and designing office spaces, and cyber insurance.

Starting out
Organizing events is nothing new for SBJ as it has hosted annual award ceremonies for 40 Under 40, Most Influential Women and Trusted Advisers for years. Still, Jackson said there was a desire that if another event was to be added to the company’s plate, it needed to be feasible financially. It also had to be something that the publication’s small staff could handle.

“We began to talk internally about what we could do to make it our own, to bring it back in some unique and different way that reenergized the business community. It’s a lot of work for everybody, vendors and presenters alike,” she said, noting staff members Amy Egger and JT Kendall took on the responsibility. “JT and Amy had the energy and vision to bring it together. We thought we could do something different that would be good for the business community.”

Egger, who is SBJ’s manager of finance and customer care, said there’s a large volume of seminars, which include 22 speakers among the 12 sessions. Additionally, a vendor directory that has brief descriptions of all the participants, as well as a seminar schedule, will be available at the event and is being mailed to SBJ subscribers.

“The directory guide that we’re printing is something that’s different and unique that I don’t believe the chamber provided for the exhibitors,” she said. “It helps to get it out in front of our readers and gives the people that attend something they can take back home or to work with them that gives information on people they saw that day.”

Kendall, administrative assistant at SBJ, said he was surprised by the number of people that he had to educate on the purpose of the expo when the company began promoting it.

“It’s to showcase your business and connect, to reach people that don’t realize your services are available, especially for those businesses that may get overlooked for the bigger fish in the pond,” he said, noting vendors were able to secure a booth for $750. “The value for that versus the spend is relatively low for all the advertising you really end up getting out of it.”

On board
The Better Business Bureau is among vendors set to appear at the expo. Pamela Hernandez, regional director for the organization, which has an office in Springfield, said the nonprofit serves southwest and eastern Missouri, as well as southern Illinois.

“If we have an opportunity to share our mission and can make that work, we do like to attend events like this,” she said. “It’s just been a while since there’s been an expo in Springfield to attend.”

As Hernandez said her position largely involves education outreach, the expo fits right in.

“I want businesses to know that we’re here,” he said. “Not only are we here to provide consumers education, information and support, but support for our business community as well.”

The vendor list also includes companies in the health care, hospitality, insurance, nonprofit and retail industries.

Patrick Carpenter, president of GRITT Business Coaching LLC, is one of the expo speakers. His session, titled “Two Secrets to Running a Successful Business,” aims to teach business leaders and managers the importance of goal setting and financial literacy.

Carpenter, who spent a decade with SRC Holdings Co. before starting GRITT five years ago, said his business coaching firm helps people in three areas: people literacy, business literacy and financial literacy.

“If you don’t have a balance of those three, you can have a really good business of systems and processes that have humans that don’t know how to work them because they are not as socially and emotionally intelligent as they need to be,” he said, noting MaMa Jean’s Natural Foods Market LLC is among his clients.

Carpenter said people literacy is emotional intelligence and leadership that comes from the heart.

“Authentic, real and passionate leadership is typically that leadership employees really want,” he said. “Employees don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Goal setting is one of the best-kept secrets in business, Carpenter said, noting less than one-half of 1% of Americans set goals and write them down.

“You’re 50% more likely to hit the goal if you just write it down,” he said, adding he recommends businesses put their goals up on a wall to allow employees to see, talk about and rally around them.

Setting goals
While Egger said early in the planning process, her initial goal was to sell every possible booth that could fit on the Expo Center’s floor – a capacity of around 300 booths.

“We’ve pulled backed somewhat, but we’re very pleased to have over 80 vendors for our first year,” she said. “We’re going to have a very full show.”

Around 140 exhibitors participated in the last expo in 2017, which was consistent to the numbers reported in the last several years of the chamber-led event, according to SBJ archives.

Egger said her goal is to draw 2,000 people to the event.

“We’re going to be driving the awareness of attendance,” she said, adding the event will be promoted on social media, radio and billboards in the days leading up to Oct. 26.

Admission is $7 if tickets are purchased in advance and $10 at the door. Tickets are available at SGFBusinessExpo.com.

While declining to disclose projected revenue, Jackson said the expo already is at a profitable mark based on the booth rentals and ticket sales. Noting it’s in the company’s mission to connect businesspeople with each other, she said the expo is an ideal way to do so.

“This isn’t about money. We believe the Springfield business community deserves an opportunity for an expo,” she said. “We’re the organization to do that.”

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