If the best way to a person’s heart is free food, it must also be good for business.
Dolce Vita Desserts owner Mary Hilliard learned that the easy way last year at the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County’s Business and Industry Expo. She returned Thursday to cater the event again.
“Anytime I can get my product into people’s mouths it’s good for my business,” Hilliard said.
The CBICC expo was held at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel and featured 12 local caterers and about 100 other business vendors. The event draws about 800 people each year.
“There’s a couple businesses we’ve been able to do things with from last year, and I’ve got a pile of cards here for people that want cookies to be shipped out as corporate gifts and someone that coordinates Greek events on camps that wants to work with me for that,” Hilliard said.
The expo featured a networking “vendor blender” before doors opened to the public.
“Networking is a big part of it, but for exhibitors it’s also about making those critical business-to-consumer connections,” CBICC spokeswoman Lesley Kistner said.
Speed networking enabled business people to get know each other in a speed-dating type format.
Ernie White, a consultant for Skyline Exhibits in McKees Rocks has attended the expo for about 10 years and enjoys speed networking.
“I really like it, because it gets you to move through fast and connect with people,” White said. “You’ve just got to know what you’re going to say and say it as clear as you can to emphasize what makes you different from your competition.”
Business people, including Christie Pace, who works for AE Works’ State College office, had one minute to make their pitches.
“You try to do the basics of your elevator speech, and for us we’re really excited because just last week we were certified as a benefit corporation, so we want people to know about our commitment to our community and the environment,” Pace said.
Comcast Business Services executive Darrin Lambert said he hadn’t speed networked until the expo.
“It was my first time, and it’s good practice for your elevator pitch, and it also gives us a chance to follow up on where our business services and their business services could fit in,” Lambert said.
Some business people formed mutually beneficial relationships.
“We wanted to check out some other businesses here and see if there’s anything we can do to connect with them or to bring their products into our museum,” Bellefonte Art Museum gallery manager Lori Fisher said. “We were just at the Colonial Press table, because we may be interested in doing a retractable banner at our next expo.”
Hilliard said word of mouth will be key for leads after the expo.
“It’s been nice to develop relationships in such a short time with other business owners you see here,” Hilliard said. “Hopefully, people remember the connections you’ve made and suggest your services to other people, and you do that for them, too.”