Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Viewing life through a different lens

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2016 Diversity Chair Chris Hailey and Lake Norman Chamber President Bill Russell

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am an avid football fan. On any given Saturday or Sunday, I’m usually sitting back watching games when I see a real bone-headed play that leaves me thinking, “What was that all about?”

Granted the play has been stopped, we know the result and, in many instances, we watch replays over and over from every angle. Knowing the outcome, many of us become sports geniuses — hence the term “armchair quarterbacks.”

Several years ago, I had the opportunity, through our Leadership Lake Norman program, to tour the Criminal Justice Center at the Central Piedmont Community College Merancas Campus in Huntersville. There I was allowed to participate in a firearms simulation on which our law enforcement officers are required to train. Participants are provided a firearm equipped with a laser that registers actual hits and misses in a simulated environment.

In some situations, subjects in the video are innocent bystanders. In others, in the blink of an eye, the bystander became an armed assailant. The actual time you as a law enforcement officer have to ascertain the threat and act are mere seconds. My simulation involved terrorists who had taken hostages on a passenger jet in flight. I laughed it off and went home after I hit an assailant, a bystander and the fuselage of the plane perhaps dooming all of the passengers. For me, in that room with that make-believe gun in a simulated environment, it was little more than a video game.

Out on the streets, it’s anything but.

The last few days in Charlotte, and last few months nationwide, have seen tensions between law enforcement and the public reach a precipice. As I personally struggle to understand why we have reached this point, my good friend and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce Diversity Chairman Chris Hailey asked me to “step back away from my ‘whiteness’ and see the world through a different lens — that of an African-American man.”

What some of us may see as a single incident is for many a tipping point of years of frustration, anxiety and fear. While there can be no excuse for looting, violence and lawlessness, there must be a way to confront the feelings many minorities are experiencing.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the Lake Norman Chamber Diversity Council will host a Lunch & Learn session at the CPCC Merancas Campus with Brandi Riggins from Charter Communications. She will discuss race relations and how we can continue to come together as a community. The Diversity Council will also host another community forum later in the month.

In the meantime, the Lake Norman Chamber will salute our public safety officers who put their lives on the line for us each and every day — our police, fire and EMS officers along with the Crime Stopper of the Year. That event takes place Thursday, Oct. 20, at NorthStone Country Club.

Unlike football, our police officers have no instant replay and no way to truly know what’s in the mind of the person they stop or try to apprehend. They have no ability to look back on what they could or should have done. They have only the moment. It’s real time.

One thing I do know for certain: none of our officers are out there looking for confrontation. They simply want to serve and go home safe at the end of the day to their families.

My friend Chris asked me to see life though a different lens. The reality is I’m not sure I ever really can. But I do know, I need to try. I pray to God that we all try.

October 11, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Politics, Social Causes, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heroes come in many form

SuperI recently read a book entitled Hollywood Kryptonite about the life and tragic death of Hollywood actor George Reeves. Reeves is perhaps better known as the “Man of Steel” – the actor who played Superman in the 1950 television series – The Adventures of Superman.

Many of the kids in my neighborhood would gather around their TV sets at 3:30 in the afternoon after school to see Superman, typically rescuing Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson, as he fought to preserve “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

My mother even went so far as to sew capes for a little boy in the neighborhood and myself as we pretended to be super heroes. While we couldn’t fly, we did jump on our Schwinn bikes, our bright red capes blowing in the wind as we pedaled from neighborhood to neighborhood, secure in the notion we were real American super heroes.

This past month, a different set of heroes emerged at Lake Norman. They didn’t don red capes and blue tights with a big yellow letter “S” on their chest.  But they were actual heroes none the less.

A community forum was held at CPCC Merancas Campus to discuss community policing and bringing our community closer together. A national unrest between law enforcement and the community at large is playing out in communities across the nation.  While the major protests have not been as widespread in our region, panelists comprised of our Davidson and Huntersville Police Chiefs along with CPCC, Charlotte Police, and FBI did share the “real fear minorities have of law enforcement.”

It took courage to open up about how an African American man feels being stopped by a white police officer at night at a routine traffic stop or the deep wounds of racial prejudice, which could have occurred decades ago, but are still lurking under the surface today.

Pic 7 Splash Pad

Huntersville Mayor John Anerall, Kiwanis Governor Dawn Hodges, and Bill Russell – Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce 

Just a week later, community, business, and elected leaders gathered at the Splashville Park as the Lake Norman Kiwanis and the Town of Cornelius PARC Department unveiled a new Splash Pad in Smithfield Park. The Kiwanis Club, assisted by the Park Board, have raised nearly $150,000 in donations for the recreational attraction.

The driving force behind the Splash Pad is Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla. John was president of the Kiwanis Club several years ago when the Kiwanis looked at creating a water park for children. Ironically, the club which is for the most part made up of Caucasians, chose to locate the park in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Cornelius – Smithfield. It also wasn’t lost on me at the dedication of the park, the corporate donations which came from Huntersville and Davidson for this regional collaboration.

This month, the Lake Norman Chamber will recognize Corporations, Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Individuals who both practice and promote diversity in the workplace at our Annual Diversity Luncheon to be held Thursday, September 15th at River Run Country Club in Davidson.

These Champions of Diversity are working to bring our community and region together when so many others still seek to drive us apart. Overcoming prejudice and racism is a daunting task. Many of us still wrestle with generational attitudes when it comes to race, gender identity, cultural, and even generational diversity.

We all need to take to heart the words of Mother Teresa who said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Fifty years after watching my first Superman episode, I’ve come to realize it doesn’t take a man of steel who can leap tall buildings or be faster than a locomotive to be a genuine hero.  It can come in the form of a civic club member, police officer, or community volunteer who simply wants to leave their community better than they found it.

Heroes are just everyday people. They may not be able to change the world but they can impact one life at a time. Creating ripples which speak to our hearts and forever touch our souls.

Bill Russell

September 1, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Social Causes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Entrepeneur’s Prayer

Bill Russell PrayerHeavenly Father

We come to you with deep humility… in realization by your hands….  all things are made possible.

We give thanks for the challenges of our past which give rise to our entrepreneurship and innovation.

Give us clarity today that we might hear from other’s success.

Provide us vision – to see not what is JUST before us but what can be – when we work hard, work smart, and work together

Let us find confidence in rejection; purpose in our failure; patience in our trials;

AND success in our perseverance.

We ask all this in your name.

Amen

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce – The Regional Approach to Business

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Earlier this month I wrote a column for Business Today on the regional approach the lake Norman Chamber of Commerce takes to small business development and growth for our business members in Huntersville, Davidson, Cornelius and the greater lake Norman region.

Recently I had the chance to watch the sun set over our beautiful Lake Norman. The bright orange skyline kissed the rippling waters. Teased by the wind, it skipped across the expanse that touched my soul and I was reminded of a passage in a book by Norman Maclean that read “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

In the early 1980s, long before I joined the Lake Norman Chamber, my mom moved to Huntersville. I was struck on my first visit to North Meck with the rural country side. Considered a suburb of Charlotte, Huntersville was largely pastureland. Cornelius, just to the north, was a former mill town and surprisingly the real population seemed to reside in the little college town of Davidson.

Before the end of that decade, Huntersville businessman John Cherry would share a vision of what we could accomplish as a region by creating what was known at the time as the North Mecklenburg Chamber. The Chamber was composed of businesses in Huntersville, Davidson, and Cornelius with Town Board representation by all three towns. John created an opportunity for businesses to network and support each other. The organization quickly grew with the population, as did it’s greater voice in the county and state.

In 1996, I was hired to serve as the Chamber’s president and one of the primary challenges we faced was the shortage of classroom space. North Mecklenburg High School had the largest enrollment of any school in the state. Yet, Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board Members refused to acknowledge the desperate need for a new High School in north end of the county.

I still vividly recall a group from the Chamber going to a CMS meeting to passionately advocating for the new school. We orchestrated the collective voice of the towns, community, and business leaders and through determination and a commitment to our kids, we were successful in getting Hopewell High built.

Soon we saw our communities begin to grow together.  Folks living in Huntersville, working in Cornelius, employing staff from Denver and Mooresville, and shopping in Davidson. The name of the Chamber was changed to reflect our more regional identity – Lake Norman – but our commitment remained steadfast in our roots to North Mecklenburg.

The Chamber stretched its ability to advocate for business when we successfully lobbied for an access management study for Hwy 73. The NC DOT countered such an undertaking had never been done. It took the collaborative efforts of three chambers, three counties, and several municipalities but it resulted in what is known today as the Highway 73 Council of Planning.

It was the Lake Norman Chamber that first brought the three North Mecklenburg towns together at quarterly dinner meetings to share ideas and opportunities. That process evolved into four towns as Mooresville was invited to join.

The Lake Norman Chamber also gave birth to two other outstanding organizations serving our region – Visit Lake Norman and the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation. Both were initiatives of the chamber. Community leaders recognized the unbridled opportunities when you partner the towns together with the chamber of commerce.

John Cherry told me that it was difficult early on to recognize the sum of parts was greater than anything we could have accomplished on our own. Even today, almost three decades later, some think that progress means going back to where we started – working separately, rather than together. I think the past thirty years prove that is not the sound strategy. When we work hard, work smart, and work together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish for our communities, commerce, and citizens. The Lake Norman Chamber has indeed been a catalyst to bring our communities together and accomplish so much that each could not have done independently. We have grown our business community and we are working to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Standing on that dock, watching another day end and a new one set to take its place, I realized our North Mecklenburg communities have indeed merged into one.

Eventually, the vision has become reality and the energy and passion of our people run through it.

Bill Russell
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Driving Home Your Point

Garden

Granddaddy Russell in his garden

Yesterday on a Face Book Page called I77 Animal House, I was taken to task by an anonymous poster who said my constant criticism of Governor Pat McCrory and his reluctance to cancel the I77 Cintra Contract was in a word “Disrespectful.” While it is true the Governor can, with a stroke of the pen, cancel this very bad deal, he has been steadfast in his refusal to listen to the Lake Norman Town Boards, State Legislative Officials, and more importantly the voters who sent him to Raleigh in the first place.

While our chamber of commerce and business leaders have made the case why this is bad for business, now the NC Justice Department is investigating the company who was awarded the contract by NCDOT.

I have served the Lake Norman Chamber as its executive for twenty years with the primary objective of leaving this community and region better than I found it. Unfortunately the Chamber’s earlier support of this P3 Project, and my very real insistence we had to go along with this bad plan, was a mistake. Settling for the lessor of two bad deals still leaves you with a bad deal.

One wonders whether the anonymous poster is just caught up in partisanship and will go to any lengths to toe the party line or was she one of the former elected or community leaders who pushed this project through and now cringes at the notion she too may have to admit a grave mistake.

Ironically, in deriding me for my position she said in her post, “Your granddaddy would be proud.”

Anyone who has followed my career knows I like to write and many of those stories and articles have included stories about my Grandfather Russell who lost his battle with Alzheimer’s more than a decade ago.

I loved working in the garden with granddaddy. From the time I was a little boy, he had me digging post holes and then chogging the dirt.  No matter how deep I dug those holes, he always insisted just a little deeper.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my father down at the farm, watching the cows that would graze close to our white picket fence. We had to tear down the fence that granddaddy built and replace it with a plastic version that can better withstand the elements.  But looking at the fence, I couldn’t help but recall one Saturday afternoon I was helping granddaddy repair the old one.

As we toiled that hot afternoon making repairs, I shared with my grandfather problems I was having managing the staff of an office furniture company. We had all agreed on sales goals and for a while things ran smoothly.  But after a few months, our sales staff settled back into old routines and performance declined.

After listening to me vent, granddaddy stopped his hammering, took off his old work gloves, and wiped the sweat from his brow. He looked at me for a second, gathering his thoughts, before he asked me to take a nail and strike it on the head as hard as I could into a board.

I did as he asked.  He then asked me to take the claw of the hammer and pull the nail out. Once again, I did as he directed, finding it a fairly easy task as the nail was driven in just so far.

Granddaddy then asked me to take a new nail and drive it repeatedly into the board until the head was flush with the board. Upon completing the task he asked me to remove that nail as I had the other.

I could not.  The nail was flush with the board and there was no leverage to remove the nail. My grandfather in his wisdom explained just as I drove that nail in repeatedly, you sometime have to drive your point home with colleagues, staff… and sometimes a stubborn Governor.

Some might call it disrespectful to question the foolishness of a fifty year bad deal.  People can certainly draw their own conclusions.  I prefer to look at it as fulfilling a promise I made to the businesses and citizens of Lake Norman. I will do everything I can in the time I have left at this chamber of commerce to leave my community and region a better place than I found it.

And to that end, I will on every occasion I have, drive home the point – Toll Lanes at Lake Norman are bad for our citizens, bad for our communities, and bad for business.

Would Granddaddy Russell be proud? He didn’t quit until the job was done and neither will I.

Bill Russell

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Leadership Lessons, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The voice which will not be silenced

Russell thoughts 1On January 2, 1996, I was hired as President of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, then known as the North Mecklenburg Chamber.  The Chamber at the time was working aggressively to bring a new High School to the area.  Our region was seeing dramatic growth, yet the schools were overcrowded and the CMS leadership in Charlotte relied on bussing North Mecklenburg children to schools in Charlotte as the answer.

While local elected officials and business leaders lobbied our School Board, the real change came about because parents and citizens said enough is enough. A successful lawsuit brought by local parents challenged the status quo and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools were forced through the courts to stop using kids as pawns in their student assignment policies.

The North Mecklenburg Education Committee, Chamber of Commerce, FUME, and Town elected leadership worked together to bring new schools to North Meck. There are several significant individuals who played a key role from the county commissioners and school board representatives of District #1 to the parents and citizens who simply stood up to the bad policies impacting our children.

It’s funny how in twenty years some things have changed and some things have not. Once again, we see North Mecklenburg getting short changed – this time in the form of transportation improvements. Our elected leadership in Charlotte still holds the trump cards in a high stakes game which has dire consequences for the quality of life and commerce at the lake for the next 50 years.

Only…it is no game.  This nightmare is for real and the stakes are the legacy we leave for the generations to come.

Just as parents took the lead in an education lawsuit almost two decades ago, local citizens have banded together to stop the HOT lanes.  Widen I77 has a court date set for January 8th as they contest NCDOT’s contract with the Spanish firm Cintra.  Just over $100,000 has been raised by Widen I77 through fundraisers and local citizen contributions.I77 Traffic Jam

Running on a different path, the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) will take up the issue again January 20th and could decide to ask NCDOT to cancel the contract with HOT lanes at the lake. Currently, the City of Charlotte controls 46% of the vote. There is a touch of irony that once again an individual, who does not reside in North Mecklenburg, could decide the future of a region for decades to come.

All that said, just as it was almost two decades ago when I arrived at the chamber, it will not be the influential “Power Players” that wakes the lake and with it…the state.

It will not be a Governor, Senator, State Legislator, or town board who stops the madness.  It will be the grassroots.  The mom who takes to the road everyday with her kids, the store owner trying to carve out a living, the young person just out of college, citizens, and parents – just everyday people who have been pushed way too far.

It will be one voice amplified thousands of times in a voice too loud to be silenced. A voice which will not be ignored until the will of the people prevail over the power of the few. And a voice which grows, louder, and louder, and louder each day.

But make no mistake, what started as a ripple in the waters of a lake will wash across this state, leaving change in its wake.

Bill Russell

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Transportation & Road Improvement, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A regional approach to business

Southwire Grand Opening

Southwire Grand Opening

A few weeks ago, community and business leaders welcomed Southwire, North America’s largest cable producer to Lake Norman when they purchased ABB located in Huntersville.  Southwire acquired the 240,000 square-foot, 3-year-old plant which features state-of-the-art technology for producing high-voltage underground transmission cables. The company plans to add another 20 employees to the 65-member staff at the facility within the next two years.

While I have toured the plant on a couple of occasions, I enjoyed another trip around the facility marveling at the advanced technology required to produce the high voltage cable. A real treat is gazing out of an observation window at the top of the 430’ tower onto the Lake Norman landscape with the Charlotte skyljne in the horizon.

A number of Chamber Board members, both past and present, attended the announcement and we talked about the seed that was planted more than a decade ago.  At a Chamber Board retreat in 1999, we discussed the need to create both a travel and tourism and economic development organization that could bring events and jobs to the region.

As more in-depth discussion ensued, we realized partnering with the three North Mecklenburg towns was the best opportunity to bring the vision to reality. Shortly thereafter, Visit Lake Norman was created followed by the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation.  The Chamber commissioned a land use study in 2002 with Leake Goforth which detailed potential locations for commercial, industrial, and retail tracts allowing our towns to diversify the tax base and bring primary jobs to the region.

Charlotte skyline from Southwire

Charlotte skyline from the 430′ Southwire tower

It was not the first time the chamber collaborated with the towns in such a manner. In early 1997, chamber leaders pushed NC DOT for an access management study to widen NC Hwy 73 from Lincoln County to Concord. Such a study over three counties and several municipalities had never been undertaken before and were initially dismissed by DOT.

However, the three chambers of commerce – Cabarrus, Lincoln County, and Lake Norman – worked together with our towns to create what is known today as the NC Hwy 73 Council of Planning with the end result to widen and improve Hwy 73. It is an example of a Public-Private Partnership that is working for our region.

This month at our October 16th Focus Friday, we will look back on the formation of the Hwy 73 COP and discuss planned developments and improvements for the corridor.

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “For all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”

Our region faces great challenges and with it awesome possibilities.  When the story of tomorrow is written, it will not be what could have been, but what we accomplished by working hard, working smart, and working together.

September 30, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts from a cluttered desk – What direction are we headed?

What direction are we headed?

AliceIn Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, there is an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat
“–so long as I get somewhere” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

I’m sure many of us feel like Alice.  Stuck in the congestion of I-77, if we wait long enough, we’ll get to our destination. The promise of express lanes to expedite our travel seemed like a solution months ago given the option of HOT lanes or no widening of I-77 at all. The leaders of the chamber of commerce felt the former option was the only option.

There are times looking back on this issue, I feel like our elected leaders…and yes…the business leaders too, including me, struggled with the right road to our funding. How do you get “there” when you don’t know where “there” is?

As I write this, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has joined other business and citizen voices in calling for the cancellation of the contract between NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners. It is an action on our part brought about by the groundswell of residents, small business owners and chamber of commerce members who saw the direction we were headed and said that is not the direction we need to go.

The Lake Norman area is unique. The Interstate which runs through the heart of our lake communities, yet is the common bond uniting our region, makes us different than other cities and towns in North Carolina.  I-77 is a local road.  It is how we get from one community to the next.  We may live in Huntersville, work in Cornelius, go to church in Davidson, and shop in Mooresville – but for many of us, we use I-77 to get there.I77 express lanes

Tolling and Public – Private Partnerships may well be the means to fund road improvement projects in other areas of the state.  That said, it’s not the best option for Lake Norman.

It doesn’t take a Cheshire Cat to figure out that not any old road will do. The path we were headed down was the wrong road. It was bad for the citizens living here.  It was bad for business. More importantly, it was bad for the legacy we leave to our children –  those who will inherit the results of our decisions today.

I sincerely hope we change the direction of this dialogue, and more importantly take a different direction in our actions. I’m not sure if we will be successful or not.  I simply know now, and I think I’ve always known, we have to try. We have a responsibility to the next generation of Lake Norman citizens and we dare not fail in our task.

W.E.  “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM

July 6, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Proposed Superstreet for Cornelius (NC) May Not Be Such A Super Idea”

Russell thoughts 1“Left turns are bad!” That is the foundation of the “Superstreet” concept which the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has recommended for Cornelius between Jetton Road and Sam Furr Road. With a Superstreet design, instead of waiting for oncoming traffic to clear to make a left, or using a traditional traffic signals, all vehicles are re-routed to dedicated left lanes. These vehicles then make U-turns at a designated distance and circle back to reach a planned destination.

I am convinced that it is not a street that makes a town or a region super. But rather, it is the people and the businesses who bring life and passion to that community that make it so.

For over 10 years, town staff, elected officials, citizens, and local business leaders have examined transportation plans for West Catawba Avenue. The Superstreet design was first suggested to the town by NCDOT when the first part of this road was widened in 2005. At that time, Cornelius town officials and the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce lobbied NCDOT for a hybrid version of the Superstreet design. We insisted on adding traditional intersections with left hand turns to foster economic and business vitality. Over the recommendations of NCDOT, more left turn lanes were also added (five in total).

During the last few months, the town has encouraged the businesses and residents of our community to weigh in on the most recent Superstreet recommendation by the NCDOT. Planning sessions have examined drawings and computer simulations showing how the Superstreet concept would work. There seems to be no doubt that the recommended Superstreet design can move greater volumes of traffic more efficiently, safely, and quickly through Cornelius.

That said, I am not convinced this traffic pattern is in the best interest of our community. Recently Commissioner Jim Duke pointed out that the Superstreet design does not fit the character of Cornelius. Others have suggested that the section of West Catawba Avenue, from Jetton Road to Sam Furr Road, does not yet have a distinct character. It is important to consider that what exists today is not what will be there tomorrow. Business and residential development continues to evolve and there is so much potential for the future.superstreet

While Hwy 115 serves as a main street for Cornelius and Davidson, West Catawba Avenue is “Main Street Lake Norman.”  It is the main artery pulsating through the heart of the Lake Norman region.  Just as Cornelius town and business leaders fought for the consensus and compromise a decade ago to protect the economic vitality of West Catawba Avenue during its initial expansion, it is imperative for the future of Cornelius and the Lake Norman region that we do so again today.

You cannot load character into a computer simulation. It cannot be drawn into a blueprint, nor does it show up in traffic counts. But you can see it in the faces and feel it in the hearts of the people who live and work here.  It’s what makes our lake towns more than super and the reason we call Lake Norman home.

W.E.” Bill” Russell, CCE IOM

President and CEO

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce

June 26, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working a Trade Show – Best Practices for the Lake Norman Chamber Business Expo

my alohaEach year the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce hosts an exhibitors orientation for our local businesses participating in the Lake Norman Business Expo.  It is usually held a few weeks before the show to review the 25 or so Most Frequently Asked Questions.  This year marked our 15th business trade show and over the years of attending ours, as well as other regional shows in Charlotte, Cabarrus, and Mooresville I have see some quite interesting booths. Here are some tips I have compiled for our local exhibitors as they look to get the most out of their trade show experience.

  • First, always get the right look for your booth. Each year we present awards for the Most Professional, Most Creative, and Best of Show.  We’ve had hotels bring out furniture to create the bedroom feel. While certainly creative, it was also a lot of work moving furniture around and with an 8’ x 10” space you are limited.  Remember, those with electricity only have 5 amps of power at the Lake Norman Expo… so NO POPCORN POPPERS.  But if you have electrical power, you can give video demonstrations on your laptops or tablets.  Attendees are drawn to colorful booths.  Pop up displays as a backdrop, banners and signage are important.  Make sure you have flyers, pamphlets, and reading material about your business to give away.
  • Perhaps the most important thing is staff your booth with people who are trained and experienced to answer questions and address the public. Too often I see people sitting in the back of the booth, texting or talking on the phone. Make sure the people you select to work your booth are invested in the success of your business.  Always have someone in the booth and never leave the booth unmanned. It’s always good to have multiple people in the booth so someone can walk around to the other booths and then come back and relieve their partner.
  • Be different – do something that draws people in – dress in a costume, have a model, celebrity, magician, or mascot in costume they draws people’s attention. Some host games with prizes – putting green, spinning wheel, guessing how many coins, buttons, or marbles are in a jar.
  • Offer Business Expo specials – give them coupons for stopping by the booth. It can be redeemed in the next 30,60, or 90 days for stopping by your booth.Executive Women
  • Some booths offer snacks, candy, water. If you do have a goody – make sure it’s properly wrapped. Hard candy and chocolates are always handy!
  • The Chamber will extensively advertise the show through the papers, billboards, and MI-Connection. However, you should use your social media to get the word out. Use Face Book, Twitter, LinkeIn, Pinterest, and the other social media platforms to let people know about the event and your booth location along with any specials.  Encourage folks to take part in the show!
  • Giveaways: I’m always asked what’s the best give aways? One of the most unique was a few years ago The Range at Lake Norman had little flash drives in the shape of a small firearm and a local funeral home had chocolate covered caskets – very clever!!! Pens, bags, USB or thumb drives are always handy as are snack clips, notepads, post its.  Remember, its all about impressions. Will the attendee use your item once or over and over again?

So. Let’s sum it up – create a checklist of what to bring to the expo.  Make sure you have the right people in place. They should be well trained with a consistent message about your brand and service or product. Make sure they are dressed appropriately for the event – what kind of image do you want to present? Create a booth schedule so others can help you not only man the booth but give you time to enjoy the show and meet the other exhibitors present.  Make your booth stand out but be cognizant not to overdo it.  You don’t want to make dozens of trip back to the car loading in and out.  Keep it effective but simple.

Think about giveaways and make sure you have business cards and literature to hand out about your business.

All that brings me to perhaps the most critical piece – the follow up!  You must have a way to capture information about those who show a genuine interest in your product or service.  Have them register for a prize you can give away by dropping a business card or a card you give them  Remember, the primary reason you are there is to generate leads.  This should be stressed when you train your staff. Consider hand writing notes to people who stopped by your booth and seemed interested.

Getting a hand written notecard says volumes and is much more effective than an email.  The personal touch will go a long way to building a business or customer relationship.  Keep in mind, waiting a week after the event is too late.  Reach out while the event and contact is still fresh in their mind.

Above all – have fun!  The Lake Norman Business Expo is a great place to both renew and nurture existing relations and create new ones.  We’re excited to have another opportunity to showcase the Best of the Best in business at the lake.  The Lake Norman Expo is our version of Show and Tell.  Make this trade show – Your Show and I’ll see you at the Business Expo!

June 26, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment