Making connections: Expo showcases value for businesses to shop local

Posted: Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bobbi England, co-owner of Kenai Catering, maintains a simple philosophy when it comes to marketing and running her business.

"When you provide a good product, word of mouth is the best advertising you can get," she said. "I firmly believe that and when you are talking food, it is not just a metaphor."

England's business was one of about 30 to set up a booth Tuesday inside the Soldotna Sports Complex as part of the Business to Business Expo -- a first-time event hosted by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and the Kenai Chamber of Commerce.

England said she decided to participate in the expo to showcase her business and its services, specifically those that would appeal to other area businesses, from small business lunch catering, to large corporate barbecues.

"I've been talking to everybody," she said with a laugh noting her company also catered the event.

England contends it is sometimes a challenge to fully showcase what services her catering company can provide, but said Tuesday's expo was helpful in that task.

January Yeager, project coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber, said she was happy with the event's turnout and that the Chamber could help serve the local business base.

"In the past year we have focused on buying local -- specifically getting local consumers into local businesses," Yeager said. "We were having a meeting with some of our members about extending the buy local campaign and what different things we can do when it was brought up that businesses also need to buy local.

"Businesses need to get their office products, need insurance, banking -- everything you can imagine a business would need -- should be bought locally, as well, instead of Outside or up in Anchorage."

The aim of the expo, which also featured several speakers who presented information on the local and state economies, was also to show how far shopping local can "spread its tentacles," Yeager said.

"There's a trickle-down effect, so the more money you can keep here in the local community, the better off the community will be as a whole and the better you will be as a member of the community," she said.

Jeff Knisley, owner of the Soldotna-based JC Supply, said he wasn't sure what to expect when he signed up to participate in the event. However, he said he would walk away from the expo with a few leads on new customers.

"The decision makers are here," he said. "So, you are not going into an office and trying to figure out who does what, especially when these guys are wearing several different hats, it just makes it easier."

Knisley, who has owned the supply company for three years, said business has been good -- doubling every year, in fact.

"This is a draw instead of me trying to hunt people down you know, running around town," he said of the expo. "Here, they are looking and obviously they're wanting to buy local."

Charlene Spiers, manager of Total Office Products, said doing business in the peninsula can be tough, especially in today's market.

"A lot of people are doing corporate stuff, so it is hard to keep it local when it comes to that," she said. "Community-wise, things are expensive nowadays, so that kind of affects it."

However, Spiers said the Homer-based business opened a storefront in Soldotna about a year ago and has been working to spread the word about its expanded reach.

"People are figuring out that we are here, but then you have all the competition, which is another real issue," she said noting such competition usually comes in the form of large corporate chains or from Internet sales.

"Hopefully they will realize that with us being local, if they shop with us, we'll shop with them," she said.

Brian Smith can be reached at

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