Sheila Smith is one of the many business owners to benefit from the Ready2Grow funding programme. In this interview, she tells the story of how her exhibition business has grown and explains why face-to-face contact remains vitally important in today’s digital economy.
“I’ve been involved in sales for nearly 20 years, but I started my own business [Sheila Smith Sales and Events] in October 2014 and began pursuing my goal of hosting local business exhibitions,” explains Sheila.
“I was being approached by people to do something in this area, because I’ve always been very active in the networking circuit in Northamptonshire. The people I regularly came into contact with appeared unanimous in the belief that the county needed a business exhibition to showcase its talent. This was all the encouragement I needed to get started!
“Fast-forward a few short years, and we’re about to host our eighth event in April, which is taking place at the Holiday Inn, Corby.
“What amazes me about these exhibitions is that every time I run one, it’s bigger than the one before. The first event I did in Corby featured just 16 exhibitor stands (only half the space sold) and the most recent one featured 53. This year, we’ve had to take extra space at the hotel to give us enough room for 60 exhibitors!”
With ever- evolving digital tools being used for business growth, it can be easy to overlook traditional marketing strategies in favour of new, exciting tech. However, Sheila has no doubt about the role that good old-fashioned customer service and relationships have had in helping her business perform so well.
“The growth we’ve experienced is entirely down to word-of-mouth referrals,” she added. “I get a lot of people returning because they’ve enjoyed great success at the previous exhibition.
“I think face-to-face communication is crucial. We can all sit down and be brave behind a keyboard, but I personally want to know who I’m dealing with. I once had a testimonial from someone who had received 40 one-to-one contacts in one day, all under one roof. You don’t get that online.”
This kind of personal contact is something Sheila can pin-point as a unique selling point of Northamptonshire Growth Hub, too – which has helped her beyond simply participating in its Ready2Grow project.
“The Growth Hub has been a huge help with the events, and I class myself as being uniquely linked to them,” said Sheila.
“There’s no financial gain for either side; they simply take a stand at the show and work closely with me during the running of it.
“They advise me a lot, too. The last thing they suggested was that we should have a booking form, because I was originally taking every exhibitor on trust, and due to the sheer number we now deal with, it was sensible to formalise the booking procedure.
“The entire Growth Hub team are the sort of people I can go to and say “have you got ten minutes?” and they always have! That kind of support is hard to come by.”
The Northamptonshire Business Expo takes place on April 26th at The Holiday Inn, Corby. Full details for exhibitors and visitors can be found by clicking here.