I love everything about business fairs, except where they are held

I’m a fan of business fairs. These are the kind of event where different businesses come together in one place and set up booths or displays. Good fairs bring together business people with new customers and with each other. It’s good for everyone. 

In my area, we often see craft fairs where people who make all kinds of handicrafts get together and display, or antiques fairs with lots of dealers. I’ve seen all kinds of business fairs, though. Colville, Washington, (pop 4600) did a fair with all high-tech businesses. (Thanks to Washington State Extension for the photo.)

As we come up on the holiday season, I’m seeing holiday fairs with home-based businesses and independent sales reps that normally sell in home parties, like jewelry and gifts. 

There are a lot of reasons I like these fairs. It’s a small scale that more people can afford than a storefront business, so more people can try a business through fairs. Also, not only do the businesses get a chance to connect with new customers as the crowds walk through, but also the business people get a chance to connect with each other. They may find ways to work together after the fair, or just find another business they didn’t know was available. 

But I have a huge problem with where these fairs are held: isolated in the fair buildings at the edge of town. This is a missed opportunity. 

Bring your business fairs into downtown. Connect the fair businesses with the existing businesses downtown. Put the booths on the sidewalks in front of your businesses. Or put them inside of existing businesses. Or find an empty building and put booths in there. Or use roofless buildings or empty lots to set up. 

Can you see what a big difference this would make? You’ll be drawing crowds into downtown instead of away from town. You’ll be helping the smaller businesses connect with existing businesses. You’ll be showing customers more than just the fair booths; you’ll be showing them all the existing businesses as well. 

I just saw a hint of what this could be like at a local late-evening shopping event. A furniture and decor store hosted two booths from home-sales merchants. A jewelry dealer displayed on a big coffee table, and a skin care rep used a standing bar to demonstrate her products.  

Now imagine if you actively encouraged this sort of thing. Your stay-open-late evening shopping event would have even more reasons to draw people downtown. Your businesses-in-booths fair would have even more energy. 

Maybe it’s too late to move this year’s business fair, but don’t reserve that fair building for next year. You’re moving it downtown. 

Aging rural populations 
Most rural areas have a population that is aging, and most of the time we hear about that as a bad thing. I prefer that you see your aging rural population as an asset. These are some of your best potential entrepreneurs. In fact, “seniorpreneurs” were the fastest-growing segment of new business owners in Australia. 

Key an eye on your park
I also saw this crazy idea for your small town park: put huge googly eyes in a tree

Tour of Empty Buildings
The Tour of Empty Buildings Toolkit is now open for a very limited first run. If you’ve wanted to fill empty buildings in your town, now’s the time. 

Do you serve more than one small town?
If you work for an agency, organization or group that serves more than one small town, we’d like to make your work easier in 2016. It starts in January, so if you’re interested, learn more about the Membership Program

Keep shaping the future of your small town,