Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Closed for business, open for fun — Soldotna chamber event draws after-hours crowds

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Posted hours went out the window Sept. 3 at the Ischi Mall along the Sterling Highway in Soldotna, as more than 100 people showed up after 5 p.m. to see what the businesses had to offer.

Alaska DigiTel Wireless, AK Express Tags/Titles and Registrations, Dairy Queen, GCI and Edward Jones-Ryan Kapp, joined forces to host a Business After Hours event, sponsored by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

The intent of the program is to get people out to businesses and facilitate networking among business owners and the community. It’s more about socializing than sales, although sales might be a result of showing off what a business has to offer.

“If you have a business in town, it’s a great way to showcase the business and location, generate traffic and get to know some people,” said Ryan Kapp, Soldotna chamber president.

“We got good feedback,” he said of the 140 or so visitors who stopped in at his store. “More than anything we got to meet some new folks. That’s what it was all about for me.”

Michelle Glaves, chamber director, said the Business After Hours program has been resurrected after it fizzled out years ago. The chamber has started a new ambassadors program, which gives local business owners an opportunity to help promote the chamber, even if they don’t necessarily have enough time to serve on the chamber board.

“They basically promote the chamber in different ways, talk to businesses who are members but haven’t taken advantage of all the things we can do for them, or aren’t members and spread the word on the different things we can do to market for them and that we can offer,” Glaves said.

In the after-hours program, a business will sign up to host an event, usually in the 5 to 7 p.m. range. The chamber promotes the event and the business provides the draw for people to attend, like food or door prizes.

At the Sept. 3 event, all the mall vendors teamed up to host an event together.

“It’s a little harder for small businesses to have 120 people in their building, so everybody decided to do it together and have a block party. So we ordered some good weather and got a tent out and did it as a little bit of a round-table kind of thing,” Glaves said.

One business provided veggies, another was in charge of drinks, one brought soup, one had cake. Dairy Queen had a barbecue going outside. And each donated items for door prizes — a Blackberry phone, 20,000 Alaska Airlines miles, some barbecue and gardening tool sets, a cell phone, Tesoro gas cards and gift cards for assorted DQ goodies.

Visitors went from store to store, getting a card punched to be eligible for the drawing, and met under the tent outside for food and socializing. Some attendants were business owners and/or chamber members, and others were just curious members of the community.

“There seemed to be a really nice cross section,” Kapp said. “Some folks saw the tent and free food and decided to stop in, which is fine.”

This is the third Business After Hours put on so far this year. One was at Wells Fargo. The other was at Central Peninsula Hospital with tours of the new wing before it opened to the public. Glaves said they plan to hold one a month, with a hiatus in midwinter.

“All the businesses that have done it really came through,” Glaves said. “There was good networking and everyone had a good time. At this rate there’s no reason why it can’t keep continuing.”

No comments: