This past February, around the close of regular business on a Tuesday evening at Page Hardware and Appliance in Guilford, Connecticut, a crowd was just starting to arrive. The store, which just a few minutes earlier was bustling with shoppers buying hardware, was now full of local businesspeople enjoying drinks and conversation. It was time for the monthly “Business After Hours” event, and a unique opportunity for vice president Amy Earls to support local businesses and get local leaders into her store.
“Businesspeople love to network, and this is a great way for us to meet new members of the area’s business community,” she says.
The local chamber of commerce sponsors Business After Hours as a networking opportunity for local businesses, with different members of the chamber hosting the event each month. Earls, who is on the chamber board, says her store has taken its turn at hosting the event once a year for the past four years.
The event lasts two hours and includes drinks from a nearby liquor store and appetizers donated by a locally owned restaurant across the street. Door prizes include coupons and products from area businesses. Typically, about 75 to 100 people from all types of businesses, such as lawyers, retailers and health care providers, come to the event. Most of them are current members of the chamber, but it’s also an informational time for those interested in becoming members. Attendees pay a small admission.
Earls says the store pays about $300 to host the event, in addition to buying the drinks, but it’s a small price compared to the amount of publicity it generates for the store. She gets the store’s name in all of the promotional material the chamber sends out through flyers, email and social media, and gets new people in the door.
She serves food and drinks in two different parts of the appliance showroom, which helps draw people into all areas of the store. While there’s a cashier on duty just in case someone needs to make a purchase, most of the return on the investment comes later. “We’ve had a few people buy their appliances from us after seeing our showroom during the event, and this year we passed out flyers talking about our spring sales promotions,” she says. “The event offers us a great opportunity to be involved in the chamber and showcase our business without too much effort. We always hear people say that, even though they are also local business owners, they didn’t know we were here.”