PORT MANATEE -- Salt air, swag and a forum to show off a little generated some summer heat for raft of local businesses out to build good will with potential customers in the same boat.
Fifty exhibitors gathered Thursday at the 14th annual Ship-Shape Showcase business expo lured hundreds of attendees to a former cruise ship terminal at Port Manatee. The expo, one of two put on by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce annually, was part trade show, part networking event. It drew participants who rent a booth almost every year, as well as a few who have never done anything like it.
"I'm a trade show rookie," said Carlos Boothby, owner of Palmetto-based Sinbad Charters & Tours.
From behind a small end cap booth, Boothby was at the expo to get potential customers thinking about getting on the water. In business for just a few months, Boothby said he is captaining boating trips that hit every interest, from fishing trips to eco tours. The expo, he said, is a "unique way to get name recognition" that goes beyond putting up a website.
Noni Gomez, a stylist and salon leader for the University Park location
of Hair Cuttery, a national hair styling company, had similar feelings. However, her company's attendance was based on having picked up clients at last November's Chamber Business Expo at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
"It builds our client base," she said. "We had a great business response."
Other exhibitors included construction companies, banks, financial services providers and retailers. The event even featured a DJ who spun tunes for the crowd.
Ship-Shape attendees made booth stops throughout the three-hour event, picking up pens, logo bags and hors d'oeuvres. Restaurants including Riverhouse Reef & Grill and Chicken Kitchen served up small plates to tempt new diners.
Other exhibitors emphasized the novel. Beer Frost, a company that makes a chemical additive that lowers the temperature of ice, drew a big crowd of beer lovers interested in cooling their favorite beverages faster. David Chism, the CEO of the Whitfield-area company, said that trade shows and advertising are boosting his product appeal.
"In the next six to eight months, we'll be in every convenience store in America," he said.
The appeal of the expo seemed to have as much to do with its location as the exhibitors and giveaways. Port Manatee, the event's presenting sponsor, ran tours of the port throughout the evening. Typically only open to the public through the trolley tours given in the fall, winter and early spring, the 1,100-acre deepwater shipping facility appealed to the curious.
"I thought it would be great to see the port," said Denise Crownover, a Realtor with Duncan Real Estate of Anna Maria Island.
Kim Daglish, the chamber's vice president of membership development, said the Ship-Shape Showcase typically draws about 400 visitors.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.