The event features 100 booths, over 80 vendors — including food and retail — and is expected to have well over a thousand people pass through the Forum River Center over the course the event.
The admission on Friday is $3 in advance, tickets are available at the chamber, and $5 at the door. The Business After Hours session on Thursday costs chamber members $5 in advance, $7 at the door. Proceeds from the event will be utilized to assist with the ShopRome marketing campaign during the holidays.
The chamber is providing free parking for patrons and guests in the Third Avenue parking deck.
Drew Wharton, coordinator for small business and entrepreneurship programs, said about 25 of the vendors who will set up booths in the Forum are new to the event this year.
He said many of the vendors actually take up double the booth space.
“Logical Systems has two booths, Publix has two booths, JBM Office Solutions and the Forum River Center also have two booths,” Wharton said.
Merchant feedback from the event in the past has focused on the ability to make business-to-business connections and a chance to showcase the goods and services a business has to offer, Wharton said.
It’s not unusual for the Business After Hours to be an even bigger event than the public period the following day, he said, because of the opportunity for direct networking with other chamber members and vendors.
Robert Smyth at the Coosa Valley Credit Union has been involved with the Expo every year since it started.
“What you get is a chance to showcase — not just a single product but multiple products — to not only a public forum but a business to business forum. You get a chance in a day and a half to show what you can do to a diverse group of people,” Smyth said.
“We don’t really go into it expecting to make a sale right then, but we do get to talk with a lot of people and they get to meet us,” said Elaine Abercrombie at Greene’s Jewelers, 328 Broad St. “We’ve always been very pleased with the results.”
Jan Fergerson at Ford, Gittings & Kane Jewelers, 312 Broad St., like Greene’s and CVCU, participates in the Expo every year, and said the networking opportunities with other business leaders have been invaluable.
“We’re all under one roof together and we get to see what else is going on,” Fergerson said. “We do like letting the public that may not know what we do see what we have to offer.”
The Forum River Center will be showcasing a lot of improvements that have been made in the past year.
“The ballroom looks absolutely wonderful. That’s actually where we are starting off our Business After Hours Thursday night,” Wharton said. “We are also utilizing some of the new technology they’ve added, like the LED boards in the arena to put up our sponsor logos and other content that people can see while they are walking around.”
“I guess the biggest benefit would be the community involvement,” said Expo Chairwoman Stephanie Nichols.
Wharton attributes the early sell-out of booth space to hard work by chamber volunteers under the leadership of Nichols at Rome Cleaners, a former Chamber Ambassador of the Year.
The 2017 event marks her 10th year participating in the Expo, Nichols said. She started participating in the Expo when she was a student at what was then known as Coosa Valley Technical College, now Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
For many years the public segment of the Expo was held on a Saturday but the shift to a Thursday night, Friday event was made in 2015 to help attract more businesses that did not necessarily want to give up a Saturday in the fall.
“I have seen a lot more businesses join since the dates were changed,” Nichols said.
Merry Maids, Logical Systems and Synovus Bank are new corporate sponsors for the event this year, joining holdovers Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, Heritage Auto Group, Publix and ServiceMaster.
In years past, the Chamber tried to have merchants tie their booths to a central theme, but for the second year in a row it has decided to forego that aspect of the event.
Door prizes will be available at both the Business After Hours Thursday night and Friday, when the Expo sponsors give away their prizes. Many of the vendors will be offering door prizes and goodies to the public
Wharton said the Expo always serves as a kick-off event to the holiday shopping season.
Seven food vendors will be on hand Thursday night, and eight will be open for visitors Friday, including Local Joe’s from Cave Spring, another first-time participant.
“We’re always looking for growth from throughout Floyd County,” Wharton said.