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Small Businesses, Big Dreams

By Bob Priest-Heck

Sudie Thorsen, an avid gardener, was trying to tackle some yardwork. Every time she’d dig in, she’d realize she needed one more tool from the shed. As with so many people who garden or simply enjoy yardwork, Sudie’s real challenge was keeping everything together. She told her husband, Robert, that she needed a pack burro; he invented one.

Robert’s organizer fits over the back of a standard wheelbarrow, between the handles. It even has a cupholder and a secure place for cell phones. The Thorsen’s adult children helped them form a company, and the Little Burro was born. Then, with high hopes, they took their new product to the huge National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Out of 11,000 entries for new products, they won first prize. Little Burros was a hit. It became a best seller on Amazon and was recognized by multiple retailers as a favorite. It’s another American Dream made real because a family was able to put its idea in front of the right people.

That’s what trade shows do better than any other medium — they connect small, innovative companies with the vast marketplace. And this isn’t an isolated story.

OMI Gems has been a family-owned business for five generations, with a solid reputation for providing only the finest loose gemstones. They rely on face-to-face transactions at trade shows to market their finely curated stones to buyers who want the best.

Bernie Fay invented an apparatus he called the “MISIG” (Most Important Stretch in Golf); he designed it as an exercise device and swing trainer to up his golf game and prevent injury. He took it to the PGA Merchandise Show and met the “king makers” whose thumbs-up meant instant success.

The Resnick family took their idea for the UpCart, a stair-climbing, foldable hand truck, from concept to successful business by getting it in front of buyers at the National Hardware Show.

Of the 1.7 million exhibiting companies like these, 80 percent are small businesses — with fewer than 500 employees. Forty-six percent of small businesses attend at least one show annually and 41 percent consider event marketing to be their top channel for lead generation. As business people and as consumers, we tend to watch Wall Street and big corporations as early indicators of recovery. But we cannot afford to forget the small businesses who make it happen. Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, Google, The Walt Disney Company, and Tesla Motors all started in somebody’s garage. Phil Knight launched Nike from the trunk of his green Plymouth Valiant. Michael Dell's computer empire came together in his Austin dorm room.

I wonder what big innovations are quarantined right now, waiting to emerge from the garage or basement into the white-hot spotlight of a trade show. I can’t wait to see. In the meantime, we can advocate on their behalf. Check out #GoLIVETogether and find out how to help bring small dreams to the big market.

Whether you are a trade show organizer or an exhibitor, we’d love to hear about your success. You can share your story by posting it to our Go LIVE Together Facebook page or emailing it to stories@golivetogether.com.

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