Doing business, after hours

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It’s become one of the staples of networking in the business world.

Business After Hours, as sponsored by both the Franklin-Southampton area and Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor chambers of commerce, put business people in touch with one another and in a face-to-face situation.

“It’s a wonderful networking opportunity for business people,” said Mary Lilley, past president of the FSA chamber. She also called it an “educational opportunity, for the host to show their wares, so to speak.”

“People can exchange business cards, or network or get telephone numbers,” said Debbie Stohlman of the Isle of Wight chamber. “It puts a face to the name. It’s the heart of the Chamber of Commerce” mission.

Stohlman said the reasons to host an event vary. Some businesses celebrate anniversaries, or a new location, or have finished renovations.

“A lot of folks just want to get a lot of exposure for their business,” Stohlman said. “It’s a good way for new chamber members to get their feet wet.”

And, Stohlman said, “You’re more apt to call someone you’ve met at a business after hours.”

In the case of Money Mailer which operates out an industrial park on Pretlow Drive in Franklin, that after hours event was “show it off to the public” that otherwise might not know of its existence, Lilley said.

Businesses normally volunteer to host an after hours event, and normally the affairs include light refreshment, snacks and door prizes or raffles. The Franklin chamber hosted seven events in 2007. There are no events in the planning stages.

Isle of Wight businesses host about one per month.

None are planned

“It is a more casual atmosphere,” Stohlman said.

For some, though, the entertainment goes a bit further.

Cheryl Cook of Serenity Day Spa in Smithfield offered visitors a massage.

For Cook, the event in January introduced her to a new clintele.

“I used to have a business on the penisula,” she said, “So I already knew a little of the importance of it, primarily as a networking” device.

“I was very eager to [host an event] and hold my own, here at the spa.”

She added: “It draws people, some of whom have never had a chance to come by. You give them a tour.

“I also got some contacts,” she said. “It provided some more clients.”

Attorneys Saunders, Barlow, Riddick, Babineau opened a Franklin office in September and held an after-hours reception in March.

“We wanted to do it because we were new to the area,” said Susan Wood, a para-legal with the firm who was credited with doing much of the legwork to organize the event. The firm has offices in Smithfield, Suffolk and Waverly.

“We wanted to get the word out to everybody that we’re here,” Wood said.

Some visitors at the after-hours included CPAs, appraisers and bankers who routinely do business with attorneys.

“So just making those contacts” was beneficial, Wood said.

The event also coincided with Wallace Brittle’s arrival to work from the Franklin office.

That event was very well attended, she said.

“Teresa [Beale, executive director of the Franklin chamber] said she was really impressed with the number of people who attended.”

As with many events, different factors contribute to attendance, including the type of business hosting the reception, the day of the week, even the weather.

“Timing was a good thing for us,” she said.

At the April 16 joint event with Business Development Group and South of the James Network turned into “somewhat of a mini-trade show,” Stohlman said.” There were tabletop displays of the work of area businesses. “It was very successful.”

Manry Rawls celebrated a “milestone anniversary” and provided a “gift pack for everyone. “It was a very nice event” at the Smithfield Center.

Other hosts have invited a guest for the networking feature.

Sherry Vincent of Nationwide Insurance in Carrollton invited a client who works in the beach area.

“He joined our chamber, and joined our trade show and wound up getting business as a result,” Stohlman said.

“For some,” said Lilly, a realtor, “It’s like a house warming in a new house.”