Businesses connect at South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s expo

A.J. Bauer

Donald McNally doesn’t usually man a booth at the South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s annual Expo. In the past, the owner of Granite City Self Storage Inc. in Quincy just never saw the need.

But this year, with a 30,000-square-foot expansion of his 95 Old Colony Ave. location set to open in a matter of months, McNally spent Tuesday reaching out to a broader audience.

“We’re expanding the business, so we’re looking for a little more exposure throughout the South Shore,” McNally said, standing next to a table filled with free trinkets. “That’s why we decided on the booth.”

Each year, as many as 2,000 people stop by the chamber’s annual business-to-business expo. This year’s event, held Tuesday at The Lantana in Randolph, drew 82 exhibitors, slightly fewer than last year’s record turnout of 97.

The decline in exhibitors, however, did not reduce the festive atmosphere in the exhibition hall, as business people from myriad industries collected freebies while networking.

Over at the Dedham Savings Bank booth, Steven Habeeb lined up two birdies in a row in a game that combined mini golf and ski ball.

“My first one missed – it went right over the backstop because I was a little bit aggressive with my swing,” said Habeeb, principal of the Norwell-based architecture firm Habeeb & Associates.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. After submitting his business card for a raffle drawing, Habeeb managed to pitch his services to one of the bank’s representatives. “For me, it’s all about running into potential clients and existing clients,” said Habeeb of the expo.

Meanwhile, Beth Santella, a loan officer at Dedham Savings Bank, was using the game to lure potential customers in for a pitch of her own.

“We noticed last year that the booths that had a lot of traffic had an activity,” Santella said. “It’s about creating interest in the booth and, in turn, we can tell them about all the wonderful things Dedham Savings does, as well.”

Down the corridor from the exhibition hall, the Lantana’s Cailey Ballroom was transformed into the small business networking center. In addition to hosting booths manned by groups that specialize in helping small businesses, the room served as the latest stop on an ongoing “listening tour” by state officials.

The two town hall-style meetings held during the expo were the third and fourth such meetings hosted by André Porter, executive director of the state’s Office of Small Business & Entrepreneurship. The morning meeting also drew state Undersecretary of Business Development Greg Bialecki and state Sen. Brian Joyce of Milton.

“It gives us a chance to hear what’s going on,” Porter said. “It gives us a chance also to help people understand the various resources the state provides ... to help them address some of their issues.”

Of the 70 or so attendees at the morning meeting, nearly half owned their own business. Their concerns ranged from providing health insurance for their employees, to securing loans, to navigating the government’s red tape.

One such small business owner was David Lopes, owner of Wellington Design & Construction Co., a five-employee firm in Mattapan. During the meeting, Lopes expressed his concern that small contracting firms like his are often left out of state building contracts due to institutional biases in favor of larger firms.

“I was comfortable with his response in that he recognizes that it’s a problem,” Lopes said, referring to a direct response that Joyce gave to the question. “He didn’t have all the answers, but before you can even talk about answers, you have to recognize that there’s a problem.”

Porter said he plans to conduct at least 20 additional, similar meetings throughout the state by next March.

The Patriot Ledger