Sunshine greeted the crowds on Monday as a bevy of VIPs lent gravitas to the opening of the 11th Yorkshire Business Market at the Pavilions of Harrogate.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Mayor of Harrogate, Coun Jim Clark, stressed how important such events are, especially to this district.
“SMEs are a very important part of the North Yorkshire economy, and Harrogate in particular is very vibrant and very entrepreneurial. Harrogate – the town and the district – is the powerhouse of the North Yorkshire economy,” he said.
“There are still quite a number of people in this country who think ‘profit’ is a dirty word, but I think profit, value, creating wealth is a virtue and it’s important that we celebrate that.”
Around 1,000 visitors came to the Yorkshire Business Market, which featured more than 90 stands, as well as a seminar programme and, for the first time, free sessions with some highly experienced business mentors.
The event, which was organised by Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, was officially opened by Barry Dodd CBE in his capacity as Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire. Mr Dodd, who is also chairman of North Yorkshire & East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership and chairman of Wetherby-based GSM Group, said exhibitions were a great way of doing business; one of his companies had recently picked up a £43m contract with Volkswagen at an exhibition in Cologne.
The Harrogate event was of a different – smaller – order of magnitude, but he still set the bar high for stand-holders.
“There’s a critical mass of exhibitors here today, and I know that even if no visitors came I’d still be able to do business,” he said. “There are four winners of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise here today, and the challenge for you is to be one of them next year.”
To help them along the way, he also had some words of advice: “When someone comes up to your stand, never say ‘can I help you’? People always say they’re just looking, so instead always ask them what kind of business they’re looking for. If they say ‘none’, you can clear them off and move onto someone else, but you might find they’re a potential customer after all.”
But he warned: “Tonight is when you need to make use of your leads. If you can’t follow up on your contacts within a week, you’re history.”
For their part, the exhibitors – who all seemed to have heeded Mr Dodd’s advice – had come for a variety of reasons.
Grace McLaughlin was representing Baltzersens, the Norwegian-inspired food business based in Harrogate.
“We’re here because we’ve already got a successful café, and a restaurant business in the evenings, and we’re ready to broaden our business into catering,” she said.
“We want people to stop getting ready-made platters from supermarkets and support a local business instead. Buying locally-sourced food from a local company reflects well on our clients too.”
Mike Hammond led a team from Harrogate Brigantes Rotary Club, which he said was becoming more business-focused; it holds Catalyst networking sessions every Tuesday morning.
“Our intention is to bring another 15 or 20 new business-people into the club,” he said. “We want to support people with their corporate social responsibility, and hopefully they’ll be able to support us in our work too.”
Mark Davison had come from his Newby Hall base to look for new members too – but rather more of them than Brigantes were. His company, Bartercard, is a global enterprise which acts as a middle-man between members, enabling them to swap goods and services and boost revenue.
“Bartercard’s aim is to grow from 3,500 UK members to over 20,000 and expand into Europe, so we’re hoping to get extra customers today,” he said. “I’ve already had a sign-up and we’re only half-an-hour into the event.”
David Barker, of Scarborough Lifts, had had a few early “bites” too, making the trip from the east coast worthwhile.
“Scarborough’s a small area and we just want to open ourselves up a bit – Harrogate’s a very ‘lift-rich’ area,” he said.
“It’s very good here. People are taking to us and they’re very interested. I’ve already had some interest from a stately home.”
Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser series later in the day, Mr Dodd said: “I was amazed at the buzz this morning. I hope people on the stands have taken advantage of it and got the orders in. The good thing is that a lot of these orders will be placed locally, so you get more bang for your buck.”