Name of the game: Small businesses try to stand out in crowded field

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, August 8, 2023

SALISBURY — Pop-up marketplaces are an excellent way for small businesses, especially those without a storefront, to get out and peddle their wares. What about companies that are just trying to build brand awareness?

The Sunny Day Markets Food + Brews Fest in Salisbury on Saturday in Bell Tower Green was one such event where various small businesses hoped to meet their next customer.

Forever Windows is a home improvement company based in Statesville. On Saturday, Forever Windows employee Ronnie Lark drew customers in with a visual display of the durability of the company’s windows by smashing a 12-pound bowling ball against one.

“It’s no trickery,” Lark said. “That is a real bowling ball … That in and of itself will draw people in if they see a window stopping a bowling ball.”

Sparking a conversation with a potential customer is crucial for Lark. With many of the vendors at events like the one Saturday selling homemade items, crafts or clothing, Lark knows he has to stand out to have a successful outing.

“In these smaller local shows, a good day could be 10-15 leads,” Lark said. “Sometimes, it gets a little bit slower than you would expect. Sometimes, it’s a lot busier.”

The steps are the same regardless of the number of people at a given event.

“You just have to reach out to people and ask,” Lark said. “Questions are key, especially in this line of work. I’ll ask them if they live in an older or newer style home or if they have old windows and have ever thought about updating them.”

Lark believes most people have probably thought about it, even if they didn’t go to the marketplace with it in mind.

“A lot of people have thought about it, but they don’t think it’s a realistic thing,” Lark said. “They think it costs too much or that maybe they’ll do it another year down the road.

“Our goal is to explain to folks how affordable replacement windows actually are and the benefits of having more energy-efficient windows.”

On Saturday, Jim Williams set up a booth representing All-American Gutter Protection. He didn’t have a bowling ball to smash against a window, so he relied on a more subtle approach.

“I have a lot of different ways that I try to engage people based on their looks, like what they are wearing, something on their shirt or their hat,” Williams said. “I look for common points of interest. Maybe a veteran or a sports fan, or a racing fan. I’ll start a word or two and say have you got cover on your gutters? No? Well, I give them about a 30-second pitch.”

Williams, who is retired, represents All-American Gutter Protection at various small business shows around the Piedmont.

“You can find any of (the popups) online,” Williams said. “Just look up any town and look up current events, conventions and things like that. You do your homework as to how long they have been there. Are they established? If they are not, you are not going to do them, because there won’t be many people there. How is it promoted? Is it promoted well? Do you have past experience there? It all comes into play.”

Williams said he had done a lot of events in Salisbury in the past over the last five or six years.

While Williams wants to pique interest in gutters, his mission is also humanitarian in nature.

“We try to keep people from falling off ladders,” Williams said with a laugh. “(With our product) you will never have to clean your gutter again.”

Sunny Day Markets, a traveling small business pop-up shop out of Union County, organized the Saturday marketplace.

Event coordinator and co-owner Montana Noel has a special connection to Salisbury. It’s where she and her partner met five years ago.

“We try to support small and local,” Noel said. “We have food trucks, vendors, live music and a kids zone, as well as lots of sweets and local breweries.”

Giving vendors a place within a community is what it is all about.

“If you like to talk and are able to talk, what I advise to small business owners is that the networking of these events is huge,” Noel said. “If you connect with people at these events and you grow your social media and support system, that’s what these events are meant for.”

Sunny Day Markets does a lot of traveling, but the organizers try to keep things local when they can.

“Most (of the vendors) are from in or around Rowan County,” Noel said. “Some of our food trucks are from Concord, but most of the food trucks are from Salisbury, Mocksville and surrounding areas.”