Cultivating convention business

Cultivating convention business pays off for area firms
In making plans for President Bill Clinton’s appearance in Milwaukee two years ago, the White House florist had available to her any national floral company as well as several larger floral chains in the Milwaukee area.
But she commissioned a small downtown Milwaukee business to do the job. Private Gardener had made its presence known to the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau and to its peers, and therefore when the need arose, its name came up in several circles.
Private Gardner owner Victoria Vonier knew that convention and meeting planners come into a city and look for referrals, and she made sure that her business stuck in the minds of anyone doing any referring.
Conventions bring more to the greater Milwaukee area than people. Conventions bring business, and not just business for hotels and restaurants. From florists to group transportation services to printing companies, local businesses have found a niche in convention trade.
Brian Dunn of Limousine Services, an airport transportation business on South Third Street, knows that conventioners often fly to Milwaukee, and therefore he determined that a need existed in the convention sector for airport transportation. His business often supplies conventioners with discounted prices, and transportation to events around the city in addition to airport transportation.
CVB is a crucial link
By making his business known to the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), Dunn gets the word out about his business to conventioners and meeting planners.
“It’s a very helpful organization,” Dunn says of the GMVCB. “They want to get convention trade into Milwaukee and they’re very supportive of the businesses that make the effort to get involved with the bureau.”
Making the effort is the key phrase here. It’s no good simply to join GMCVB, pay your membership dues and disappear. In order for GMCVB to let conventioners and meeting planners know what your business has to offer, you must first market your business to GMCVB.
“Convention and meeting planners come to the city not knowing much about the city or the available businesses and depend on us to make referrals,” says Gloria Gappa-Grundman, GMCVB membership manager. “Stay in touch with the bureau and be aggressive in letting us know that you want convention business.”
Membership dues for GMCVB start at $310 per year and average about $500 per year, says Gappa-Grundman. The dues depend on several factors such as the size of the business, type of services offered and proximity to the convention center. For that fee, however, GMCVB members receive the Master Convention Calendar which contains a two-year listing of all the conventions coming to Milwaukee, the services they require, and contact people. The calendar is otherwise confidential, so the only way to get one is to join GMCVB.
Additionally, GMCVB members are listed in the GMCVB Official Visitors Guide, Membership Directory, which is distributed to convention planners, Group Tour Planner and Meeting Planners Guide, as well as on the Destination Milwaukee Website.
Furthermore, the GMCVB Convention Services Department receives leads from meeting planners listing what types of services are needed for various meetings and conventions and forwards those leads to GMCVB members, who then are responsible for marketing themselves to the planners.
“We call people listed on the convention calendar and send them letters of information about the services we offer,” says Mark Powell of Audio Visual of Milwaukee, a business which has provided all the audio-visual equipment and personnel for such conventions as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Sports Show and the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreigners. “I would recommend that all businesses interested in convention trade take advantage of [GMCVB]. They turn a lot of leads over to us directly.”
A to Z Printing got the business of the Christian Missionary Convention through contacts at GMCVB. The company, a full-service printer, produced the convention’s newsletter for all seven days it was in Milwaukee. Says A to Z’s Greg Christensen, the company’s flexibility helped get it the convention’s business.
“We only had about six hours turnaround time to get the newsletter out every day, but since our plant has overnight capabilities, we did the job overnight for the conventioners,” Christensen says. “We wouldn’t do that on a daily basis, but we did it for the conventioners because it was a need they had.”
Word of mouth
Sometimes, word of mouth referrals are still the best way to get business. That’s how Private Gardener on North Broadway in Milwaukee’s Third Ward got the White House’s business. Private Gardener provided all the floral arrangements when President Clinton came to Milwaukee.
“It wasn’t because we called the White House and asked for their business,” says Vonier, whose business also is doing the floral arrangements for the Midwest Express Center’s opening gala. “The White House florist called a restaurant and a hotel in Milwaukee and both recommended me. When you want to get convention business, not only do you have to get involved with the Convention and Visitors Bureau, you also have to make your business known to other businesses so that when conventioners scout the city and look for business, your company’s name comes up. Anyone can be a reference for you.”
For instance, in addition to working with GMCVB to get convention business, Dunn also communicates with hotels to find convention information.
“Sometimes the smaller conventions are held in hotels and are set up through the hotels rather than through the [GMCVB],” Dunn says.
Although it may be tempting for a small business to assume that convention and meeting planners only want to give their business to the big corporate names, Gappa-Grundman suggests that small businesses which play aggressively might have an advantage when it comes to getting convention business.
“Small businesses often are more likely to take advantage of our leads than the big companies who think convention business will just come knocking at their door,” Gappa-Grundman says. “We do the referring, so if we know your business, we’ll tell the meeting planners about it. Be aggressive. It’s what the meeting planners want.”
July 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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