BLOOMFIELD — The Fifth Annual Southern Iowa Business Expo is a bit different from your normal business show. Sales aren’t really the focus.
This was the second year the expo has set up shop at the Davis County Fairgrounds. By all accounts it was headed toward being the most successful year. At least 900 people came through on Friday and it looked like another 1,500 would attend Saturday.
“So far this year it’s [great],” said Mervin Kauffman.
Kauffman and his family are organizers for the expo, and that explains a lot about what makes this one different. He’s Amish. To him, the expo is an act of service both to those of his faith and those in the broader southeast Iowa community.
The vendors were a mix of Amish entrepreneurs and modern businesses. Buggy supplies and tack sat in stalls alongside tillers and equipment. And it seemed every child, Amish and English alike, had a balloon tied around the wrist.
Leslie Zimmerman stood behind two massive alfalfa bales as he talked with farmers. Zimmerman Hay LLC supplies farmers with alfalfa and high-quality grass for their herds. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to sell. Most farms have space for the animals to graze. As long as the weather holds, that will go a long way toward taking care of their needs.
But if the weather gets ugly, that grazing land might not be enough. Zimmerman, whose operation is based south of Cantril in Missouri, can help in those times. But the best chance of being able to line up those sales comes months earlier, at expos like the one this weekend.
“It’s very important. We pick up customers at every show and get to talk to the customers we’ve had for a while,” Zimmerman said. “We sell hay all across the nation.”
Zimmerman hay shows up in states as spread out as Virginia and Colorado. He said no one really wants to be in the position of having to buy the hay, but it becomes an easier decision if there is a pre-existing relationship with the seller.
And, yes, quality matters. A field that supplies alfalfa hay with fewer weeds and other components can get a better price. Expos give potential clients a chance to see what they might buy if the rains fail.
A few stalls away was Whitney Barker in Davis County Hospital’s display. She’s not selling anything, at least not directly. This was a chance to let people know about what services are available.
In a lot of ways her approach was similar to Zimmerman’s. It’s easier to reach out when you need help if you already know the people you’re asking.
“This is community outreach,” she said. “We get to come out and talk with folks.”
The hospital has participated in the expo for the past couple years, and Barker said it’s a good chance to meet with people in a more relaxed setting than a doctor’s office or waiting room.
Most vendors aren’t as big, though. They’re neighbors, selling to friends and acquaintances. Those interactions are what Kauffman likes to see.
“That’s what the point is for me to do something like this,” he said. “It makes connections between the small entrepreneurs out here in the country and the general public.”