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Three-Year-Old Event Plays Matchmaker to Local Businesses


Bob Winters founded his Camarillo computer supply company in 1979. Having been around for so long, he has a pretty good handle on who his would-be buyers are and where to find them.

But Winters admits that he can always use a little extra help when it comes to making new business contacts with large corporations and government agencies.

That's why the owner of Quality Data Storage has sent a couple of sales representatives to the annual Ventura County Business Opportunity Fair in each of the program's first two years.

Winters' employees will be on hand again this year at Ventura's Doubletree Hotel, when representatives of large corporations and government agencies will for the third year network with local suppliers of goods and services. The fair will be held Sept. 18.

"This is an opportunity to get our name out there and acquaint people with new products, and our sales reps can get names of people they will contact later," said Winters, whose warehouse works extensively with government agencies and the military. "It's not like we're selling washing machines or automobiles--we're in the supply business. We're looking to form relationships with customers, and it may take several points of contact to do that."

Members of Winters' sales force will join an expected 1,000 to 2,000 other small-business representatives hoping to establish working relationships with more than 60 corporations and government agencies.

Corporations scheduled to set up exhibit booths include Amgen, the Rockwell Science Center, Imation, Holiday Inn, Jones Intercable and Select Personnel Services. Local city and county governments, chambers of commerce, business development centers and the Naval Construction Battalion Center also are expected to be on hand.

Businesses and agencies have paid $1,000 to $5,000 for the booth space.

"Certainly we hope to draw several thousand small-business people, and out of that number some people will get new business, and even if they don't, they will have made contacts," said Jim Barroca, executive administrator of the fair and a former longtime executive director of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce.

"When I was with the chamber, I was constantly hearing from little businesses who wanted to know, 'How can I get my foot in the door?' Knocking on doors, figuring out how to see the purchasing agents--it's a hassle," Barroca said. "The business opportunity fair was started by the Ventura County and Ventura city purchasing departments as an outreach, to let businesses know they are willing to buy locally."

Bob Michels, production manager at Imation in Camarillo, will be representing his corporation at the fair. He said the mass gathering is potentially as beneficial for the corporate buyers as it is for the small-business suppliers.

"We're a large company and I think most large companies have contractors nationwide that will do things, but they don't know anybody at the local level," Michels said.

"Working with local suppliers saves everybody a heck of a lot of money," he said. "If we're dealing with somebody in Los Angeles or the San Diego area, we would have to add to our cost. If we could get something locally, we could save a lot on transportation. And if it's local, the [transaction] is more timely."

Michels said the Imation booth at the opportunity fair will provide a list of what the company is looking for from potential suppliers.

"It makes it easier for these folks to see whether or not they're a fit and at the same time we will have someone there from our purchasing group, from engineering, maybe human resources people," he said. "From architects or plastic molders to contractors and gardeners--we're just trying to connect with the right people on a local level."

In addition to helping the buyers and sellers, Barroca said the county as a whole could benefit from contacts made during the fair.

"These connections are good for the economy, they're as good as having new businesses open up," he said. "There's a lot of money to be spent by the government at all levels and a lot of businesses like Amgen that are looking to do business locally."

Along with the networking opportunities, the fair will feature workshops on how to do business with the corporate community and the governments. Admission is $5. For more information, call 654-3778.

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