The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance (LWRBA) and the Longboat, Lido, St. Armand’s Key (LLSA) Chamber’s boundaries are unique in that they encompass both Sarasota and Manatee county borders. It was evident that businesses from both the “East” and “West” could benefit by joining forces and sharing their unique geographic issues. By joining members from opposite counties, organizations could benefit financially and its members would be offered a networking opportunity for exposure as an exclusive member benefit.
This innovative and niche event has been a gateway for members of 5 historical groups including the Greater Sarasota, Siesta Key and Gulfcoast Latin Chambers of Commerce to build relationships. Each year we had 2 to 5 participating groups whose members could exhibit. It has always been exclusive to participating group members to purchase exhibitor space but open for anyone to attend. I recall that first year of planning when I was on both the LWRBA and LLSA Events committees. A handful of key volunteers like Wanda Martinetto, Amy Samsal & Kerrin Naeff helped exceed our budget goals. We spent months planning and implementing what became a fairly turn key system for the first 6 years. Back then we had 2 employees at both organizations but a core group of volunteers ready willing and able to pitch in. Marne Matarese Chairman of the Board for the Longboat, Lido, St. Armands Key Chamber and Bobbi Larson, Board Chair for the Alliance were thrilled with the 500 attendees and above budgeted revenues that first year produced. We were it, we were a small volunteer grass roots bunch with a passion to produce a successful event for our clients. I remember the fun the team at Pro-Motion Notions had creating the original logo, designing the ads and sending out the press releases. Dan Sidler and the team at the LWRBA rebranded in 2015 and have polished those elements since.
The first expo in 2009 hosted 45 exhibitors and was held at the Van Wezel. Thanks to SMR who donated the space, the Longboat Key Hilton who donated all of the tables and chairs, Alsco linen who has been a supporter for a decade now and Longboat Limousine who I recall that first year picked up, set up and returned all of the linens...in style! We each helped to launch what has become a very successful niche expo. In 2010 the committee decided to annually rotate East and West venue locations but when the Polo Grill hosted and sold out to 67 exhibitors months in advance (including booths in their outdoor courtyard), we knew we needed a bigger space. We created an event specific website in 2012 to ease registration giving the multiple group members one spot for information. It hosts tips to maximize participation along with everything sponsors, exhibitors and attendees need to know. From 2011-2013 Sarasota Municipal Auditorium hosted an average of 70 tabletops and in 2014 we moved this annual favorite to Robarts Arena where they will likely again exceed 90 exhibitors.
Volunteers and staff continue to fine tune East meets West through fresh committee member ideas and post event survey findings. Valet parking, assistance with exhibitor set up and upgraded premium booth space options have added to the success. We have always provided goodie bags, raffles, entertainment through music, photo booths and Big Cat Habitat animals. Now we've surpassed that to include sponsored lounges and bars, grans prize drawings and valet parking. It is truly a village of volunteers and staff that now puts the event on at least a thousand regional business professionals' calendars year after year. All of the media partners and most of the sponsoring businesses who supported us back then still do now, a decade later and that speaks volumes. It is no doubt that the collaboration is the reason continued growth is achieved year after year. Cheers to making the 10th the best one yet!
Event chair for original East Meets West Expo