Conventional Wisdom: Small Businesses Cash In on Political Revelry

Aug 24, 2012

Photographer: JOSHUA ROBERTS/Bloomberg News

Small businesses in Tampa and Charlotte aren’t thinking red or blue—they’re thinking green. With tens of thousands (and a potential hurricane) expected to flood the Florida city next week and the Queen City a week later, there’s big business to be had for small companies.

With the economic impact of the conventions expected to be between $150 million to $200 million, area businesses have been busy--from jockeying to be official service providers for the conventions to stocking up to meet an expected increase in demand.

For Democrats visiting North Carolina, barbeque is an important part of the trip. In May, Mark Cieslikowski, co-owner of Q2U BBQ Pit and Catering, learned he was the winner of the contest to find the “official sauce” of the Democratic Convention. Cieslikowski and his business partner Brian Rich estimate their sales have already increased 30%, providing the duo the push they needed to expand their restaurant. Political bitterness hasn’t spoiled the flavor for these pit masters. Cieslikowski told Entrepreneur,

"If you were a customer of ours and you stopped coming because you think we favor the Democrats, you're the loser, not us.”

Founders of the Home Collection, Jim Hock and James Funderburk, also have an eye for opportunity. They started as real estate developers in 2010, but as the market slowed, they turned from new construction to green renovations of existing buildings. Now offering short- and long-term furnished residences in Charlotte,  Hock and Funderburk listed their business on the Democratic Convention vendor directory and found quick success. Hock recounted their experience on the convention blog:

“Within days of listing our business, a representative of a large national media corporation contacted us, flew in to view our accommodations, and within a week signed a contract for ALL of our residences for the week of the DNC.” 

In Tampa, the only party lines businesses say they care about are the ones forming outside their doors. Mitch Walker, a partner with the aptly named Hurricane Grill & Wings, is preparing for a 30% spike in customers, thanks to the Republican Convention. Walker plans to extend his hours to 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.; up from the usual 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Samaria Café in downtown Tampa is even more optimistic. Owner Georgia Xanthoudakis told Fox 13 that the restaurant anticipates a 100% spike in customers.

Toffee to Go co-owner Lisa Schalk did her homework to get in with the right event planners. Her company has secured contracts with two Tampa hotels--business that will help offset what is usually her slowest month. The Tampa Tribune reports that “the convention will pad their bottom line by as much as 15%, allowing them to hire seasonal workers.”

And what about all those balloons? The iconic tumbling of red, white, and blue latex is the finishing note of any convention. Three local companies are supplying a share of the 120,000 balloons required for the big moment at the Republican Convention. They’ll be inflated by volunteers (hopefully with large lung capacity) from Tampa’s Gaither High School.

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