Business Expo Diary: Innovative and unconventional businesses highlight Tacoma’s annual trade convention

Reggie Frederick doesn’t resemble your typical businessman. The traditional suit and tie are absent. A laptop computer or Palm Pilot is nowhere in sight. These symbols of business are replaced by one gleaming and unmistakable object: a bowling ball.

Frederick is the owner of Chalet Bowl, the oldest operating bowling center in Washington state. He has owned the bowling alley, located in Tacoma’s Proctor District, since 1984, and has always viewed himself as part of the region’s business community.

“I’ve been coming to this convention every year for quite some time,” he said on Wednesday, while greeting visitors to his booth at Business EXPO 2004. “I finally decided this year that I would set up a booth and be a part of it.”
A bowling alley owner at a trade show largely populated by representatives from the legal, employment, and health industries seemed odd. But after speaking with Frederick, his attendance made perfect sense. “In 2003, we hosted 125 corporate events,” Frederick explained. “There are 70 million bowlers in the United States, and I really think that bowling is a great team-building opportunity for businesses.”

Frederick was one of a handful of businesses carving out innovative and unconventional niches in the otherwise conventional showcase.

Scott Larsen at Great Promotions, a 23-year-old Tacoma-based company providing professional, individualized service to help clients create imprinted promotional products, was busy showing off the latest inventions. Larsen’s booth was more like a scientist’s closet than a trade show exhibit. The fold-up calculators, robotic pens, and pedometers with built-in radios drew the most attention from visitors. Indeed, Larsen’s wares illustrated how much the field of promotions has developed–and the innovation inherent of business.

“Some people have dated promotional marketing back to George Washington, and the pins he used to wear,” Larsen commented. “Others point to a printer who put product names on paper bags during the 1860s.”

Another example: Mission Medical Technologies and it’s Web-based program “MedKeep.” MedKeep combines an old business model (the dot-com) with an innovative idea (managing your own healthcare) to allow patients to track their health information, meet personal goals related to health, and keep their doctors informed of their progress. “Self-management needs to promote a more active role for the patient,” a MedKeep representative explained. “It’s a key part of the solution to the growing healthcare crisis.”

Business is often linked with innovation. Whether that means thinking differently or creating different products, these three vendors stood out from others in very unusual ways.

Still, despite all the innovation, Larsen was quick to point out that some things remain the same. “Food gifts are still the top holiday item,” he commented, while pointing out a packet of breath strips imprinted with the MasterCard logo. “They sell the best every holiday, above all the gadgets.”