From bbq pits to badge makers, businesses prep for conventions

Brian Rich, left, and Mark Cieslikowski with the "official sauce" of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Photo credit: Don Worthington

Business is warming up for Mark Cieslikowski, whose vinegar-based barbeque sauce has been named the "official sauce" of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Since May, when contest winners were announced, patrons have already been coming in requesting "a few of that ‘Obama sauce,’ " says Cieslikowski, co-owner of Q2U BBQ Pit and Catering in Lake Wylie, S.C. He estimates sales have increased 30%. "We get more folks than we ever got before."

The presidential candidates aren’t the only ones obtaining a lift from the upcoming conventions. Smaller businesses in Tampa, where in fact the Republicans are gathering in a few days, and in Charlotte, N.C., where in fact the Democrats will meet up with the first week of September, are benefiting from the upcoming political love fests for candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

The conventions are anticipated to draw thousands of staff, delegates, journalists and other people to the respective areas, providing what’s likely to be a big economic boost. The 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver had an economic impact of between $150 million and $200 million, says Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for the 2012 Democratic Host Committee.

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"While we have no idea the dollar amount, we can say for certain it’s far more business than could have come to Charlotte [over] Labor Day week in an average year," she says, when asked for a ballpark figure because of this year.

Meanwhile, the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee expects the direct spending impact for the Republican Convention to be about $175 million to $200 million. "This will not look at the economic ‘multiplier’ effect that may mean 2.5 times the actual amount of hard dollars spent," the committee said in a news release.

Many local companies are doing behind-the-scenes work prior to the conventions, while other entrepreneurs are anticipating a wholesome uptick in business through the multi-day events.

Regarding Q2U BBQ Pit, Cieslikowski and his business partner Brian Rich weren’t prepared for such a burst of business. Both have been talking generally about expanding, but winning your competition pushed them to double their restaurant’s size. "We’re slightly barbeque restaurant. There is no way we’re able to have afforded that kind of publicity," Cieslikowski says.

Even being proudly located about 20 miles from downtown Charlotte in a predominately Republican area hasn’t stopped business from booming. Actually, political backlash has been minimal. "In the event that you were a person of ours and you stopped coming because you imagine we favor the Democrats, you’re the loser, not us," Cieslikowski says.

Several businesses say being chosen from a huge selection of applicants to just work at the conventions has generated a blitzkrieg of attention from media and vendors, that they hope will result in more business.

"It has definitely sparked a whole lot of interest both locally and regionally," says Melanie Guinn-Buchanan, leader of Zander Guinn Millan, a brand consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C., selected to create staff and press badges for the Democratic Convention.

Kymberly Brantigan, president of Charlotte Destination Group, is assisting to coordinate a shuttle-bus system for a large number of delegates and convention guests. "It really is an excellent sales tool for all of us in the years ahead," says Brantigan, whose company can be hosting a welcome party for Democratic delegates.

Rhonda E. Caldwell, owner of THE PRIMARY Event Inc., a Charlotte-based event-management company, agrees. "In order to have this on your own resume is a big plus," she says. The business, also chosen to host a welcoming party for delegates, gets inquiries from several vendors with whom it hasn’t already worked, she says.

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Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs have welcomed little bursts of business. Take Fast Lane Clothing Company Inc. in Tampa, which earlier come early july won contracts worth about $100,000 to provide shirts and hats for a few of the convention’s security personnel. Not huge, but "each and every order helps," says Juan A. Davis, who owns the shop along with his wife.

Still other companies are planning for an influx when convention-goers arrive.

Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits of Charlotte is gearing up regarding inventory and staff decisions. Eric Newman, the chain’s executive vice president, expects demand at its area restaurants to be comparable to that experienced during Carolina Panthers football games, when 75,000 fans fill the stadium.

Mitch Walker, somebody with Hurricane Grill & Wings in Tampa, estimates business will be up thirty percent due to Republic Convention traffic. The restaurant is situated in a Ramada Inn, where a huge selection of members of the production team and security are anticipated to stay for 14 days.

Walker says he’ll depend on existing staff to work longer hours. He’s keeping doors open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., rather than the usual 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. "It’s one among those deals if it is going to be considered a long week for everyone and we’re just likely to plan it," he says.

Meanwhile, just like a presidential candidate, Q2U BBQ Pit’s Cieslikowski is pledging great things, post-convention. He hopes to stock national supermarket shelves along with his prize-winning sauce.

"I don’t see us doing not growing at this time," he says.

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