The Business of the Convention

The Business of the ConventionShawn A. Turner
The Business of the Convention

The Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland next summer will be the party of the year for the GOP. So, they’re probably going to need balloons, right? That’s where Melissa Miller comes in.

Miller is the owner of Pink Gorilla Balloons in Cleveland. She’s betting Convention attendees will be in a festive mood when they overtake Northeast Ohio about nine months from now. “One of the biggest things they do is order balloons,” she says.

In order to put her business at top-of-mind for any planned balloon drops, Miller turned to the Convention’s Supplier Guide, a resource created for attendees that features local businesses likely to be in demand during the three-day Convention.

The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), Destination Cleveland, the City of Cleveland, the Commission on Economic Inclusion, and The Hispanic Roundtable helped create the Supplier Guide, which is designed to help small businesses connect with opportunities they might not otherwise come across. And the guide isn’t meant to support just the Convention; it’s meant as a long-term asset that Northeast Ohio small businesses will be able to utilize for other events that the region attracts.

Miller isn’t alone in turning to the Supplier Guide. As of early October, more than 1,000 companies falling into more than 100 categories were already signed up on the list, according to Mike Mulhall, VP of partnerships at Destination Cleveland. Destination Cleveland has been intimately involved in working to get the guide in front of GOP attendees.

Mulhall says the guide—which is free for companies to add their name to—was born following a meeting with Republican National Committee (RNC) leaders, who were asked what types of businesses visitors to the Convention will need. From that discussion came a guide featuring scores of caterers, transportation companies, women- and minority-owned businesses, and more.

“Some delegations specifically look for these certifications,” he says. “They don’t necessarily look for a florist, but for a minority-owned florist.”

A potential business bump

Matt Fish, founder of grilled cheese phenom Melt Bar & Grilled, says the restaurant hasn’t yet started preparing for the Convention, but plans to soon.

“I know we’re going to get a bump from it,” he says. “I know we’ll be active in promoting Melt. We’re on the mind of a lot of travelers coming to Cleveland. We and a lot of the other chefs in Cleveland get a lot of notoriety.” The notable Cleveland restaurants are a talking point, he says. “There’s a lot of word of mouth. ‘Oh, you’re going to Cleveland? You have to try this place.’”

Fish says Melt soon will begin putting together its marketing plan for 2016 and the Convention will feature prominently in that discussion.

“We want to increase our presence on the Internet,” he says, “so when people are searching for places to go in Cleveland when they’re here for the Convention or after or before, hopefully we’ll show up a little more.” There’s good reason for companies to get their business plans in place for the Convention. Research has shown there is a lot of money at stake for Northeast Ohio businesses when the RNC comes to town. Diane Downing, Chief Operating Officer of the 2016 Cleveland Host Committee for the Republican National Convention, said during a Supplier Forum held in June that the economic impact of the Republican National Convention on Cleveland could be $200-$250 million based on estimates stemming from the 2012 Convention held in Tampa.

Pink Gorilla’s Miller says her company plans to be proactive in trying to get its share of that $250 million and getting onto the supplier list is just one aspect of that strategy.

“We’ve been training,” she says. “We know it will take a small army. We’re hiring and training part time staff so we can be prepared on a moment’s notice.”

How to leverage the Republican National Convention

Miller’s plan to start early is a smart one, according to Mulhall. He says the first thing businesses should do is consider getting their business onto the Supplier Guide, which can be found at

“It’s just a 10- or 15-minute investment of time and most of the questions are pretty straightforward,” he says. “The biggest challenge is the description.”

Mulhall is referring to the 100-word description that businesses on the listing use to describe themselves. For many companies, boiling down what it is they do into just a few sentences can seem like an impossible task.

“Choose your words carefully,” Mulhall advises. “Don’t think about all of the things that your business can do, think about what you do that can be specific to the Convention. It’s not a general business description; you’re talking to people who are here to do business around a convention.”

A website link is included with the listing, Mulhall says. “Make sure your website is up to snuff.”

Beyond the supplier list, Miller says it’s crucial that business owners do their homework prior to the Convention. Find out how your industry was used during past political conventions. “You can Google anything,” she says.

So, what has Miller learned? She knows she has to reach out to area hotels and restaurants —and not just for the time period encompassing the event.

“A lot of people will be doing their own side events,” she says. “A lot of stuff will be going on earlier. Some restaurant owners have had their restaurant booked for months.”