When Catherine Holt took the helm of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce last May, she knew that despite her extensive business-leadership experience, there would be a learning curve.
“I’m pretty new to this whole network of people,” admitted Holt above the din of the Chamber’s Marketplace Mixer, in full swing on Thursday afternoon at Delta Ocean Pointe Resort.
For the past 18 years, Holt ran her own management consulting company. She has worked with Crown agencies, First Nations organizations, not-for-profits and private sector firms including IBM and SNC-Lavalin.
One of her biggest surprises on the job so far, a revelation that she said “is hard to tell from the outside looking in,” was the can-do attitude she has encountered within the Chamber.
“I just really like the spirit of the people associated with it,” Holt said. “They’re energetic, enthusiastic, trying to get things done, very action-oriented … a really sociable, outgoing group of people.”
That spirit was obvious during what board chairman Al Hasham described as the Chamber’s busiest such showcase so far for goods and services offered by local businesses, with a record 44 exhibitors.
Typically, two Marketplace Mixers are held annually. Past locations have included the Bay Street Armoury and Victoria’s Comfort Inn and Marriott Hotel, but the showcase was consolidated into a single event this year.
Hasham, owner of Maximum Express and Max Furniture, said he, too, has discovered aspects of his job as chairman he didn’t expect when he was appointed in October of 2015.
“It’s been a very rewarding time and a humbling experience,” he said. “I didn’t realize how overwhelming the support would be. I get around, but I wasn’t used to being in the limelight as much as I’ve been.”
Three hundred attendees milled about the Arbutus Ballroom to network and check out what’s new and exciting at dozens of stations staffed by representatives of local companies, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations.
Exhibitors included Extreme Outreach Society, Camosun College, the University of Victoria and Wilson’s Group, its table adorned with green St. Patrick’s Day bling and a chocolates-filled leprechaun’s hat.
“People are loving it,” said Wilson’s digital media and sales co-ordinator Erin MacLean, telling passersby about services including its airport shuttle and corporate group rates for its new Langtoria bus service.
“We’re trying to get more recognition for our Green Line we just started, but we’re also just part of the community and we like to be involved.”
The Canadian College of Performing Arts consistently attracted attention to its station, a beehive of creative activity.
Student performers Dylan Karlsson and Danielle Campagnora enthusiastically worked the room in character as Beauty and the Beast’s Cogsworth the clock and Belle, respectively, to promote CCPA’s big spring show and others, including the alumni group’s June production of Avenue Q.
“It’s so important to stand out in a crowd,” said Melanie Sibbitt, who had no problem doing that herself in a bright orange sweater at her Two Crazy Ladies table.
Accompanied by her sister Kim — a designer, photographer and house painter who noted: “I’m not one of the crazy ladies” — Sibbitt displayed some of her creative marketing company’s promotional products, including notebooks, pens, eyeglass-cleaners and other items bearing a client’s logo.
“Having a name like Two Crazy Ladies is a mixed blessing,” Sibbitt said. “People remember it, but they don’t necessarily know what we do. So this gives people an opportunity to see what we do.”
And, yes, wearing orange to this event, amid a sea of networkers in darker colours, was by design.
“Colour makes people feel good, and it shows creativity, and that is the basis of what our company is,” she said. “We’re always thinking out of the box.”