Vendors show off wares at Business Expo

Vendors show off wares at Business Expo

CHAMPAIGN – Audra Martin's drawbridges drew a lot of traffic Wednesday, and there's no wonder why.

The tiny drawbridges, suspended by chains, held trays of chocolate-covered toffee, free for the taking.

The drawbridges were attached to a castlelike booth, from which Martin held court as proprietress of Long Ago and Far Away Creations, a wholesale business that makes Toffee by Audra.

It was one of the more elaborate setups at the East Central Illinois Business Expo, held at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall and sponsored by the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce.

The annual expo, in its third year, featured 121 vendors, up nearly 30 from last year, said chamber President Laura Weis.

Martin, a first-time exhibitor at the expo, said she's been in business nearly three years. Eventually, she hopes to have her own manufacturing facility and an online toffee business.

For now, though, her toffees are carried by local stores, including Art Mart, Rubens Chocolates, Walnut Street Tea Co., World Harvest and Sun Singer. She also is a regular vendor at the farmers' market in Urbana.

Martin wasn't the only one with an elaborate setup. Jeff Kaper, branch manager for the newly opened ArchiTextures Design Center in Champaign, brought along a stainless steel oven surrounded by painted maple cabinetry and a tumbled marble backsplash.

Cost of the cabinetry, not counting the oven, was in the $12,000 to $15,000 range, he said.

ArchiTextures opened its new center at 106 S. Country Fair Drive two weeks ago. The business – an offshoot of the Hance, Utz and Associates architectural firm – also has offices in Mattoon and Effingham.

Kaper said the business does interior design for homes and businesses, with special emphasis in kitchen and bathroom design.

The showroom on Country Fair Drive has nine kitchen displays, he said.

Another business debuting at the expo was Instant Imprints, a franchise business that Dan Hartman opened in January. Located at 907 W. Marketview Drive, C, the shop provides screen printing, embroidery, banners, signs and ad specialties.

Hartman said he got the idea for the business when he visited a similar firm, noticed it was busy and was disappointed by its service.

He looked around at franchises, visited Instant Imprints in San Diego and assembled $200,000 in financing – a process that took about six months.

The expo attracted several companies from outside Champaign County. Effingham-based Hodgson Mill, for example, brought a collection of its flours, cereals, pastas and baking mixes.

Dave Oestreicher, who works in sales for Hodgson Mill, said the family-owned company got its start in 1882. Originally a flour milling company, the business today has about 120 products including "trendy things" such as couscous and milled flax seed. Many of its products are sold in IGA, Meijer, County Market and Schnucks stores, he said.

The Battery Specialists and Golf Cars booth featured an electric golf cart by Club Car that can run 80 miles on a single charge and go up to 17 mph.

Kyle Coker, son of owner Danny Coker, said the company started in Taylorville in 1985, expanded to Mount Vernon and eventually opened in Champaign.

The business initially sold batteries and alternators for small farm equipment and later got into golf carts. But Kyle Coker said the Champaign office today is known as "the golf cart place that sells batteries."

The firm supplies carts for major events such as the Illinois State Fair, the Farm Progress Show and the tractor shows in Rantoul and Penfield, he said.

Carts run from a $2,000 base price for used models to about $6,000 for a new model. Rents range anywhere from $55 a day for a two-passenger cart to $150 a day for an eight-passenger cart, he said.

Customers buy carts to use at campgrounds, on farms and in their yards, he said.

"We sell a lot to individuals," he said. "We sell anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 golf carts a year."

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