When the technology is done right, you don’t even know it’s there. The first-ever virtual Hermes Expo took place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, as visitors got the entire exhibitor and networking experience comfortably online.
All that was missing were the free samples.
The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to completely derail the 29th anniversary Hermes Expo, a four-day event held at select cities, originally scheduled last April.
The Expo has occurred annually since 1992, acting as a facilitator for Greek, Greek American, and American businesses looking to work together in the Hellenic and Phil-Hellenic communities, helping businesses and professionals enter and grow in the US marketplace.
Its unique platform unites the business community, whether it’s to make a new connection, make a new friend, generate new leads, or find a new business opportunity.
So rather than skip a year and lose momentum, depriving businesses of the opportunity to share knowledge, products, experiences, and contacts, the organizers, spearheaded by Paul and Aphrodite Kotrotsios, assembled a team and within six weeks, the virtual Expo was up and running.
“It was a risk because we weren’t sure how the community would act, how they would respond. It’s something entirely new for people,” said organizer Aphrodite Kotrotsios, publisher of the Hellenic News of America. “We received a lot of messages from people across the country saying all this was fantastic and extremely helpful.”
Some who had never been able to attend because of the travel or time required could now visit virtually over the four-day period, 24 hours a day.
“That was definitely one positive aspect to it,” she said.
Once attendees signed in, they entered the Expo’s virtual exhibit lobby.
From there, they could click on an educational webinar or visit any of the virtual booths from this year’s 45 company exhibitors.
One-click at a booth and a wealth of information became available in downloadable and printable brochures, video clips, photo galleries, links to social media and websites, opportunities to order products, contact information, and more.
For those wanting to do a little networking, chat requests and email features were available to speak with the owner or company representatives. If the exhibitor was unavailable they could schedule a meeting.
“We still enabled that connection. We didn’t just leave it at, ‘OK, here is all my information, download it and go.’ We still gave the visitor and the exhibitor the opportunity to meet face to face because a video chat was possible,” Aphrodite said.
In a way, representation worldwide was actually better at the virtual event, since exhibitors didn’t have the time and expense of travel, and paying someone to man a booth over the four-day run.
“It wasn’t just the five-state area businesses here participating in the Expo, which was really nice. It brought in new people whether they were exhibiting or just participating,” Aphrodite said.
World businesses were well represented this year, from all across America into Canada, from across Greece, and different parts of the globe.
In recent years, Greek companies, particularly, have been represented at the Expo as they seek opportunities to move goods and services into the U.S. market. Greece continued to be well represented at this year’s Expo, with the Region of Ionian Islands and the Chamber of Kavala participating, as well as Greek businesses that included a travel agency and a winery.
Variety was definitely in play virtually, with several for-profit and nonprofits represented.
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Some of the organizations included the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation, the Greek American Academy of Philosophy, Science and Education, AHI, and AHEPA.
Businesses were represented from finance, healthcare, restaurant groups, nursing homes, food service, distributors, wholesalers, manufacturers, import/export, caterers, legal services, digital menus, jewelry, and more.
The prime sponsor for this year’s Expo was Peter Parthenis, president & CEO of Grecian Delight/ Kronos Foods.
He presented a much-appreciated virtual slide show for restauranteurs on Best COVID-19 Practices for Restauranteurs. “Make your restaurant feel like a safe spot,” one slide advised, as it directed restaurant owners to the CDC website for bars and restaurants.
Parthenis was also able to introduce two successful restauranteurs from Chicago who talked about how they incorporated health safety trends to help them survive and thrive under COVID.
The Expo gave that opportunity for participating restaurant owners to see what other owners were doing to cope.
“We are proud to partner with the Hermes Expo with a united goal to support and educate our Greek-American business community. I believe in times of adversity, we need to adapt and work together to find opportunities and ultimately become stronger,” Parthenis said.
Parthenis kicked off the first day of the virtual Expo with his webinar, followed by Perry N. Halkitis, Ph.D., MS, MPH, the Rutgers University Dean of the School of Public Health. He provided vital information on the pandemic in America and Greece.
“The Herms Expo provided me an amazing opportunity for me as an academic to engage with colleagues working in the business sector and to discuss the significant role that Greek culture, values, and commitment to family have played in containing the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece. The Greek response provides a model for responding to a pandemic so that science can help to inform the functioning of businesses while maintaining the health of all people and populations,” Dr. Halkitis said.
Education was emphasized this year, particularly webinars that helped businesses and restauranteurs navigate the unknown waters of COVID-19.
“As independent restaurateurs competing with national chains, we need to step up our game in every area possible. From creating a safe, sanitary environment that will preserve the trust of our customers, to utilizing the latest user-friendly technologies for online ordering and delivery of our top quality food,” said Steve Theofanous, co-owner of Around the Clock Restaurant and president of the Greek American Restaurant Cooperative.
When times are difficult, people are looking for new ways to do things, new opportunities, especially in the hospitality industry, which has been particularly hard hit. They need to learn how to offset costs or stay in business.
“So we featured a lot of fantastic webinars on just that,” Aphrodite said.
The Supreme President of AHEPA, George G. Horiates, presented on AHEPA’s current affairs and its importance.
Nick Larigakis, president of the American Hellenic Institute, talked about the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus.
The law firm of Thomas Paschos & Associates led a webinar on “Managing Your Workplace in These Challenging Times.” They also talked about doing business these days in Greece and Cyprus.
“It was a pleasure participating in the 1st Virtual Hermes Expo International which brings together Greek-American, Greek, and Philhellenic businesses and professionals. Special thanks and congratulations to Paul Kotrotsios and Aphrodite Kotrotsios for another successful Hermes Expo. Both presentations from our firm, Thomas Paschos & Associates, P.C., were well received by an engaging audience. Special thanks also to our guest speakers who provided very valuable and informative information, did a great job answering questions and educating others about their particular areas of law,” shared Thomas Paschos.
Eleni Saltas, cookbook author of ‘All You Can Greek’ presented an online cooking show. After being featured on ‘Live with Aphrodite’ on Hellenic News of America’s Instagram page, Eleni was called back to present one of her most favorite dishes during the Virtual Hermes Expo.
Sophia Stavron, Founder and CEO of StavroHedi, presented a webinar on “How to manage anxiety, create more wealth, and better your health with Philotimo,” a useful webinar in these difficult times.
Sophia shared, “As a global leader and speaker of Philotimo Lifestyle™️, I wanted to align myself with the proper venue to share my insights, case studies, experience and most of all, connect with other Greek and Greek-Americans globally to inspire the Philotimo within their own lives. I am honored, blessed and most of all, beyond impressed with Aphrodite Kotrotsios and her team for featuring me on the webinar segment of the 1st Virtual Hermes Expo! The onboarding to the site was easy from my end, thanks to Aphrodite! Also, I had the pleasure and opportunity to network with many amazing exhibitors and other participants! Congratulations on creating a fantastic, networking, virtual platform for Hermes Expo! See you next year!!
Elliot Antokas, CPA, and Maria Luck of CBM presented on “The Benefits of Remote Accounting For Small Business Success”.
Elliot expressed to the Hermes Expo team, “Thank you so much for including Councilor, Buchanan and Mitchell in the 29th (and 1st digital) Hermes Expo. I really enjoyed this year’s virtual platform. It was great to be able to visit the exhibitors’ virtual booths and also presenting on the benefits of remote accounting to Greek-American professionals from all over the country! We appreciate the business opportunities that you and the Expo provide. We look forward to next year!”
Demetrios Giannaros, Ph.D., Trustee and Managing Director of DEJE Group, LLC, shared “I commend Aphrodite and the Kotrotsios family for a creative and well organized virtual Hermes Expo 2020. I’ve participated in a number of the Hermes Expo 2020 presentations and business offerings. The presentations, discussions and information provided were excellent. The presentations were timely and provided very useful information. In this uncertain time, it is a great opportunity for people to learn the latest information and developments directly from experts in the field. The question and answer periods following the presentations were also most enlightening. I commend Hermes Expo for creating an important avenue for businesses to showcase their products and services, reach out to the public, and connect with other enterprises. I was really impressed with the virtual Hermes Expo 2020.”
As in previous years, the Expo could not have taken place without support from its sponsors. In addition to Grecian Delight, the Expo welcomed Investors Bank, Sigmapharm Laboratories Piech Decorating, Inc., Calamos Investments, TGS Wholesalers of Chicago, Celestyal Cruises, J&M Recordings, American Network Solutions, and GreenCrown Energy Advisors.
“Of course I want to thank all our sponsors,” Aphrodite said.
Another reason for the virtual Expo’s success lies in the Expo’s long-held reputation for helping businesses prosper.
“We have a trusted name out there,” Aphrodite said. “People know what we can do. People know that we are here to open doors and to facilitate these new opportunities.”
What form the Expo takes moving forward will depend on what’s happening in the world. While hope remains for a live event in April 2021 to celebrate their 30th anniversary, Aphrodite said she’s already getting ready for a virtual Expo. Either way, it’s happening.
“The Virtual Hermes Expo was a huge success,” Aphrodite said. “It’s here to stay.”