A church isn't necessarily the first place you'd think to hold a trade show, but Steve Klitsch had faith that his idea would work. He was right. In April 2005 he established the Maintenance and Repair Conference (MARC) to bring pastors and trustees of the 74-member West District of the Baltimore-Washington Conference (Methodist) together with industry vendors.

“The Catholic churches, which are in an archdiocese, already have preferred contractors that have been through a screening process to write bids or provide maintenance contracts,” says Klitsch, owner of Creative Concepts Remodeling in Germantown, Md. But the Methodist churches are independent. “If one church finds a contractor with a great price and has a great experience, it's pretty much kept a secret,” says Klitsch, who is a member of one of the participating Methodist churches.

Klitsch's idea was to hold a mini trade show, complete with a dinner reception, seminars, roundtable discussions in which participants could share knowledge, and vendor displays. More than 50 people attended, and the host church kept the proceeds from door charges and vendor sponsor fees, so it became a fundraiser.

Business participants — including an insurance company, a painter, a rental tool company, two building suppliers, and a commercial cleaner — saw it as a great benefit, which generated both church and individual leads. There were no remodelers. Klitsch, who gave a talk on do's and don'ts for hiring contractors, wanted this first try to just bring people together and educate them.

“The event exceeded my expectations,” he says. “It was gratifying to see so many sincere people want to participate and eager to learn.” He hopes to organize another MARC in 2007, in which he will participate as a vendor.