St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 15, 2013 - The man behind a Hats! Purses! Shoes! Expo at St. Louis' downtown convention center says he is continuing to collect money from vendors even though he has been unable to reserve exhibit space for the Thanksgiving weekend event, Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns.
BBB advises businesses and consumers to use caution when dealing with Ell Hajj Malik, a resident of the Spanish Lake area of north St. Louis County. Malik runs a company called 2B-360 which has been promoting the expo and fashion show at America’s Center. Ads say the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 event expects to draw “hundreds of vendors from all over the country” and 40,000 attendees. A website has been selling tickets to the public at $12 each.
An official with America’s Center said the center has no record of ever having been in contact with Malik or anyone else with the exposition. A convention calendar shows only an annual holiday show scheduled for that weekend at the convention facility. Another convention official said that there is no space available on those dates for Malik’s expo.
Malik said he phoned the convention center this summer to talk about a potential event, but has not contacted the center since. “Basically, I am in the process of raising money to secure the convention center,” he told BBB. He said he hopes to finalize arrangements sometime next week, despite the center’s position that it is too late . “I understand that some people may think this is a scam,” Malik said. “That is not at all what it is.”
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said it seems highly unusual for a business to advertise a trade show and collect money for booth rentals when arrangements remain unsettled.
“This show is two weeks away,” Corey said. “There are businesses that are making plans to attend a show that likely is not going to happen.”
After learning of the issue from BBB, a convention center official said he contacted the St. Louis Police Department’s fraud unit and phoned Malik to stop publicizing the event.
BBB first learned of potential problems with the expo when contacted by a businesswoman from Jefferson City, who said she paid $600 to exhibit at the show and place an ad in the show program. She said she became concerned when she received notice that the show dates had been pushed back to Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 from two weekends earlier. “I had a bad feeling about it,” she said.
She said she contacted BBB after learning from the convention center that the event had not been scheduled there.
A Florissant businesswoman said she also paid $550 for vendor space at the expo. When she was informed that the show may not be held, she replied, “That’s crazy. Five hundred and fifty dollars is a huge amount of money for us.” She said she may try to get a refund through Paypal.
The show has been publicized through Facebook and Twitter and a public relations company from Pittsburgh was hired to place news releases on Internet sites for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Belleville News-Democrat. Internet ads say that the show promoters will award $34,000 in cash prizes, a 2013 Camaro, iPad Minis and trophies.
Malik told BBB he has taken in fees from between 16 and 17 exhibitors or persons wishing to participate in one of four fashion show competitions. He also is accepting payments for attendance tickets, but did not say how many of those have been sold. He said the success of the event is crucial. He said he expects to use proceeds from the show to help his parents who are seriously ill.
“I ran this past a lot of my friends and they said, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea,’” he said.
Malik has been involved in several business enterprises in recent years. The Missouri secretary of state shows past registrations for a charity called Little Heroes Big Hearts (offering free photographic services to sick, hurt and terminally ill children in hospitals), Kazi Photography (described as a company to “capture flawless, timeless masterpiece images”) and a business called Girlie Girl Magazine (not described in registration documents).
BBB offers the following advice to businesses who participate in trade shows or conventions:
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, email@example.com, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-584-6727, email@example.com
BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. All BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million businesses, 11,000 Charity Reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information.