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Make your next trade show experience the ultimate in planning, business-building and product buying ... and survive the trip!

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“Wear comfortable shoes.” Just about every member of the PETS+ Brain Squad said this when asked to offer advice on attending industry trade shows.

It’s no wonder. Global Pet Expo, Feb. 26-28 in Orlando, FL, measures 360,400 square feet. SuperZoo, Sept. 1-3 in Las Vegas, NV, spans nearly 300,000. That’s a lot of steps! And these are just two of the many — albeit largest — shows that happen each year in the U.S.

Read on to learn more about prepping for, shopping and learning at, and recovering from pet industry trade shows. We have tips for beginners and pros alike. And they apply to shows of any size, including our own PETS+ Wellness Summit, happening Oct. 26-27 just outside of Chicago, IL.

GET PREPPED

Bookmark & Download

To help you prepare, trade shows provide a variety of resources on their websites. Globalpetexpo.org and superzoo.org, in particular, have travel and transportation info, searchable exhibitor lists, show hours and maps, and education, event and contest schedules. Each of these shows also has an app so you can easily access info from the floor.

“I really like being able to add our ‘Favorites,’” Jeff Jensen of Four Muddy Paws in St. Louis, MO, says of prepping with the SuperZoo app. “It makes it easier to navigate and make sure we don’t miss anyone we really want to see.”

Make a To-Shop List

Shane Somerville of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, might enjoy show prep more than actual attendance.
“I love prepping for trade shows by going through the entire list of booths to make sure I don’t miss anyone. I copy the list to a document and then go through it, editing out the ones I know I don’t want to visit — like brands I don’t carry — and evaluate websites for any brands I don’t know before deciding if they make the cut or not.”

She then orders the list by booth location and prints copies for everyone attending.

When making their shopping list, Sue Hepner and Paula Jaffe of Cool Dog Gear stores in Pennsylvania also look back through past issues of PETS+.

“We always check the ads and Hot Sellers info, and make a point to look at these items.”

Speaking of PETS+, we’ll have a booth at Global (4005) and at SuperZoo. Please stop by. We’d love to meet you!

Schedule Appointments

Once you make a list, Leel Michelle of Bow Wow Beauty Shoppe in San Diego, CA, highly recommends booking time with exhibitor reps.

“To ensure you get all of your questions answered, schedule meetings to make sure they give you enough time to get everything accomplished. If you don’t, you become just another number on the sales floor and may not be able to have your questions answered or be able to speak to the person you’d like to speak to.”

Have fun! Dog Krazy’s Nancy and Chris Guinn did at The Honest Kitchen party at SuperZoo.

Fill out Orders in Advance

If you regularly order from a distributor or company, do as much advance work with them as possible. “I find out what the deals are from my food reps before I go,” Nancy Guinn of Dog Krazy stores in Virginia says. “I ask for the deal sheets so I can have them filled out and drop them off as soon as I get to their booths. It gives me more time to see the new items and not waste time filling out forms and guessing how much I will actually need.”

Somerville agrees and adds, “If there are any late changes, it’s easy enough to write on the paper before turning it in, rather than having to do all the number-crunching there.” She advises, “Take pictures of everything you submit if you make changes after you print the order, or for anything you handwrite at the show, so you know what you are going to get when it shows up, since it might be a while, especially in the case of holiday merchandise.”

Inquire About ‘Buying the Booth’

Kimberly and Mario Gatto own The Wagging Tails in Las Vegas, which means they always attend SuperZoo and have a hometown advantage on one particular deal: “buying the booth.”

Kimberly says, “We drive, so that enables us to ‘buy a booth’ and bring it home with us. If we flew, we would have to ship it, which would be spendy.”

She explains how it works: “Most vendors do not like packing up their booth and shipping it back. So they discount the products on display and offer them up to retailers to purchase right off the show floor.

“We call ahead if we know the rep, to see if they will be selling the booth and what kind of deal they are offering. Others new to us, we seek out at the show early on, and if we are interested in bringing in their product, we see if they are interested in selling what’s on the floor. Mostly the products, but sometimes they add in the display racks or even the furnishings, like tables, chairs, shelving, etc.

“When we agree on a price, always paid in cash, the vendor will not give away any product to anyone. Of course, it’s a trust thing because we are not given a list with what we will be receiving. However, we did have a couple of vendors who gave out some of the product, and in return, they shipped us replacements, usually more than what was expected — they are always very generous. For me, when it’s a new product, the gamble is, ‘Will it sell in my shop?’ But on the other hand, it’s a great way to see if it will, and I’m not out a ton of money.”

The couple has “bought the booth” from ZoomaChew, Wigzi, Earth Animal and Hound & Gatos.

“We bought the booth from Hound & Gatos for $500, but we received approximately $2,000 to $3,000 in product.”

Print Store Labels

To save time filling out orders from scratch, Jennifer Larsen of Firehouse Pet Shop in Wenatchee, WA, prints and brings along labels with store name, address, phone number and “Please call for CC info.”
“We print tons and roll them up, and someone recently showed me that you can use a stamp roll container to keep them contained neatly.”

SHOP TILL YOU DROP

Decide on Your Route

Ask 10 retailers where they start and end and how they navigate the show floor, and you’ll get 10 different answers.

Charlsye Lewis of Metro Animals in Fort Worth, TX, suggests starting with five to 10 companies on your must-shop list.

“Do those first! You’ll accomplish what you really need to while you are fresh.”

Leslie Stewart of Southern Barker stores in Kentucky says, “Always start with the new products section. You want to see all the new and fresh merchandise that you can.”

Jensen prefers working from one end of the show to the other.

“Then we go back the afternoon of the second day and the third day to place orders. It keeps us very focused and efficient, so we make sure we don’t miss anything. We pull together our strategy each night in the hotel room so that we’re prepared with our plan the next day. After 15 years of trade shows, this is a strategy that really works for us.”

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Pack the Essentials

Lewis recommends, “Bring a small wagon or rolling bag to hold all of your materials — carrying tote bags is what really tires you out. This is an endurance event.”
Larsen agrees and adds, “Pack snacks and water in your rolling case.”

Leslie and Sarah Stewart of Southern Barker in Kentucky make time to stop at the PETS+ booth, but not before checking out the new products section.

Spend Your Time Wisely

Larsen, who attends with her husband and co-owner, Allen, says, “We try to limit the amount of time at each booth so we can move along, or we frog hop so one of us is ahead and the other can skip that booth. We grab catalogs from those we need or new vendors, so we can study/order when back home. I like to take pictures of the items and booth of any lines that don’t have great catalogs, so I don’t forget and can follow up later.

“We only take time to write orders there on the ones that we have to. Sometimes it’s not worth the 10 percent or free shipping to rush an order.”

When Jensen stops at a booth, he pulls out his standard list of questions.

“We have a set of criteria for all of the products in the store, so it’s always looking at the ingredients, sourcing, manufacturing process, price/value relationship, shipping terms (minimum orders, etc), show specials, key products in the line. We try and stay pretty focused in our discussions, so if it’s a new vendor that looks like it might be a good fit for the shops, we’ll spend more time getting to know the brand better. Coming back with a brand’s story adds so much more when we’re talking with our customers about the products in our shops.”

Paul Lewis with Birds Unlimited in Webster, NY, suggests making the most of the face-to-face time.

“Remember any issues you may have had in the previous year and make a point of discussing it then. I always get better answers or replacements at a show than over the phone.”

That said, Charlsye Lewis adds, “Don’t get stuck talking to individual vendors for too long. It is easy to get sucked into conversations about products you may never carry or would not be profitable.”

Angela Pantalone of Wag Central in Stratford, CT, recommends skipping certain booths altogether.

“Unless you’re a big box, there’s really no need for you to be looking at items that people can easily find on Amazon.”

And Connie Roller of The Feed Bag Pet Supply in Mequon, WI, says, “Toughen up and do not listen to a sales pitch on products you have no interest in. You will waste way too much time being polite. Sometimes you just have to walk away.”

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LEARN SOME NEW TRICKS

Attend Seminars

Michelle says, “There are many seminars that are beneficial to small business at trade shows. The enlightenment gained at a single seminar could make your entire trip worth the expense. Trade show organizers spend over a year in advance preparing to bring the best seminar speakers to cover a variety of subjects. Seminar subject matters can range from selling techniques and grooming demos to human resource education. Seminar classes, courses and schedules are set in stone, so choosing the seminars first and scheduling your meetings around the seminars is best practice.”

Tammy Vasquez of Bark Life Inc. in Seminole, FL, also values the educational opportunities.

“The display seminars are a personal favorite of mine, and I would highly suggest people take them.”

While a quick lunch works best when shopping a show, make new friends by planning for breakfast and dinner. Here, a group enjoys a night out at the PETS+ Wellness Summit.

BE SOCIAL

Make Breakfast & Dinner Plans

Attendees typically grab lunch whenever and wherever they can at the venue — or like Eric Mack of Pawmetto Pet Market in Spartanburg, SC, have UberEats deliver to save time and money. For breakfast and dinner, though, accept distributor and company invitations.

Larsen says, “We have breakfast with Debbie Dean, one of our amazing sales reps, and she brings several other people. Reps from the different companies come, and several put together freebies in a goodie bag, which is great for being able to see/feel the products.”

Dean, whose Debbie Dean Productions reps nearly 100 brands, adds, “This past SuperZoo we had 88 attendees. We bring printed deal sheets with us to the breakfast. We ask each of our vendors to possibly offer our breakfast attendees a little something extra if they go to their booth. With competition as it is at these shows, we want our vendors to get as much attention as possible.”

Larsen also enjoys meeting fellow indies at sponsored meals.

“We had dinner a couple years ago with Nutrisource and about four to six other stores. We have kept in touch with some, and we see them at most trade shows and always stop to visit, talk shop, bounce ideas off each other — ‘How’s delivery working for you? How’s self-wash doing? Do you sell this food, and how’s it going for you? Is DCM affecting you?’ It’s a great resource. It gives us another perspective, different ideas and opinions, and we can also do the same for others. KLN is wonderful at bringing people together and forging relationships between businesses. I love how this is important to them.”

Support & Thank Your Suppliers

Pattie Boden Zeller of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, VA, says, “It’s always been to my benefit to be able to put a name with a face. I feel that personal relationship helps a lot, for instance, when a retailer has a problem with a product and needs information or support, or free samples or full-size product to give away at events, or discounted ‘close to sell by date’ or damaged product that can be donated to rescue groups. When our dealers host an event, I feel it is only good manners to go to those events and thank them for their support. Yes, it’s their job to support the retailer, but mutual respect is never a bad thing.

“If you don’t intend to buy from regular suppliers at the show, at least go by and thank them for taking care of your business. Our suppliers give us so many freebies, it’s our responsibility to thank them.”

Go to Parties

Pantalone recommends, “Try to get invited to evening parties that bigger brands are throwing, not only for something to do, but for networking. Sometimes you have to stand in line, but use that as an opportunity to chat, swap Facebook and Instagram accounts, and get new ideas. Sometimes people we don’t even know well become our best supporters in business.”

On scoring invites: “It comes down to your personality — have one! Chat up team members at bigger labels. Start a conversation about an article you read that might relate to a toy or supplement. [Or] a quick Google of a product or person can give you the right prompt to strike up a conversation. Ask if you can continue the conversation later, and an invite may suddenly appear.”

RECOVER BEFORE HEADING HOME

Collapse in a Pool Chair

The Larsens never rush to leave the host city — or the host hotel, for that matter.

“We always take the day after as a pool day before flying home. We relax and turn off work.”

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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