Connect with us

Ready. Set. Shop! Buy Better at Global and Other 2023 Trade Shows

Follow this advice from industry experts and retailers alike to make the most of your time at Global Pet Expo — or whenever buying for your store.




NEARLY 1,000 EXHIBITORS will set up shop for Global Pet Expo, happening March 22-24 at the Orlando Convention Center in Orlando, FL. Even if you were to spend every show hour walking the floor, it would be physically — and let’s face it, mentally — impossible to visit every single booth.

You need to arrive with a plan, and one that includes assessments of the brands and products you already carry: how they are performing, whether a company acts as a true partner to you, and if there are opportunities to increase revenue within a category or class by increasing inventory, through companies you currently do business with, new brands you discover at the show, or both.

Here you will find helpful advice from industry experts and retailers alike on how to create such a strategy, plus your fellow indies share which brands bring them both impressive sales and ongoing support. Not going to Global? You’ll still find much to use here because buying also happens year-round and outside of the major trade and distributor shows.

Now let’s get ready to shop!


Build an Open-to-Buy Plan

This purchasing strategy for future inventory will be the most important part of your Global plan, as it uses data to determine what should be on your shopping list.

“Your gut is great, but real numbers will take your retail to a whole new level,” business coach Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation says. “Instead of strolling the show floor, impulse-buying everything your heart desires, get really clear on what you’re actually open to buy.”

You do this by understanding your store’s stock-to-sales ratio, she explains. Pull from your POS system the percentage of inventory you currently have in each product category. Then pull the percentage of overall sales for the past 12 months in each of those product categories.

For example, if dog food makes up 35% of your current inventory, but comes in at 45% of overall sales, D’Agnolo says you should be ordering more to get those percentages to match up and meet the category’s full potential. And if dog treats make up 30% of your current inventory, but come in at 20% of overall sales, she recommends running a sale to align those percentages and free up cash to invest in other categories at the show.

You can also get a helpful spreadsheet template to use at

D’Agnolo shares another way that knowing your numbers can help you find more shopping money: Determine how much stock you actually have. Simply divide the total inventory in each product category by the monthly average sales of that category.

“You might see that in some categories you have three years worth of stock. That’s way too much,” she says. “It’s time to run a clearance sale and get that extra cash to invest.”

Complete Vendor Scorecards

Now that you’ve built an open-to-buy plan, it’s time to evaluate your current vendors before meeting with them at Global. Inventory management consultant Wendi Tanner of Insight Merchant Strategies and MangementONE recommends using your POS system to create a scorecard for each.

“It’s an excellent tool that uses data to gain insight into the performance of each vendor and to learn which are your best partners and which bring your margins down,” she says.

These scorecards for manufacturers also will allow you to be more efficient during booth visits.

“Vendors want you to buy everything they offer. With this information, you’re armed with data to show them where you want to focus your dollars. Data are very powerful and undeniable,” Tanner adds.

She recommends including on each scorecard:

    • 2022 Cost Purchases — Essentially, how much you spent with the manufacturer, both overall and by category if applicable.
    • 2022 Net Revenue — Subtract discounts, taxes and returns to determine this number by vendor.
    • 2022 Gross Margin — Again, determine overall and by category if applicable. Tanner says, “This tells you how much money you are actually making. You may generate a lot of sales and purchase a huge amount, but if you’re not making enough in your margins, you’re just trading dollars and not covering your overhead.”
    • 2022 Comparison to Total Business, Category and Class — With this information, you can set yourself up for a conversation like this, she roleplays, “You were my seventh largest vendor in terms of total sales in 2022, but you were the second largest vendor in freeze-dried/dehydrated food, and your margin was also above the class average. I need to concentrate on buying more in this class from you!” Or convey the opposite when a company pushes a reorder of product that doesn’t sell well at your store.
    • Recent Issues — Here you should note any challenges you’ve faced selling the manufacturer’s products. Think: out-of-stocks, billing discrepancies, technical problems with ordering, MAP or IMAP inconsistencies with competitors, and any communication you feel has fallen short.
    • 2023 Opportunities — How will the vendor help you increase profits when selling its products? What will it offer in terms of margin-building, customer loyalty programs, employee and customer education, marketing materials and event support? What are the show specials?

Once you’ve scored the manufacturers, using a point system based on how you value each of these criterion, decide approximately how much you plan to spend with each at the show.

Tanner says, “This will depend on the vendor’s performance in 2022, how much new product they are showing, your history together — many factors influence this. How supportive the vendor is when discussing their performance will give you an indication of how much they are interested in growing your business and helping you become more profitable,” she says, adding, “Hopefully, sharing the scorecard will get them thinking about what they can do to help you grow. It brings out the competitor in them — they want to be a better vendor for you!”


Create a Vendor Questionnaire

To provide this shopping advice, we turned to the PETS+ Brain Squad, our group of 1,200-plus readers from independent pet businesses across the U.S. and Canada. We asked them in a recent Brain Squad survey: “How do you decide whether to bring in a new product? Are there set questions you ask the manufacturer and yourself?”

If you don’t already have a questionnaire to use when evaluating new brands and products, consider what your peers ask to create one for your store. Even if you do already have such a questionnaire, this insight may be helpful when updating it for Global and other shows in the future.

Where are your products made? Where are your ingredients sourced?
Diana Farrar of Fifi & Fidos Pet Boutique in San Antonio, TX, doesn’t just go by ingredient or material lists when choosing products. “Food, in particular, gets a total grilling. We want to know all about the manufacturing facility, what safety certifications it has, etc., the sourcing of all ingredients, who formulates the food and their qualifications.”

How do you support retailers?
During meetings with vendors, Taylor Gonzalez of Three Tails Parlor and Pantry in Columbia, IL, says, “I really try to get a feel for the support they will provide. You can definitely tell the brands I have support from due to their sales growth in my store.”

Alison Schwartz of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, NC, recommends being open to different kinds of support. “Support can mean anything from marketing dollars to reps who provide training.”

Ensure getting samples won’t be an issue. “I prefer to get samples of products before I bring them in,” Julie Johannes of Happy Hounds Pet Supply in Bigfork, MT, says. “A rep who will leave something for me to try out makes me feel more confident in the product and that they are confident in it as well.”

Paul Lewis of The Green K9 in Eustis, FL, agrees and takes it a step further. “We will not take on a new food line without samples, and a free fill of their most popular proteins. I want to see if I can sell it first, and if the customers I give it to like it.” Negotiate this at the show along with any show or initial stocking order specials.

“Is there a frequent buyer plan?,” Theresa Sexton of For Healthy Pets in Wetumpka, AL, asks brands.

Lastly within this question, find out who your rep would be if you brought their brand in and how they manage communication. The answer could sway you one way or the other, as Shari Wilkins of Lake Dog and Their People in Eufaula, OK, points out. “Customer service is king. I will pay a little extra to have a rep I can reach in a reasonable time and who can assist with any concerns or questions.”

Do you guarantee your products?
Julie Sterling of Julz Animal Houz in Marysville, WA, wants to know, “Will the vendor guarantee this product line so there is no risk to me if it flops or if items are returned?”

And what would that look like, Paige Elder of Buzz n’ B’s Aquarium and Pet Shop in Erie, PA, asks. “What kind of hoops do I have to jump through for unhappy customers?”

What are your company’s sustainability efforts?
Pat and Amy Schiek of Lucky Dogs Canine Services in Skaneateles, NY, consider the impact a brand has when buying at shows. Pat says, “Made in the USA is something our customers look for. If the product has an environmentally responsible aspect to it, that is important, as well as if the manufacturer has a tie to a specific cause or charitable organization where a portion of the proceeds goes to the organization in need.”

Do you offer exclusivity? Or will your products also be available in every store surrounding mine?
Margo Tortorelis of My Natural Pet in Brooklyn, NY, wants to know, “Is this item saturated in my area? Available in every other pet store around us? If yes, this is usually a deal breaker for me. I’m not sure why reps think this is a selling point.”

Are your products available in big-box stores and/or on online retailers?
Michelle Thomas of Rolling Meadow Natural Pet Market in Essex Junction, VT, uses this answer to decide between similar brands, “I prioritize companies that support independent retailers.”

While Nicole Cammack asks this question to help find the right product balance at NorthPoint Pets in Cheshire, CT. “We like to have a healthy mix of quality things that can be found online and in big box because it creates a feeling of familiarity for the customers, and a good mix of things that can’t easily be found elsewhere.”

Do you have and enforce MAP and IMAP policies?
This question often follows the one above because as Jennifer Silverberg of Fetch Pet Supplies & Gifts in Springfield, MO, says, “I hate bringing in products and then finding them online for my wholesale pricing!”

Do you sell directly to consumers?
“I especially like to confirm that we will not be in direct competition with the manufacturer,” Shane Somerville of Paddywack in Mill Creek, WA, says. “If they are selling at a price directly to consumers that would either cause me to be overpriced or have to take a bad margin, it’s an automatic no.”

Beth Staley of Happy Dog Barkery in Downers Grove, IL, also asks, “Do you send coupons and offer free shipping that bring a product’s price below what I can sell it for?”

Are your products available through distributors? Do you sell directly to retailers?
While many prefer the efficiency and ease that comes with using distributors, Brianna Swanberg of Mutts + Meows Natural Pet Market in Mt. Juliet, TN, points out, “Ordering direct isn’t necessarily a hindrance, but the ordering process needs to be easy with a reasonable minimum.”

What is the availability of your products? Do you often have out-of-stocks?
These past few years have taught Erika Siegel of My Best Friends Barkery in Banner Elk, NC, to ask this question. “The ability to keep a product in stock is important. Sometimes we get rid of products because they’re difficult to get from the supplier.”

And Nicole Olesen of Woofs & Waves in Sioux Falls, SD, adds, “How long is the typical shipping time?”

Are there any changes expected with your product in 2023?
“We ask about any planned price increases and/or bag size changes,” Zachary Dewitt of Skilos, A Family Pet Store, in Milwaukee, WI, says.

What are your shipping policies?
Consultant Tanner advises, “Make sure you get cancellation dates in writing from vendors for all orders you leave at Global, especially seasonal items. Make sure the invoice has a start ship date and a cancellation date on it. If not, ask for it so you know when you are able to cancel the order if it doesn’t ship. Also ask for an expected ship window so you know when to plan for it.”

On the flip side of your vendor questionnaire, include these questions retailers say they ask themselves. Do so while in the booth if submitting orders at the show. Or save them until back at your store if on the fence about a brand or product.

Do I really need it for my store?
To decide this, Joanna Shaw of All Pet & Equine Supply in Mountain Home, AR, asks herself a series of questions: “Does it fill a gap in product selection or offer something new or different? Is there a quality difference? For example, I carry multiple brands of bully sticks, but they each offer something different or are of different quality, etc.”

Claudia Loomis of Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies in Phillipsburg, NJ, adds, “Is this product going to compete with other like products or complement and round out our product offerings in a category?”

Paige Elder of Buzz n’ B’s Aquarium and Pet Shop in Erie, PA, considers, “Does this solve a problem we come across frequently? Who is my target audience for this?”

Will my customers pay what I will need to charge for this product?
McKenna Burzimati of Roxies Barkery in North Adams, MA, explains why she asks this, “I live in a pretty rural area/small town. I try to avoid carrying items priced too high due to where I live. I try to carry a variety of price ranges, some on the higher end but the majority affordable.”

Are there any packaging issues that will make it challenging to sell?
“Is it attractive and easy to display? Does the item speak for itself?” are the questions Wendy Megyese of Muttigans in Emerald Isle, NC, poses when evaluating products because as Brianna Swanberg of Mutts + Meows points out, “It could be the best product in the world, but if it’s crappy packaging, you’ve just made it 10 times harder to sell.” And Jeffrey Jensen of Four Muddy Paws in St. Louis, MO, tries to picture the product in his store, “Where will it go on the floor? How will we merchandise it?” If he can’t, it may not be a good fit.

Are my customers asking for it?
Cynthia McKinney of Loyl’s Natural Pet Grocery & Groomery in Houston, TX, says, “We take note of customer requests to see if the request is a single occurrence or if it’s being requested frequently.”

Will the brand value my small business?
Pam Sine of Pet Silhouette in Hobe Sound, FL, shares one sure-fire predictor of this: “Did the salesperson in the booth blow me off? Or were they willing to engage in conversation. This is a big turnoff or turnon.”


Seek Out New Brands & Products

Global Pet Expo, presented by the American Pet Products Association and the Pet Industry Distributors Association, makes finding new brands as easy as visiting the “What’s New” section of the show floor. There you will find nearly 100 vendors that have never exhibited at Global. And be sure to visit the adjacent New Product Showcase. You will also find dozens or new products to track down right in this issue! Go here for our jam-packed Mar-Apr New & Notable section.

And be sure to catch our live coverage of Global! The PETS+ team will share video interviews and photos of new — and new to you — products from the show floor all three days. Follow us at and sign up for our ebulletin, which will include daily recaps, at

Listen to Your Peers

Here at PETS+, we also excel at giving indie pet retailers a space to share with each other the products that sell well for them — whether in our Hot Sellers column, in this issue on page 16, or in our PETS+ Facebook Community at We’ve also gathered for you here some recent recommendations from the PETS+ Brain Squad.

  • “We just received a client appreciation box from FLUFF & TUFF. They are our only vendor who does this, and it really shows how much they care about their clients and sets them apart.” — Natalie Bosch, Albany, OR
  • “We aligned with GRANDMA MAE’S COUNTRY NATURALS 10 years ago as an alternative brand that is truthful and not footballed around big box. The product line has been most productive for us, with margins not found in the food end of our industry. They have supported us through samples with bounce-back coupons as well as with a marketing allowance, and it has grown to be our No. 1 brand.” — Doug Staley, New City, NY
  • NATURVET has always reached out for out-of-code product. They issue a credit or replace products quickly.” — Brett Foreman, Owego, NY
  • “Last year, I brought in DR. MARTY’s and SIDE BY SIDE foods. Both have done very well. Both brands offered samples, which is a huge help. I’ve also had product reps stop in and be available for phone consults. Online staff training is also a benefit.” — Beth Kidd, Irwin, PA
  • FIRST MATE and KASIKS. Meg Langston, my rep, has worked consistently and diligently to raise brand awareness, support retailers, and to provide a superior alternative to brands that have lost momentum.” — Pamela Modica, Lexington, SC

  • PRIMAL is still the best at retailer support. Great deals every month, free product vouchers, pamphlets for raw-curious customers or first-time frozen feeders. My reps make sure my team gets free product to try so they can sell it. I wish more companies realized that our team is the reason for a brand’s success in an indie store. If they use the product, they are much more likely to recommend it. Plus, giving the customers free goods or discounts is a win-win for everyone.” — Victoria Park, Atlanta, GA
  • “I was really impressed with the support from NORTHWEST NATURALS. When I reached out after a PETS+ Sample Box, they were so quick to get me info and training for my staff. Plus, I submitted my ISO and they had me listed on their store locator within a couple of hours. — Joanna Shaw, Mountain Home, AR
  • MOUNTAIN DOG PRODUCTS are earth-friendly, come with a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty, and the customer service is amazing! The one time there was an order delay, they stayed in close communication so I was able to manage customer expectations. The product is successful due to the company’s values and the product’s sustainability, quality and comfort. — Diane Mullen, Wolfeboro, NH
  • NATURA PETZ ORGANICS is my life-changing supplement company. Founder Heidi Nevala is a master herbalist who is my lifeline! She will make me anything and is always there to answer my questions, talk to my customers and support us in any possible way.” — Samantha Youngblood, Wilkinson, IN
  • 2 HOUNDS DESIGN has been great to work with for harnesses! In addition to having them in stock, we have an affiliate link so people can order the color/pattern they prefer, and we still get a bit of a boost!” — Kim Sykes, Broken Arrow, OK
  • PET RELEAF CBD is one of our best-selling holistic products. The company is very supportive with collateral and training. In one SKU alone, since we have carried it (five years), it has generated over $52K!” — April Meier, Crestview, FL
  • STELLA & CHEWY’S has been an outstanding partner and as a result, our sales are up. They worked with us on our Christmas Dinner Box, which resulted in a lot of customer enthusiasm as well capturing new S&C clients. The reps have been extremely supportive and excited to help us grow our business.” — Jennifer Thomas, Lawrence, KS
  • PETCUREAN Go! is taking off. They have given me samples. Offered discounts. Free bags. Signage. Social media support. Training.” — Cindy Samartino, Leesburg, VA
  • CHILLY DOG continues to be a huge seller for me. Super-fast shipping. If I call before 3 p.m., I generally get items the next day.” — Susan Nagel-Rees, Chester, NJ
  • A PUP ABOVE is a success story. Offering employee feeding keeps the product at the forefront of their minds, and staff now have experience with how it works, looks, smells.” — Stephanie Wright, Bend, OR
  • STEVE’S REAL FOOD is amazing. Our rep helps us with any little issue we have. The price point is perfect for every shopper who wants to incorporate raw, and the rewards program is fantastic because it includes bulk boxes.” — Julie Johannes, Bigfork, MT
  • “Any time I let WEST PAW know about upcoming events, they always go above and beyond with products (like for our Stuff Your Toppl night) or giveaways (our VIP bags).” — Elaina Stanley, Fernley, NV
  • “I love working with my CANIDAE rep, Jeremy. He’s very eager to help with promotion. If any product doesn’t move quickly, he’s always willing to credit us so we can replace it with something else.” — Tammi Bui, Missouri City, TX
  • Nulo Silky Mousse pouches for cats fly off the shelves because the texture is between pate and shreds, and cats LOVE it. We’ll suggest for customers with finicky cats and almost without fail, they’ll be back grabbing cases of the stuff.” — Diana Ferrar, San Antonio, TX
  • CANOPHERA has done a really great job explaining their product. The end cap itself is loaded with information that helps sell it.” — Steve Vorpagel, Petoskey, MI
  • NATURAL FARM. Excellent products that arrive promptly, so nice and easy to work with.” — Laurie McClearen, Blue Ridge, GA
  • “One of my favorites is BARK BISTRO! They make a point to interact with retailers on social media, share posts, and their customer service is amazing! I’ve also never had an issue, but if I ever do, I have no doubt the issue will be resolved quickly.” — McKenna Burzimati, North Adams, MA



Sponsored by Cogent Solutions Group

Reduce Your Pet’s Hip & Joint Discomfort with the Most Researched Hyaluronan on the Market

Nearly 60% of dogs and 90% of cats suffer from joint discomfort. Trixsyn joint supplement contains a patented and proven hyaluronic acid molecule for maximum efficacy to promote joint, bone, soft tissue, and cartilage health, keeping your pet feeling comfortable, for longer. Trixsyn is veterinarian recommended, safe and all-natural, and contains research-proven ingredients. Get your paws on the most-researched hyaluronic acid on the market. Learn more at

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular