Enter the Anaheim Convention Center on March 8 without a battle plan, and chances are Natural Products Expo West—the world’s largest natural products trade show—will swallow you up, spit you out and leave you wondering what kind of whirlwind you just experienced. But armed with a little foresight, sound advice from long-time attendees and a comfortable pair of shoes, you’ll find Expo West a key opportunity to make connections, scope out new trends and products, and get business done. Here, five show veterans supply their secrets to Expo West success.
Vice president of retail operations for Wadsworth, Ohio–based Ritzman Natural Health Pharmacies
Be sure to visit Hall E. The Hot Products Pavilion at Expo West is full of surprises, with many entrepreneurial vendors that may have something to offer you. Plus, Hall E opens earlier than the main show floor and is easy to cover.
Try to make purchasing decisions at Expo whenever you can. Once you’re back home and busy, ideas can go by the wayside, and you might miss an important opportunity.
Take time out for New Hope education. You likely don’t have these learning opportunities at home, and the sessions offer a nice break from the show floor.
If you have time, check out Engredea, Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace, and other co-located and sister events. You never know where you’ll stumble upon a clever idea. Engredea focuses on the supply side of the industry, so you’ll see innovative ingredients that will soon debut in finished products. Get a sneak peek at new food introductions the day before the show floor opens by strolling the Fresh Ideas Organic Marketplace tent on Thursday afternoon outside the Marriott.
New Hope’s Retail Store Tour is well organized, and the selection of retailers is outstanding. You’ll get several ideas to use at your store.
Category management lead for St. Paul, Minn.–based National Cooperative Grocers Association
Book early, and pay extra to get a hotel close to the convention center. You’ll spend the entire day on your feet, so you won’t want to hike a mile to and from your hotel.
Use the pre-event planning tools New Hope offers via its mobile app to determine where to focus your show-floor time.
If you want attention and face time, make vendor appointments in advance. I start scheduling as early as Expo East the previous September and finish mid-February.
Take meetings with vendors off of the show floor, where the distractions and energy can be too great to maintain focus and keep an agenda.
Think of every moment as an opportunity to make new connections. Get up early, stay out late and talk to people on escalators, while standing in lines, at bars and restaurants, and in hotel lobbies.
Attend Expo West every year, rather than every few. No matter what your inaugural experience is like, commit to going the next three years.
Second-generation owner of Mustard Seed Market & Café in Akron, Ohio
The New Products Showcase is very helpful for finding new items, but there are many product jewels that don’t make it in, so don’t make it your only source.
If you can attend only one day, go Friday. It’s more crowded, but worth it, because there’s a sense of urgency to get business done.
Carry your own water and drink lots throughout the day. Also, sample coconut water and vegetable juices, which supply energy but won’t slow you down.
Forgo eating every sample offered to you—or risk the inevitable stomachache. Just because they’re free, doesn’t mean it’s good to eat lots of weird food combinations all day.
Be choosy about the samples you take home. Tossing 15 pounds of samples into your bag will weigh you down and hurt your shoulders.
Director of natural living for the Phoenix–based Sunflower Farmers Market chain
Plan your show-floor agenda in advance. I set appointments with the vendors I want or need to see usually on the first few days of Expo, and then reserve Sunday for hitting the floor aisle by aisle.
If there’s a specific person within a company you want to speak with, set an appointment. Higher-level folks are rarely available at booths for drop-ins.
If you have a sizeable staff, split up the floor geographically to make sure you cover everything. Then be sure to make time for comparing notes after the show.
The Live Music Party is a great time to kick back and have fun and a wonderful networking opportunity. (Read more about this year’s performer, Ziggy Marley.)
Specialty foods buyer for The Andersons, a gourmet foods and hardware chain in Maumee, Ohio
Set realistic Expo expectations. Don’t go in thinking you will find 10 great new products while at the show. If you discover two or three, and you learn things from the education seminars that you can implement in your store, consider Expo a success.
Cover the entire show and every last aisle—you never know what you will find. But remember: The show is large—very large. So definitely plan your time accordingly.
If you’re unsure about a product, take sell sheets to reference once you get home.
It takes a lifetime to learn this industry, so don’t expect to remember everything. A pen and notebook or camera phone can be useful tools for capturing information at the show.