Natural Foods Merchandiser

Squeeze the best out of Expo with these tips

It's no surprise that Natural Products Expo West takes place across the street from Disneyland. Both are fantastical and awe-inspiring—and so packed with people, events and sights that they can be intimidating. If you're an Expo newbie or just don't want to Mickey Mouse around this year, check out these tips from veteran retailers who have learned the best ways to navigate the Wonderful World of Expo.

Bryan Aldridge
Grocery department manager
New Frontiers Natural Marketplace
Flagstaff, Ariz.

What works best for you? Don't talk to people who have products you're not interested in. You have to be protective of your time and picky about whom you spend it with.

What doesn't work? Driving in Anaheim. I once spent three hours in traffic trying to get to the convention center. Rather than driving and parking, it's almost worth taking a cab. Before the show, I map out the directions from the hotel to the convention center, or to any restaurants I'm going to. If you don't know the area, you can waste time just being lost.

How do you decide which seminars to attend? I usually do one in the morning and one in the afternoon instead of scheduling them back-to-back. Otherwise I find I'm overtasking, and if you're burned out, the show is no fun.

How do you tackle the show floor? On the first day I just wander around, then on the second day I try to hit everything I didn't get to the day before. Before the show, I write down customer questions I have for manufacturers—it's a good chance to get information you can't get from sales reps.

What's the best time to hit the show floor? Friday, early, because it's the least crowded so you can actually talk to people. If you want to walk by the booths without people grabbing you, go on Saturdays, which are so busy. Sunday is the worst because people are so hungover they give away the entire booth.

Rod Smith
The Green PolkaDot Box
Highland, Utah

What works best for you? Going there without a plan can be very frustrating. Before I go, I identify all my must-see vendors and where their booths are located. Then I start at one end of the floor and work my way to those vendors. I definitely want to walk every aisle because I find a lot of great discoveries, but I make sure I hit my preferred target list first and then make mental notes of whom I want to go back and see.

What doesn't work? It's very hard to set up appointments in advance because something always comes up.

How do you tackle the show floor? Travel light so you can move fast. I only carry business cards—a clipboard or a notebook is too cumbersome, plus it prevents me from having a meaningful conversation if I'm busy taking notes. I collect business cards and make a few notes on those, but I never pick up samples or other information. You can get those after the show very easily.

How do you decide which seminars to attend? Generally, I've found that seminars are fine if you're just going to Expo to get a general overview of the trends. I'm too busy working to go to the seminars, so I get a syllabus or other info about them after the show.

How do you bargain for deals? If you've got to meet with 50, 60, 100 vendors, making deals is too time-consuming. I think the show's the time to make introductions, and then I follow up on deals later.

How do you follow up after the show? We have software we use that builds account portfolios for each vendor, so we enter new information into that.

Tom Lombardo
Dairy/frozen/bulk category manager
Sprouts Farmers Market

What works best for you? We book a conference room at the convention center, and I spend about 90 percent of my time at the show inside that room holding half-hour meetings with manufacturers/brokers/distributors. I schedule all of those meeting months in advance and use the meeting to recap the previous year and finalize any planning for the current year.

How do you tackle the show floor? My main objective is to introduce myself to vendors whom I currently am not in contact with. The show floor is very busy and crowded, so it is hard to have someone's complete attention, so I try a lot of the items being sampled, introduce myself to a lot of the different vendors, collect business cards and walk the floor aisle by aisle.

Vicky Uhland is a Lafayette, Colo.-based freelance writer and editor.

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