Natural Products Expo
Natural Products Expo West tips

10 ways to wow independent retailers at Natural Products Expo

We asked retailers who walk the show floor for their best advice for exhibiting brands.

You invest lots of time, money and hard work to showcase your brand at Natural Products Expo West and Expo East, so you want to ensure your show is a smashing success. For many exhibitors, especially new brands, your most captive audience and best business partners are independent retailers. Like you, they are innovators and trendsetters, and they’re often well-suited and eager to help grow your brand. But to really grab independent retailer buyers’ attention and sell them on your products, you have to nail your presentation. Here are 10 tips for meeting their needs and blowing their minds.

Come ready to engage

For most retailers, first impression is everything. "The best way to make a great first impression is to make eye contact," says Thomas Barstow, natural foods director at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, Massachusetts. "You don’t even have to speak right away, but then your first few words are very important."

In recent years, several retailer attendees have noticed many disengaged vendors—a major turnoff. "I see too many sitting down, talking on cell phones or just being distracted," says Laura Sheehan, owner of Full Circle Market in Winchester, Kentucky. "Once I saw a guy at a booth playing his guitar, and at first I thought that’s a great way to pass the time. But then I realized I didn’t want to interrupt him. You have to be ready to engage. If you’re not standing up and actively looking for people to talk to, sometimes I won’t even walk up."

Be real

Quick hellos and intros are a must, but then cut the fluff. "We have thousands of people to meet so we don’t want to waste time with small talk," Barstow says. And while you should display enthusiasm, don’t go overboard or assume you know more than you do. "When a vendor says something like 'our product will be perfect for your store,' and I know with 99 percent certainty that they’ve never been, it comes across as inauthentic," Barstow adds.

Don’t be too pushy

Just as vendors can appear aloof, others are overly brash. "There’s such thing as being too approachable," Barstow says. "Occasionally, someone will be super pushy and follow us around the floor." Mike Asher, chief operating officer of Rollin’ Oats Market & Café in St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida, has a similar pet peeve: "I don't like when vendors hold court in the aisle, preventing people from walking through," he says. "I’ve denied brands based solely on these behaviors."

Recognize retailers

"I’ve often been told by people working booths—including owners and staff—that I could buy their products from a large chain store," says Michael Kanter, chief visionary officer at Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "They’re entirely missing the fact that I am a retailer.” This gaffe really frustrates Cheryl Hughes, owner of The Whole Wheatery in Lancaster, California. "Know who your audience is," she says. "If my badge says retail, I’m not a distributor or consumer—I’m there to buy wholesale and sell at retail."

Ensure all booth staff is knowledgeable

Some vendors place uninformed folks at their booths. Not acceptable—at any point during the show. "I don’t appreciate it if a decision-maker isn’t present," Barstow says. "Sometimes it’ll be a good-looking person who doesn’t know much about the product. I only want to speak with knowledgeable people." Hughes agrees: "It’s totally embarrassing when you ask questions and someone goes, 'I don’t know; I’m just sitting here'—that’s a waste of everyone’s time and money."

Explain how to access your brand

Beyond showcasing your products, be ready to tell retailers how to order them. "As an independent, one of first questions I ask is whether I’ll even have access to this product," Sheehan says. "Vendors must be prepared to give wholesale information and know whether my distributor can get the product or if I should buy direct." And if you don’t know, just be honest. "Tell me you’re still figuring that out or that you haven’t fully set up channels," Hughes says.

Offer show deals

"I expect a discount on opening orders for new items," Sheehan says. "I’ll pass that discount on to shoppers to introduce them to the product and then raise the price up to retail." Initial deals are almost always critical for Kanter as well. "They can include everything from 'free fill' to percentages off, usually at least 25 percent," he says. "Other attractive offers include 'guaranteed sale' or easy exchanges for slower sales of other products the company makes."

Don’t overlook independents

While it can be thrilling to make a deal with a large chain, don’t marginalize the little guy. "Some vendors are mainly at Expo to score big accounts like Kroger, Walmart or Safeway and not really prepared to present to small retailers," Sheehan says. "I don’t like it when I’m really interested in product, get no info on how I can order it, but then later see it sold at a big-box store."

Welcome your current partners

Sure, you want new accounts, but if you’re a returning exhibitor, make time for your current retailers partners. "We like to touch base quickly with folks we already do business with to discuss any outstanding issues or questions," Barstow says. "As a professional courtesy, I like to say hi and let vendors know how their business stands in our store and what is or isn’t selling. I also like to get sales tips and ranking reports."

Stay the duration

"It surprises me how many people stop doing business several hours early on the last day of the show," Sheehan says. "They’re breaking down booths or using fill-in people who don’t know their brand. I get frustrated because I’m paying good money to be here, and I expect that even 30 minutes before the show ends I can still do business."

Also keep in mind that some retailers can only attend the final day. "Always be ready for those who’ve just arrived," says Mary Beth Catapano, retail account manager at New Hope Network. "Unless you absolutely have to leave, make sure there is someone at your booth who is knowledgeable and passionate about your brand and ready for buyers who are coming only on the last day. Those final interactions could make the whole difference in your show’s success."

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