March 2, 2022
For Turnip Truck, a three-locations retailer in Nashville, TN, Natural Products Expo West serves as inspiration, guide and partner. In fact, the trade show’s importance to Turnip Truck extends back before the first store’s opening, more than 20 years ago: its founder spent his vacations visiting the show to help understand what even then was a sprawling natural foods industry.
Ever since Turnip Truck’s opening, entire teams from Turnip Truck habitually make the trip to Expos, both West and East.
“When I started seven years ago, my boss said, ‘You need to go to Expo. This way, you will understand the industry,’” said Turnip Truck Chief Operating Officer Kim Totzke. “It was the best crash course ever. There was no way for us to understand the size and magnitude of the natural foods industry without walking into Expo West.”
Months prior to an Expo, Turnip Truck team members begin getting ready for the show. They conduct category reviews throughout the store, searching for areas of weakness, for shelf space that needs revitalization with new products.
“That’s one way we make decisions prior to the show,” says Totzke. “We recently evaluated our ice cream and said, OK, now that everything is plant-based, we need to make sure we have some dairy on the shelves.” And so when Team Turnip Truck arrives at Expo West in Anaheim, that’s one of many product categories they will explore.
Despite the desire to up the store’s dairy ice cream game, another area of concentration will revolve around plant-based offerings. The category, Totzke says, keeps expanding and quality keeps getting better.
“Maybe,” she said, “there’s a new cashew cheese that we taste at Expo that we like even better than what we carry now.”
Engaging with Natural Products Expo Virtual
After COVID canceled the 2020 Expo West, and New Hope launched Natural Products Expo Virtual, Turnip Truck began touring the virtual trade show, which is ongoing throughout the year. At first, Totzke says, it was “really clunky.” But at the same time, COVID completely upended life at Turnip Truck. The team was awfully busy figuring out how to navigate retail during the pandemic. Natural Products Expo Virtual took a back seat.
But since then, Totzke has engaged with NPEV with more focus and attention, and is eager to continue exploring the virtual community whenever Expos are not taking place.
“In the new normal, I want to incorporate more NPEV,” she says. “Thanks to NPEV, we don’t need to go to Expo to feel that spirit that gives you extra zip, because you are learning about this awesome industry.”
Indeed, connecting with colleagues is one of Totzke’s most prized Expo experiences. The loss of three in-person Expos since COVID “hurt,” she says, because it prevented her ability to connect with peers and vendors that Turnip Truck worked with for years.
At the show
Before the show, the Turnip Truck team heading to Expo strategizes who will do what. For first timers—this year, Turnip Truck’s new human resources manager will attend her first Expo—it’s important to just soak-up the show to begin to understand the industry.
Turnip Truck is sending five people to Expo West this year. One person’s specialty is supplements, and the focus for this employee will be evaluating the many new products on display at the show, and connecting with vendors. Others will pursue different areas while at Expo.
They all attend conference programming that sounds educational and useful, when they aren’t networking on the show floor and evaluating samples. This year, the entire team is eager to attend Expo’s first J.E.D.I. Community Happy hour on Friday from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. PT. Among other things, Turnip Truck looks forward to encountering more diversity within the natural foods industry and the J.E.D.I. event serves as a showcase for diversity.
While Turnip Truck does walk away from the show with orders, the thrust of inventory planning hinges on samples and conversations. Buying “in the moment” in the middle of the show, Totzke says, is difficult.
Instead, during the show Totzke harvests all of the samples that she loves, and might appeal to Turnip Truck customers. When she returns to her hotel room, she organizes the sample haul, and takes meticulous notes about things to follow-up on. She does this every night, to avoid returning to Nashville with a suitcase full of samples but forgetting about conversations she had with vendors about the products.
When the team returns to Tennessee, the employees get together as a group, armed with samples, and talk about ones they feel strongly about.
As Expo West draws near, Totzke says she is excited about returning, after a two-year hiatus.
“It was easy during COVID to lose your vision, your North Star,” she says. Expo, she hopes, will help Turnip Truck understand that everybody “is on the same page.”
“We are making sure we are doing everything that we can to remain a company that is always forward thinking,” she says.
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