When you hit the Natural Products Expo West show floor, you’ve got oceans of new products to discover, show deals to score, favorite vendors to visit and trends to spot. Tackling all this in just three days is a tall order, so you want to make sure that your time spent at each booth is informative, productive and valuable. “Some people try to wing it once they arrive, but it’s always smarter to make a plan in advance,” says Andrew Fleming, sales at Signature in Westmont, Illinois. “Expo West is the be-all and end-all of this industry, so you’ve got to maximize your time on the show floor.” Here, three show veterans tell you how to make the most of booth visits.
Think beyond the order. We used to carry business cards with our account numbers, but now many vendors don’t even know what those numbers mean. Now that the industry has opened up, there has been a shift, and many vendors will say, “Don’t worry about writing an order; we’ll come visit you anyway.” With that pressure relieved, you’re allowed more time to network, build personal relationships and explore vendors’ products beyond those you already know. Because the more you know the people behind these companies, the more you’ll want to buy from them.
Make time for current clients. It is critical that your current vendors know you are at the show. I think it is so important to stop by their booths to at least say hello and thank you. We always make a point to say thank you because we might see these companies’ reps often but rarely their owners. This is the perfect opportunity to tell them you love their brand and their salesperson and you are thankful for that great relationship.
Negotiate support. We want to hear a brand’s story—that’s what will win us. But we also ask about MSRP so we can have some idea. If it’s way out of our ballpark, I’ll tell them not to contact me. But if the price is a little bit out of our range, then we may ask about promos, live demos, passive demos, door prizes, buy-ins and other means of support. If it’s a great product but they offer no support, it’s likely a me-too. You don’t want to nickel-and-dime everyone, but you want to know what can be done to achieve you the best pricing possible for your customers.
—Cheryl Hughes, owner of The Whole Wheatery in Lancaster, California
Plan ahead and schedule appointments. If you wait until the week of Expo West to look over the agenda and decide which booths to see, you’ll end up missing a lot. View the agenda early. You can even go to expowest.com to try to schedule appointments with manufacturers ahead of time. Just go the exhibitor list, click on a vendor and an email box will pop up. This is an easy way to contact them directly to ask if they are taking appointments. New Hope has made so many tools like this available for retailers, and they can really enhance your show experience.
Find deals through brokers. Along with seeing new products, if you’re really focused on looking for deals at the show, rely on your brokers. Utilize these relationships and reach out ahead of time to learn about any deals they may be aware of. Many brokers on-site at Expo West will make appointments to walk the floor with key retailers, taking them to booths they should see, including those offering discounts. You can also find out about post-show deals through your brokers.
Grease the wheels on distribution. Many new vendors are trying to break into distribution—and they know they really need to because retailers keep coming by and saying, “I’d love to pick up your products. Can you make sure KeHE or UNFI brings you in?” As a past buyer, I’d find products I really wanted and then walk the floor with a UNFI rep to show them the items I’d like them to get in. The more demand for a product that your primary or secondary distributor hears from retailers at the show, the greater chance that they’ll pick it up.
—Mary Beth Catapano, retail account manager at New Hope Network in Boulder, Colorado
Know who you’re talking to; make sure they know you. As soon as you step into a booth, the first questions to ask are what is your role in the company and are you a decision maker? You don’t want to get far into a conversation and then find out this person can’t help you. Also, many retailers assume vendors know who they are when they often don’t. Bring a one-pager with your location, main store focuses and contact info, so you don’t have to waste 10 minutes explaining who you are. This comes in handy when the person at the booth is not a decision maker for your market. It’s a leave-behind they can share with the right person later.
Ask about ongoing supply. With the newer vendors especially, make sure they are capable of providing a consistent flow of products. If they are with a distributor, that’s a pretty good guarantee that you won’t have a problem. There is nothing wrong with direct vendors, but you don’t want to expose customers to a cool new item and then not be able to keep it on the shelf. This is a fair question to ask vendors, because if it’s an on-trend product such as the latest supplement that has gotten good press, access could become a problem.
Keep your customers top of mind. When seeking out new products, prices and discounts should not be the top search filter. Yes, every penny is important, but whether a vendor can give you
75 percent or 100 percent free fills shouldn’t be the deciding factor. If a company and product align with your store’s values and mission, that’s more important. Make decisions with your customers in mind first.
—Andrew Fleming, sales at Signature, an IMPACT Group Company in Westmont, Illinois