Jane Hoback

July 30, 2009

5 Min Read
Let's make a deal

They come. They see. They make deals. And for manufacturers and retailers at this year’s Natural Products Expo East, gloomy financial news just might open up the chance for some sunny breakthroughs.

“Even though the quantity of people might be lower [because of the economy], the quality will be higher,” says Susan Friedmann, a co-author of Secrets of Successful Exhibiting, who calls herself the Tradeshow Coach. Those who dedicate the time and expense of attending the show “are going to be serious buyers, people who are influencers, people who are not going to waste their time,” she says.

>The squeaky wheel gets the deal
Minna Schoelton, comanager and buyer at Cambridge, Mass.-based Cambridge Naturals, says she plans to focus on new products in three areas—fair trade, organic and locally manufactured. She’ll be on the lookout for “the best deal a company can give us. The more support [a manufacturer] can offer, the better,” Schoelton says. “We are in a position to pioneer and try something new because we are independent.”

Her advice to smaller, independent stores that might not get the discounts manufacturers offer larger stores: “Be bold and emphasize what your store does for the community.” Meanwhile, Cambridge Naturals’ co-owner and Chief Visionary Officer Michael Kanter says his store’s challenge “is to be the first to carry a product and also communicate effectively to the customer.” And, he says, “We need a good margin on a product so we can afford to train our staff.”

Kanter, who’s attended every Expo East since it began, recalls a show where a manufacturer was selling a new probiotic supplement. “The last thing I needed to add was another probiotic.” But the manufacturer explained that this one had a new delivery system. “I found myself ordering it. We got an initial deal on it. And they provide good support. “I’m also looking at it relationally— whether the company will give you consideration down the road,” he says.

“We offer additional discounts for people who place orders at Expo.”

And although new products may be the goal, “It’s easy to get over-excited about stuff. You see a new chip with chia seeds and you think, ‘Oh my God, how did I survive without chips with chia seeds?’”

Kanter’s advice: Be the proverbial squeaky wheel. “Ask for the best deal available. Ask for the best backup the company can give. Get guarantees in writing. Ask what kind of deal you can get going forward. I don’t want to be the one not getting the best deal if everybody else is getting it,” he says.

Finding face time
Debra Music, a founder of Theo Chocolate in Seattle, will travel across the country to get “face time” with far-away customers. “Because we’re in Seattle, Expo East is really important to us,” she says.

In the chocolate maker’s three years at the show, Music has shifted her goal from writing a large number of orders to meeting potential new customers. “Of course, it would be great to close a big deal with a large grocery chain, but you have to approach trade shows with an open mind.”

She says because the company’s minimums are so small, she doesn’t offer a lot of discounts to smaller independents or co-ops, “but depending on the store, I’ll do it on a case-by-case basis. That’s why being there is so important.”

Something old, something new
Susan Tarpinian, co-owner of Morning Glory Natural Foods in Brunswick, Maine, is another charter member of Expo East. She attended the first show and has been to every one since. She avoids the crush at the big companies’ booths altogether and focuses on two strategies. She’ll go to companies she already has deals with and talk to “the bottom-line guy” to see if she can get deeper deals. “I’ll say, ‘If I buy 50 cases, will you give me a better deal?’ The sales rep doesn’t have that ability. Or I’ll try to get better deals on things I don’t have a sales rep for.”

Next, she’ll scout out new products from smaller companies. “I want to find unusual things—body products, unusual food or even a new idea from little guys the mass markets would never carry.”

She does a lot of tasting and talking. “I come to buy, and I buy on the spot,” she says. “If I come away with three new things, I’m thrilled.”

Adding value, keeping prices low
Albuquerque, N.M.-based Vitality Works, which manufactures private- label herbal products, will exhibit at Expo East this year, touting its added value, says owner Mitch Coven. The company has an NSF Good Manufacturing Practices Registration; plus it’s gained organic and kosher certification “all in the past year, and we haven’t raised prices,” Coven says. Vitality Works also will showcase new products.

“We always offer incentives at the show,” Coven says. “We offer additional discounts for people who place orders at Expo or a couple weeks after.”

Because of the economy, Coven speculates that some of Vitality Works’ competitors may not attend this year, giving the company an added opportunity to generate new business. But making deals isn’t at the top of his list.

“Do I walk away from shows with a binder full of $50,000 in deals? No. I go to meet with key accounts, deepen relationships, launch new products. And when things are slow, I walk the floor.”

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