Debra Stark first ventured to Natural Products Expo East in 1990, about a year after she opened Debra’s Natural Gourmet in Concord, Mass., and was immediately sold on the invaluable resources, lasting connections and fun experiences the trade show provided. “The group of us that drove to Boston for the show had the time of our lives,” Stark recalls. Twenty-three years later, her enthusiasm hasn’t waned.
The veteran retailer shares three tips for making the show a success.
Don’t be shy about making requests.
“Ask manufacturers for help with window art, demos, promotional opportunities and educational tools,” Stark says. And beyond product promotions, if you need help attaining a tough-to-get ingredient for your store, bakery or deli, manufacturers can sometimes come up big—you just have to ask.
“Some years ago, after I’d first read about coconut sugar, I asked Navitas Naturals, Essential Living Foods and any other company at the show that I hoped could help if they would import coconut sugar for us ASAP,” she says. “Today, we still buy it by the pallet for our kitchen and store from that same company.”
Go ahead, buy at the show.
“I’m all for placing orders at the show, even though this doesn’t seem to be the case for most stores these days,” Stark says. “This is in part because many manufacturers offer the same show specials to retailers who don’t attend and through distributors the following month.
Expand your posse.
Stark challenges attendees to invite a perfect stranger you meet at Expo to have dinner with your group, because a simple social interaction can create lasting relationships. “At a show many years ago, we invited a Frenchman we met on the floor to dine with us,” Stark says. “It wasn’t only great fun, but he also became a friend. He has visited our store and we still exchange letters and emails.”
Store size: 3,200 sq. ft.
SKUs:We’re at $5 million in sales, but still have no POS system (We’ve signed on the dotted line to get one installed at the end of summer, but until then, don’t know how many products we have on our shelves.)
Debra’s Natural Gourmet
98 Commonwealth Ave.
West Concord, MA 01742