Michael Kanter, co-owner of Cambridge Naturals store in Cambridge, Mass.
Be careful of getting excessively excited about new products. Go back to your hotel room and think about how such things fit into your store's mix. Ask others you know or meet at the show their thoughts on new products and why they like them. Also, the educational seminars can be of extraordinary value. These seminars include ideas for how to choose new products, marketing hints that are especially valuable in the digital age, ways to compete in a challenging economy and best practices for employee relations.
Cheryl Hughes, certified nutritionist and owner of the Whole Wheatery store in Lancaster, Calif.
Shop the new-products arena for what is new and what is hot. Take pictures to remind you later of what you were interested in. Ask your vendors how they can best partner with you to grow their business along with yours. Find out what creative means they have to promote their products.
Jay Jacobowitz, president and founder of Retail Insights, a consulting firm in Brattleboro, Vt.
One key opportunity stores often miss is co-op advertising. Vendor co-op advertising budgets are usually 5 percent, so if you purchase $10,000 wholesale of a particular vendor's products in a year, that means that the vendor has budgeted $500 specifically for your store. If you don't ask for it, they'll spend that money elsewhere. One of the best ways to attract co-op ad dollars is to have a promotional plan. It can include events, such as educational seminars, product demonstrations or simply sales promotions. If you can tell your vendors that you have a promotional program—even name it—it's much easier for them to justify giving you the full co-op ad support.
Debra Stark, owner of Debra's Natural Gourmet store in Concord, Mass.
If you're concerned about standards in the industry, ask about sweeteners, why [a company is] using "wheat flour" (aka "white flour"), how the chocolate is grown and processed, as well as where ingredients are sourced from. Also ask about packaging—whether all that extra packaging is really necessary. Place orders at the show so that companies that exhibit feel that it was worth their coming.
Joel Patterson, owner of Nature's Green Grocer Market & Café in Peterborough, N.H.
First of all, come for the education. It's equally as beneficial as the show floor. As far as the show floor goes, don't just come to sample and check out the new products. Come with the intent to network with the vendors, most of all, and fellow natural products merchants. The key to success in any business is being able to build a strong network of relationships with the people around you.
Rafael Mael, marketing strategist for Brand Launcher, a marketing firm in Baltimore
A key ingredient is networking with your peers. Don't reinvent the wheel. Ask the "working" questions a lot: "What's working for you?" "What's not working for you?" Really listen to the answers. Learn from the mistakes and successes of others, and find out what others are doing across the country. There's so much innovation out there—tools, display, merchandising, marketing events—so go home with at least
a couple new ideas.