The Pet Connections Expo: An Inside Look
Brands did good business at the Pet Connections Expo.
Does the pet industry really need a new trade show? This was my question as I jumped on a plane to “sniff out” the all-new Pet Connections Expo outside Philadelphia and cover it for my Bennie & the Pets Podcast.
Since the finale of the venerable H.H. Backer Chicago show—most recently known as Total Pet Expo—in 2014, we have been a two-show industry, dominated by Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo. The last major show in the Northeast was also produced by H.H. Backer and was held in Atlantic City. But the emergence of distributor trade shows, Atlantic City’s economic woes, and an inconvenient location with limited commercial air service contributed to the demise of this legacy show in 2012.
Could the Pet Connections Expo be a viable new Northeastern show? International Conference Development (ICD) is banking on just that. ICD founder Bill Doherty and event manager Lisa Mercurio met with me at the event and shared their strategic vision for this new show.
“We want to be more of a regional show, for smaller retailers that don’t have the opportunity or the money to go to SuperZoo or Global Pet, but who still want a place to go and network,” Doherty said. “We spoke to about 200 individuals before we started putting the program together.”
Doherty, Mercurio and show manager Brian Duckett were forthcoming, personable, and very responsive to their exhibitors and attendees. They seemed to be enjoying their first foray into the industry.
The complete audio interview is available at bennieandthepets.podbean.com.
How was the Pet Connections Expo different from Global and SuperZoo? It was much smaller, of course. This just makes everything easier. Parking is free right in front of the show hall. Exhibitors were very happy about the simplicity and savings of loading in and out without union restrictions. Beyond that, the entire vibe was more relaxed and friendly. There was none of the frustration seen at the big shows when attendees are waiting three deep to talk to an exhibitor. It wasn’t quiet, but the buzz was mellow compared to the cacophony of a peak day at Global or SuperZoo.
My other favorite thing about the Pet Connections Expo was the way that ICD scheduled and placed the show’s educational events. The main events were held directly adjacent to the exhibit area. This allowed both attendees and exhibitors to participate. The Campfire sessions were also a welcome innovation. These were educational sessions held right in the middle of the show floor. Flanked by fake “campfire” lights, presenters provided valuable advice about public relations, social media, personnel and finances. All educational programs were free to attendees who preregistered.
Brands did good business at the Pet Connections Expo. Several exhibitors said that the Pet Connections show was a pleasant surprise, and that they did more business than they would have anticipated at a new and smaller regional show. This can be attributed to the ability to spend quality time with customers, and to the fact that those walking the aisles were legit buyers—mostly store owners and managers. Of course, if the show builds momentum, it will get bigger; but I hope it stays true to the spirit seen at the inaugural event.
My verdict? The Pet Connections Expo gets an enthusiastic thumbs up for bringing a show back to the Northeast and for embracing smallness in our “bigger is better” world. For newer brands and small to mid-sized manufacturers, it’s a good investment because you will be noticed instead of being lost among the behemoth brands. For buyers, it’s a show that will give you a chance to discover new products, talk to company owners and reps in a relaxed atmosphere, and gain valuable business intelligence.
Anthony Bennie is the founder and chief nutrition officer of Clear Conscience Pet in Cape Coral, Fla. He is a 25-year industry veteran and received the Pet Industry Icon Award in 2015. He welcomes your feedback: Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.