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Why Consumer Shows Matter


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Setting up a booth at consumer trade shows allows retailers to stoke the fires of future sales.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a couple of consumer pet shows. One was the Aquatic Experience in a Chicago suburb, which I attended on behalf of World Pet Association (WPA), the show’s organizer. I don’t sell aquatics in my store, but it was a really neat event to attend. The other was the Great Indy Pet Expo, which was held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. I was set up at that show to showcase our store and my pet nutrition counseling. 

Both of the shows were an absolute blast. They featured entertainers, contests, speakers, manufacturers and national TV celebrities. There were even local veterinarians that fielded consumers’ questions in a no-pressure environment. I had never thought about the need for a fish veterinarian, but I met a few in Chicago. People love their pets. 

The only thing really missing at the shows was you. I cannot believe the lack of participation from micro independent pet stores. The big-box stores were there, the multistore “independent” conglomerates were there, internet retailers were there and the “touring” vendors (those that hop from show to show to show selling whatever) were there. Touring vendors typically have closeouts or returns they blow out at these shows and others like it. I’ve seen these guys show up at craft fairs, flea markets and pretty much any event that’s going to have a decent door count.

Why weren’t you there? I’ve heard all the excuses—I’ll never make enough money to pay for the booth and related labor; it takes too much of my time; I can’t compete against (fill in the blank). I understand those sentiments. Chances are you aren’t going to make enough sales to justify the expenses related to being at a show, but you need to look beyond the money to overall brand awareness. 

Both of the shows had a door charge, which really helps me decide if I am going to participate. When a show charges an admittance fee, it eliminates people who are just looking for an activity to kill some time or those just looking for freebies. When a consumer pays a door fee, it makes them invested in the show. Nobody likes wasting money, so those consumers are looking to get the full value of their door charge and are really going to spend some time at the show and take in everything that is being offered. That gives me committed pet owners from my local area, but it’s only one part of the equation. 

You need to spend some time exploring the vendor list and figure out how you are going to fit in. I knew at Great Indy Pet Expo, for example, there was going to be some retailers offering specials and deals on things such as collars, leashes, crates and really pretty much any hard good you can think of, which meant I was not going to try to sell those things—I simply cannot compete. What I can do is sell items they don’t have and, in the process, have some great interactions. That’s where micro independents win—conversations. I take a lot of supplements to the show, as well as treats and products that pet owners aren’t going to find at most stores. When a consumer stops by my booth, I’m going to talk to them about why they should be adding a probiotic to their kibble diet—regardless of what they’re feeding. Probiotics are typically an easy sell, and consumers will see a benefit from adding them.

I will have them check out some treats from a great small manufacturer. I also bring out my small bone freezer. None of the touring vendors are going to have frozen items because it’s too hard logistically, but it’s easy for me because I am local. I actually source my bones from a local butcher so they are different than what you might find at a local pet store. That opens up a channel for conversations about sourcing and the advantages in feeding fresh and local. 

However, simply standing in your booth with unique products will not necessarily make your participation in a consumer tradeshow a success. The old saying of “you get out what you put in” certainly applies. I do several presentations on “how to read a pet food label,” and I moderate several events. Being the MC for “ask a dog trainer” isn’t going to directly put dollars in my pocket, but it puts me in front of an audience so people hear who I am, what I do and about my store. 

The show promoters typically love to have stores volunteer for these events. It takes some responsibility off of them, and it gives consumers a little bit more value. For instance, when I host the Furminator Shedding Contest, I’m able to work with the manufacturer and my distributors to get show specials and giveaway items. If a consumer wins an event we sponsor, they get a nice basket loaded with treats and other products I am usually able to get donated to us from manufacturers. It’s a win-win for everybody involved. 

These conversations and the awareness your store gets at local consumer shows sets you up to be the local pet expert in your area. I’ve actually gotten several local TV news spots because I was seen at an event and the TV station wanted to do something fun for its audience, so why not have “the pet food guy” on with one of his dogs? 

It’s a lot of fun to do these consumer events and it’s always nice to get some regional exposure. But when you get a phone call a week or a month after you’ve done a show and the caller starts up the conversation with, “I saw you at Great Indy Pet Expo and I’m really struggling with my pet’s diet. Would you have some time to talk with me?,” that one phone call, can lead to a lifelong customer who is tied to you beyond the convenience of where your store is located. And because of the exposure, they are now “looking beyond the bag.” 


B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf. 

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