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Regional Crossroads

Pet product manufacturers, distributors and retailers offer a glimpse into buying shows and getting the most out of them.



For many, by the time Global Pet Expo takes place, the distributor show season already is in full swing. Described by some as mini trade shows, the distributor-sponsored events often are called buying shows and are places where manufacturers can meet with multiple retailers—current and potential partners—in a short time frame. The number of shows a distributor puts on depends largely on the size and location of its customer base.

“We do the open house/show once a year and try to coordinate the timing about six months before or after SuperZoo in Las Vegas, so around a February date,” said Todd Martin, owner of Sunburst Pet Supplies Inc. in Phoenix. “It usually falls a month before Global in Orlando.”

Others, such as Phillips Pet Food & Supplies in Easton, Pa., host several regional shows each year. Its four regional shows are New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southern and West Coast.

“We’re always talking to customers, and if they feel they need another in the market, we’ll easily add one,” said Jessica Farina-Morris, vice president of marketing.

Show participation varies greatly depending on the size of the distributor and the show location. Martin said that as a smaller distributor, Sunburst usually has 20 to 25 vendors set up in its warehouse staging area, with more than half of its customers present.

“Overall, about 125 to 150 people were in attendance [this year], and 27 out of our top 30 customers were present,” he said. “We have considered using a neutral site—like a hotel or casino—but we have had such positive feedback from both manufacturers and retailers, and they prefer the show at our warehouse.”

Farina-Morris reported that attendance varies by show, and that Phillips’ Mid-Atlantic show is the densest, with about 500 retailers represented.

Both manufacturers and retailers said they try to support their partners and attend their shows. Frank Frattini, CEO of The Hungry Puppy in Farmingdale, N.J., said they attend at least one per distributor, and Aidan Gannon, owner of Petzlove LLC in Lone Tree, Colo., said they mostly attend local distributor shows.

“We want to do the independent shows to support them,” said Holly Sher, president of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Wheeling, Ill., adding that the company also must take cost into consideration. “It can be very expensive for the vendor.”



Counting the Costs

Manufacturers typically pay for everything on their end, including travel, hotel and exhibiting space, in addition to offering show specials for customers and giveaway prizes. However, there is savings in the productiveness of seeing so many customers in one place.

“[A distributor show] is an efficient way to get in front of hundreds of customers in two days, instead of traveling to each of them,” Phillips’ Farina-Morris said. “It’s a concentrated group ready to buy from you, [and it provides a] platform to talk about new products, get face time with customers and [take advantage of] social time afterward.”

Keith Bornholtz, president of Central Pet in Walnut Creek, Calif., said the company tries to make the show a reasonable expense for manufacturers; he highlighted significant values participants receive when attending distributor shows.

“For larger, established brands, it’s a very efficient way to meet with a large number of retailers in one setting that otherwise would be impossible,” he said. “They are able to both drive exposure to new items and reinforce the brand message and differentiation. At the same show, smaller regional or new manufacturers are able to represent their product directly with store owners and buyers, enabling presentation and launch of their brand(s).”

And not every show charges its vendors.

“We do not charge the manufacturer, [which is] another reason why they like having it at our warehouse,” Sunburst’s Martin said. “This facilitates the smaller manufacturers to be able to attend and display their product. Since we don’t charge, the only thing we ask the manufacturer is to pay for any promotions or discounts that they offer.”

Retailers report that their costs to attend the shows are nominal and frequently are offset with credits and promotional pricing or show specials. Mary Ellen Ford, co-owner of Affordable Pet Center Inc. in Northampton, Pa., with her husband, Bill, said the cost depends on the show’s location.

“Most aren’t that far to go, so we can drive and just book a room for the night,” she said. “Some distributors offer a room if you sign up early enough, and a lot will cover one room for one night.”

Frattini of The Hungry Puppy agreed.

“We might spend $100,000 at a show, so [the cost to attend] is nominal, and we consider it the cost of doing business,” he said, adding that “some distributors actually give us a credit for a few hundred dollars for our cost for getting down there and to pay for the room. For two people to attend the show, it’s less than $300.”

For Frattini, the deciding factor for attending a distributor show is not the room comps or wining and dining.

“I ask, ‘Is there a financial reason to be there, such as cash back where you only get it at the show, or other incentives?’”

Checking out new products, seeing them in person and speaking directly with senior management all rank high on Gannon of Petzlove’s list of reasons to attend distributer shows.

“I usually go to find new product, something I’m missing, and something I’m interested in but don’t want to bring it in cold,” he said. “There usually are two to three new items I have in mind to check out, and I wait for the show to take a good hard look at it and the commitment of the company. I want to meet them, check out the packaging and price point, and touch it before taking it into the store, so I can market and sell it right away.”



Accomplishing Much

All sources recommended preparing ahead of time to get the most out of distributor shows.

“Vendors need to come prepared and have deal sheets ready to present to customers at their tables,” Martin said. “Retailers need to come prepared to place orders.”

A key way for retailers to prepare beforehand is looking through the show program when it is provided prior to the event, Ford of Affordable Pet Center said.

“Definitely look through the book,” she said. “And if I don’t want to deal with a product in the book, I’ll remove the page and put it in my bag so it’s there if I change my mind. I also focus on why I’m there by putting orders together at night and writing out my plan to stop at specific booths.”

Next to attending these shows, distributors recommend that vendors and retailers engage in the networking opportunities all around them.

“Think through the promotion segments that are most relevant and what you hope to accomplish with your promotional strategy,” Central’s Bornholtz said. “And engage the manufactures. There is a great deal of knowledge shared and feedback provided. To get the most out of your experience, you must engage.”

Frattini recommended going with an open mind because it’s a good time to meet with manufacturer reps that have not been in the store yet.

“Develop a relationship, and take advantage of deals there,” he said. “Meet with other retailers and get to know and talk to others to hear different philosophies and perspectives; then you come up with different ideas. Talk to people in different regions, so they’re not in the same market; there’s a cross-pollinating of ideas you get with other retailers.”

Farina-Morris of Phillips echoed the recommendation to talk to other retailers, especially noncompetitors in other states and chat about what’s working in their store, trends and more. She also advised taking advantage of the educational component side.

“You’re taking time away from the store, so make it meaningful beyond the deals and talking to vendors,” she said.

To manufacturers, she said, “Eat your Wheaties … it’s pretty fast-paced. Retailers are there and ready to buy and talk to people, so be engaging and energetic; pull people into your booth to have conversations with them.”

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