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Networking Opportunities Abound at Pet Connections Expo 2018


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Buyers hungry for info kept the team at the Side By Side booth busy with questions.

Following up on the success of its inaugural year, the Pet Connections Expo, held Oct. 2-3 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa., provided two days worth of educational programming and speaker presentations, as well as ample opportunities for attendees and exhibitors to network and mingle with industry peers.

Pet Connections, which kicked off with a keynote presentation from Dave Ratner, owner of Dave’s Soda and Pet City and Dave’s Pet Food in Massachusetts, boasted 120 exhibitors and a 30 percent increase in attendance over last year, according to Bill Doherty, show director with ICD Events, the producer of the event. New to the pet trade show circuit, the expo’s timing, location and small scale all serve as advantages for exhibiting manufacturers as well as attendees, and the event provides an alternative to the two largest shows in the industry, Doherty added. 

He also pointed out that the expo is the only one of its kind to occur in the fall on the East Coast, adding that the show’s fall dates allow buyers an opportunity to benefit from the pre-holiday sales promotions many exhibitors offer. 

“It’s geared toward independent retailers who either don’t have the time or can’t afford to travel to Global Pet Expo or SuperZoo,” he said. “We attempt to [fill that need].”

Exhibitors and attendees both noted advantages that they said are a result of the expo’s compact show floor and Pennsylvania locale. 

Diane Lawley, head of sales for Side By Side, a new Telluride, Colo.-based manufacturer of dog diets, treats and more, said Pet Connections gave the company access to like-minded retailers and pet professionals, such as veterinarians and owners of dog day cares and farm and feed stores, all of whom seem to “understand the value of whole food ingredients” and quality products. 

She added that Side By Side has not yet exhibited at the industry’s larger trade shows.

“We weren’t ready for that type of audience,” Lawley said, noting that the company has just begun shopping its line to independent retailer buyers and is looking for stores that are highly invested in premium nutrition. “[Pet Connections] is regional and more focused, and we really have a product line that needs [a high level of customer service].”

The event’s comparatively cozy setting also afforded industry participants more one-on-one time on the show floor—a definite upside, according to some exhibitors. 

Nancy Hassel, founder and president of American Pet Professionals, a trade organization, said that although this year’s crowd appeared bigger than last year’s, the numbers didn’t overwhelm the show floor, which allowed exhibitors to take more time speaking with attendees who dropped by their booth.

“You really can network at this event,” Hassel said, adding that the event’s assortment of educational presentations—including 20-minute “campfire sessions” on a wide array of retail topics—make it easy for attendees to get a quick dose of information while resting their feet. 

Another feature of Pet Connections that won favor with participants was the presence of product distributors, both as attendees walking the show floor and as more active players at the event. Three distributors in particular—Zeigler’s Distributors, Nan Distribution and Wholesalepet.com—worked directly with event organizers to populate the show floor with exhibitors, according to Doherty.

Gary Lutzky, a manufacturer sales representative working with Windsor, Colo.-based The Natural Dog Co., applauded Pet Connections for the collaboration, saying it helped to ensure a built-in audience at the show, even for manufacturers not connected to a distributor.

Lutzky said that while this was the company’s first time exhibiting, he attended the show on his own last year, picking up two lines in the process. Based on his positive experience, he urged The Natural Dog Co. to exhibit this year. 

“This is an opportunity to take our business to the next level,” he said. 

Prana Pets, a manufacturer of cannabidiol (CBD)-based products for pets and humans, also attended the event looking to expand its visibility in the industry. Brad Solomon, co-founder of the 2-year-old, Delray Beach, Fla.-based company, said he chose Pet Connections to be the business’s first foray into the trade show circuit.

“We wanted to get our name out there,” he said, and “figured there would be lots of stores from the North East [region].”

The event proved to be a boon for first-time attendees, as well. Kim and Glenn Veenendaal traveled from Colorado to shop the show floor—not for product, but for information. The two said they were on a fact-finding mission in preparation to open their first pet store. Having heard about Pet Connections online, they decided to attend in order to look for products they might eventually want to stock. 

“It’s been overwhelming, but it’s been very good,” Kim Veenendaal said.

Aside from the show floor, Pet Connections offered a diverse mix of speakers and networking opportunities. On day two of the show, Rodney Habib, digital artist, film maker, vlogger and founder of the widely known Facebook pet health page Planet Paws, delivered a keynote presentation on how the industry can shift pet health epidemics.

The expo also hosted the Pet Industry Woman of the Year Dinner & Awards and Bark Your Biz, a product innovation competition presented in the style of the hit TV show “Shark Tank.”

Next year’s Pet Connections Expo is scheduled to be held Sept. 24-25 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. 

Doherty said the expo will unveil new features next year and continue its upward momentum. 

He added, “This is going to keep on growing.”

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