By Nikki Moustaki
Special to Pet Product News
If quality, innovative products are the heart of the pet industry, then trade shows are its heartbeat. Retailers who attend trade shows have an advantage over those who don't. Here are the top nine reasons.
1. To Discover New Products
Keeping up with the Joneses (or the Big Boxes) is not easy in the pet biz unless you’re regularly hunting for new products.
"Independent pet shops must have a competitive advantage over the big boxes," said Carol Frank, president of Avian Adventures in Dallas. "One of these advantages is to carry the latest, greatest, most innovative products, which can be discovered at these shows."
Tips for Working aTrade Show
¥ Register early and make your hotel plans-hotels near the show often fill up fast.
¥ Get the show’s floor plan in advance (found on the Web site) and plan whom you’d like to speak with.
¥ Walk the entire show the first day and take notes on which booths you want to spend more time at later.
¥ Wear comfortable shoes.
¥ Make appointments before the show if you can, and make sure appointments that are close in time are also close in proximity.
¥ Find out what manufacturer’s show specials will be in advance so that you make sure to spend time at those booths.
¥ Stay the entire length of the show if you can.
¥ After the first night, organize your notes onto note cards and make a plan for the following day.
¥ Visit new product showcases.
¥ Have a small bag with wheels that you can use to tote around all the brochures and samples that you’ll pick up. -N.M.
"Retailers go to trade shows to see what product is available and to get a snapshot of the industry," said Andrew Darmohraj, vice president and deputy managing director of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Assn. Inc. in Greenwich, Conn. "A large show like Global Pet Expo features more than 600 manufacturers utilizing 190,000 net square feet of displayed product. To give some perspective, Global Pet Expo is the equivalent of three NFL football fields worth of product. There is no other way to get access to that much product in one location."
2. To Touch and Feel
It’s important to read about new products in trade magazines and catalogs, but there’s nothing like hands-on experience. At trade shows, manufacturers often have live demonstrations, and their booth displays will give you display ideas for your store.
"Because exhibitors use trade shows to highlight their entire lines, a buyer can walk into a booth and see everything that a manufacturer has to offer," Darmohraj said. "The retailer can pick up and touch a product, something that can’t happen with a catalog or advertisement. It also provides the opportunity to compare companies that make similar products."
Caryn Cohan-Bates, C.E.M., director of trade and consumer shows for World Wide Pet Supply Assn. Inc. in Arcadia, Calif., said that she’s amazed at how many new products come to market each year.
"Attending trade shows allows the retailer the opportunity to see these products and speak directly to the manufacturers," she said. "In a short period of time, a savvy retailer is able to meet with dozens of new suppliers allowing his or her store to constantly carry new products."
3. To Find Specialty Products
Pet retailers can often find marketable products outside of traditional pet trade shows. For example, gift shows, grooming shows and toy shows, as well as consumer shows, including the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, offer products that a store down the street may not have.
"We attend the California Gift Show in Los Angeles twice a year," said Paula Turner, co-owner of The PetCare Co. in Hermosa Beach, Calif. "Some gift shows have pet sections and take place earlier in the year than industry trade shows. They’re a good place to pick up novelty items like pet picture frames, handbags and other
International Trade Shows
International pet trade shows offer retailers products that aren’t found in the United States, not to mention the excitement of going somewhere far away and exotic. But for smaller retailers, international shows may be impractical-the cost of attending the show aside, bringing products from overseas is much more expensive than buying domestically.
"Interzoo in Nuremberg, Germany is a great international show to attend due to the sheer variety of products and companies represented," said Colette Fairchild, C.M.P., trade show director for H.H. Backer Associates Inc. in Chicago. "The selection is truly amazing, and exhibitors go all out with their displays. The aquatic displays are especially outstanding."
"The trip is well worth it every two years if a retailer’s budget allows. Attendees will find products that can’t find in the United States, but getting those products shipped to the United States can be expensive. Ask about current or future U.S. distribution, and be sure to do your homework on the companies you do business with if you’re spending a considerable amount of money."
Mark Hughes, national sales and marketing manager of Pet Care Systems in Detroit Lakes, Minn., said that his company had just started attending international shows last year (with the exception of Canada), and they have added nine new distributors for their export department. But he agrees that these shows are more of a challenge from a retailer’s perspective.
"Besides language barriers, international shows are much more expensive to attend," Hughes said. "I imagine boutique-type stores would gain more from international shows because of the unique products found overseas. A trip can easily pay for itself if the store owner can come back with that new product that everyone wants or needs, but that can only be found in your store." -N.M.
boutique and breed-related type gifts. They’re also a good source for getting merchandising displays at affordable prices."
4. To Network
Behind every product is a manufacturer with an order sheet in hand. These are the people who want to help you sell their product, and many are your best allies when you need information or a solution to a problem.
"It’s always good to meet the people that you’ll be doing business with," said Jim Whitt, president of three Scales 'N'Tails retail reptile stores in Denver. "Trade shows
allow a lot of time for one-on-one contact with product reps, as well as other business owners. Establishing good relationships is crucial to running a successful small business. Meeting face-to-face serves to establish better relationships than a phone conversation ever will. I have even become good friends with many people whom I first met at a show."
Most shows have cocktail hours and social gatherings where retailers and manufacturers can meet and exchange ideas.
"Talking to other store owners over lunch or drinks provides new insights into handling issues," said Mark Hughes, national sales and marketing manager of Pet Care Systems in Detroit Lakes, Minn. "New products, ideas and manufacturing contacts are all important topics for retailers. I’ve had many store owners call and say that we met at a show and then ask me specific questions about our product or competing products."
5. To Learn
Most shows have seminar programs geared toward retailers, with topics ranging from effective retailing to dog grooming and fish care. Seminars aside, most of the education really happens by speaking with manufacturers and other retailers.
"Retailers should learn as much as they can about the products they buy on a regular basis and about available new items from both exhibitors and their peers," said Colette Fairchild, CMP, trade show director for H.H. Backer Associates Inc. in Chicago. "Seminars are important, too, because there are always new things to learn regarding both animal care and retailing."
Trade shows are also a good time to educate your staff about the products you’re selling. If you can, bring employees and have them walk the show, taking notes and asking questions.
6. To Save Time
Rather than calling for catalogs and spending time hunting for new products, one thorough sweep of a trade show will set you up for the season. Also, some shows are combined with live-animal or aquatics shows, giving you more bang for your traveling buck.
"Some trade shows are two for one, and I really enjoy those shows because I can spend one day buying dry goods and the next day buying animals," Whitt said.
"Double shows are a good way to save time and money."
Consumer Pet Shows
Large consumer pet shows, like Super Pet Expo and America’s Family Pet Expo, and even smaller local consumer pet shows can highlight your business and make the general public aware of what you have to offer, especially if you’re a specialty pet shop. In just a few days, you can reach more consumers that you might get into your store in three months. (See Calendar of Events, page 58, for consumer shows in your area.)
"On a typical Saturday, a retailer may have 100 to 200 people coming by their store-and that’s on a good Saturday," said Eric Udler, president of Super Pet Expo in Rockville, Md. "At Super Pet Expo, we attract 9,000-plus pet lovers on a typical Saturday-that’s 20,000-plus for our entire three-day show."
Consumer shows allow you to sell product, which is great for excess inventory. Also, they serve to drive traffic to your location-hold a raffle at the show that requires people to come to your store to win, or give coupons, and you have instant new customers. You can talk to consumers and do some market research, too. Finally, you’re able to network with other vendors and have the opportunity to purchase products from smaller manufacturers who might not exhibit at the large trade shows.
Caryn Cohan-Bates, C.E.M., director of trade and consumer Shows for World Wide Pet Supply Assn. Inc. in Arcadia, Calif., said that expos provide a totally focused audience of pet lovers who are willing and wanting to purchase pet products.
"Retailers may set up mini versions of their stores, and manufacturers who do not want to sell directly to the public can use the pet expos as vehicles to do market research and coupon bounce-backs to their local retailers," Cohan-Bates said. "The opportunity is priceless for both exhibitors and attendees." -N.M.
7. To Receive Show Specials
Most manufacturers discount their products at trade shows. Product reps want to move a lot of merchandise at the shows, and they’re willing to lower their prices as an incentive. Lower costs mean higher profits for you. But beware of buying things that won’t sell just because they’re inexpensive.
"Make use of some of the special deals that distributors will offer, but make sure they’re deals that actually help you," Turner said. "Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away."
8. ToOffer Feedback
One-on-one encounters with manufactures whose products you stock allows the unique opportunity to provide them feedback, helping the manufacturer make the products better, which ultimately serves your bottom line.
"As an interested vendor, I look to my retail customers to give me feedback on both the good and the bad about our products and service," said Sylvia Pickett, executive vice president of Global Pet Products Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"Retailers are the ones out there interacting with the end user. What do they need? How can we make it better? What can we do to improve our service to them? What better way to get that feedback than a face-to-face meeting at the trade show?"
9. To See the Sights
Going to trade shows gives you a break from your shop and your routine, which can be a real stress-buster. Most of the shows are in interesting places that may warrant an extra day of travel if you can be away that long.
"When I go to a show I look at it like I’m going on a small vacation" Whitt said. "I try to stay a little longer than the duration of the show and enjoy some of what the host city has to offer. Trade shows are a great way to mix work with a little pleasure and the time spent going to them should be enjoyable. I always come back feeling refreshed. I also come back with a revived spirit for the job. I’m always excited to meet people and hear of their successes and tell them of mine. It really gets me going on improving the status of my business."
Nikki Moustaki is a freelance writer in New York City.