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WPA365’s New Product Showcase will offer a feature that will give retailers an opportunity to add a product they like to a virtual Show Bag that they can revisit later.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many trade show organizers to reschedule, postpone or even cancel events, which has impacted pet industry professionals across the board—from manufacturers to retailers to distributors. As a result, show organizers are looking for ways to mitigate the sting of not being able to attend an in-person event.

World Pet Association (WPA) officials are hoping to do just that with the introduction of WPA’s new virtual marketplace, WPA365, which was created after the organization postponed its annual SuperZoo trade show, which would have taken place Sept. 1-3 in Las Vegas. WPA365, which is set to launch Sept. 22, is designed to offer real-time connectivity to vendors and retailers 24/7, year-round.

“There’s no substitute for live events, and we can’t wait to meet in person again at SuperZoo,” said Vic Mason, interim president of WPA. “However, WPA365 leverages the education and networking you love about SuperZoo and extends it all year long. Trends don’t just come around once a year—new products emerge all the time, and new generations of pet owners have different requirements for their animals. WPA365 gives retailers the best chance to discover the latest products, connect with manufacturers on the WPA365 platform and get what they need to grow their businesses.”

WPA365, according to officials, was created to help manufacturers reconnect with retailers and reimagine how they do business in response to unexpected changes in the global marketplace. While the world is experiencing dynamic and unpredictable changes, what isn’t changing is the need for pet industry professionals to connect, officials further pointed out.

The idea to launch WPA365 originated before the pandemic, Mason said, but it arrives at a most welcome time.

“It became clear that while consumers have many online options to search for new products and food for their pets, retailers don’t have those solutions when they are purchasing merchandise for their businesses,” Mason said. “We really wanted to provide a complete offering that enables retailers to stock the hottest items at the best prices. Now that it’s launched, we’re thrilled that retailers can use WPA365 to continue to connect with the community, especially with so many event cancellations.”

WPA365’s purpose is far reaching.

“Rather than just offer a virtual event, we wanted to support the pet community all year round,” Mason said. “That’s the idea behind our brand-new Member Services Program, designed especially to support retailers and service providers. Pet retail professionals who register for WPA365 are given a complimentary one-year membership in WPA, which gives them access to premium benefits.”

For example, retailers can access proprietary retail-focused courses through the FetchFind education platform and receive discounted, personalized coaching through Pet Boss Nation, a coaching and consulting company that helps independent retailers and brands. WPA365 also includes OneBark Store Locator & Product Data Catalog, which offers free product data and images to retailers and distributors as well as a “robust” local search functionality, which drives consumers into brick-and-mortar retailers, according to Mason.

In addition, there is a full suite of resources for retailers to build their own websites, create a marketing plan, expand their social media presence and join a group coaching program to execute all of their goals, Mason noted.

“We plan to constantly update and evolve WPA365 to ensure it’s a resource to promote success for all pet professionals,” Mason said.

Same but Different

Pet professionals checking out WPA365 will find a few similarities to SuperZoo, but they will come across some exciting differences, too.

“Similar to an in-person trade show, WPA365 will facilitate connections between exhibitors and attendees, feature show specials in our 365 Deals section and showcase the best in new products with our New Product Showcase,” Mason said. “The difference is that instead of building displays in a booth, exhibitors will use the 365 Deals and New Product Showcase to grab the attention of buyers. If an attendee sees a new product they’re interested in, they simply need to click the product in order to visit the exhibitor’s booth or add it to their virtual Show Bag to revisit later. The virtual Show Bag is a personalized list of favorites from any area of the WPA365 site so that each time you log in, you don’t have to spend time searching for them.”

The exhibitor’s booth may be virtual, but the aim is that it will feel incredibly realistic. When retailers are “in” the booths, they can have real-time conversations with product reps through One to One Live Chat and Video features, Mason said. They can also set up meetings, share contact information, ask questions, download information and watch product demonstrations, Mason said.

There are plenty of benefits geared specifically for manufacturers as well, according to officials. For example, WPA365 features real-time analytics and data, a guaranteed return on investment and revenue builder, highlighted opportunities to showcase products and personalized ways to customize virtual booths, to name a few.

As with WPA itself, WPA365 is a way to help the entire pet community, according to Mason.

“WPA is the pet community’s original nonprofit, and our goal is to foster the growth and sustainability of the pet community as a whole,” Mason said. “We have a lot of resources and programs designed to help retailers grow their businesses, because when retailers are thriving, manufacturers are going to thrive as well. Our industry is extremely interconnected, and with a platform like WPA365 that provides a flow of communication and information between retailers and suppliers, everyone is going to be successful.”

As to the future, it’s still a little too soon to predict.

“In terms of the ‘new normal’ for live events, I don’t think any of us know what that will look like yet,” Mason said. “For now, the health and safety of all our event guests are our top priority, and we will continue to follow the latest health and safety guidance. We’re always committed to people and pets, no matter what. And in the meantime, we’ll continue to evolve WPA365 to ensure it provides maximum benefits to the community.”