Ready for the Big Leagues

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Major conferences and trade shows like Natural Product Expo West can be a great way to identify upcoming trends, check out the competition and meet new partners and customers. But they can also be a dizzying overload of information and conversations that do little to move your business forward.

As NCP and NRC-IRAP help a cohort of Canadian companies prepare for Expo West, we’ve talked to a lot of experts and trade show veterans about the best ways to optimize these big shows. In this article, we feature a few quick thoughts from Michael Bentley, CEO of SierraSil and long-time attendee of NPEW and other large events.

What are some of the biggest mistakes companies make in attending large trade shows like NPEW?

The key to a successful trade show is having a plan. Know who you want to talk to and what you want to achieve. Many companies go to a trade show and hope to make connections, but don’t really know who they need to connect with. That can stem from a lack of clear business or sales strategy. There are literally thousands of people to talk to at these shows. You want to walk away with some solid leads that are in line with your business objectives and that you can follow-up quickly with.

How can you be best prepared?

That depends on your business strategy. If you’re trying to get on store shelves, you need to determine what kinds of stores and in what regions. You don’t want to set up meetings with someone as big as Walmart if you’re uncertain how to support them and finance carrying inventory and potential significant product returns if velocity targets aren’t met . Consider some quality smaller chains with 20 or 30 stores so you can have some success and build from there. And if you’ve never sold outside Canada, you need to make sure you have covered the bases for regulatory, packaging and everything else that’s associated with exporting. You don’t want to be warming up a retailer to your product line only to have them find out you have no actual plan for distribution.

What else can you do?

Similarly, your distributors and retailers are going to want to know that you have a plan for getting your products OFF the shelf. What is your marketing strategy? How are you building awareness and demand for your product? How does your branding and packaging compare against its neighbour on the shelf? How are you going to make it easy for someone to partner with you on the product?

What are some tips for getting through the show itself?

Be organized. Consider whom you want to meet and reach out before the show. You’re going to have a lot of conversations and take in a lot of information. You’ll want to take notes (my ideal set up is to have an assistant to support that) to avoid missing ideas or opportunities you may want to pursue later (or info to help those objectives). And definitely plan for follow-up. Clear your decks for the week after you return from the show. Follow-up is critical. You’ll want to quickly get back to people and remind them what you talked about and provide any info they requested, and ask for the next call or meeting. Remember, they talked to a lot of people too so anything you can do to keep yourself top of mind is important.

Do you have questions or comments about this topic? Or are you looking for guidance as you approach NPEW? Ask us how we can help.

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