11 Tips to Survive Natural Products Expo West

by Trevor Schmidt

Natural Products Expo West

Surviving a massive trade show like Natural Products Expo West can seem like an ordeal to those who haven’t been. A sea of people. Seemingly unlimited free samples clogging your gut. The sores on your feet. The vertigo from too many loud noises mixed with the fragrant aromas of flesh and unidentified food. Are you in over your head? Fear not! This guide is here to help!

Natural Products Expo West

Photo Courtesy of Natural Products Expo West

Tip #1: Prep Work

The last thing you want when going to a trade show is to show up empty-handed. If you’re a vendor, this means lots and lots of product. If you’re a retailer or buyer, this means ensuring your badge has all of the basic information someone will need to contact you. Phone, email, fax (maybe not in the 21st century), etc.

Beyond this, it’s important that your team is on the same page. I’m not usually one for too many meetings, but this is an exception. Get everyone together and discuss division of labor, key talking points, pricing strategies, deals, people/companies to watch out for, and so on. Your most important job before the show is to manage expectations and hammer out the details so you don’t have to on the floor.

For you vendors, it looks unprofessional to hesitate when talking numbers with a buyer. Know your stuff. Speak the lingo. Don’t waste their time. Oh, and that QR Code scanner they offer vendors to make things easier? Do yourself a favor and buy it. I know, it’s a lot of money, but just do it. It will save time and maintain the fragile patience of overwhelmed buyers.

Tip #2: Wardrobe

It can get cold in big convention centers, regardless of season. That being said, it can also get hot if you’re clustered in a busy area. I suggest wearing layers. I prefer a thicker button-down shirt with a branded t-shirt underneath. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your comfort when you’re trying to take in everything around you.

Shoes are a must to consider. If you can get away with wearing athletic shoes, do it. If you’re dressing to impress, consider some Dr. Scholls. I put a pair in my Clark’s Desert Boots and I can stand and walk around all day. After an eight hour day on the show floor, it is critical to have good shoes. If you don’t, I find even my shoulders hurt from the clothes I’m wearing and my posture after a long day at a show. The Dr. Scholls Low Back Pain version is meant for those who are on their feet all day and work great!

Tip #3: Wear a Fitness Tracker

You’re going to stand and walk a lot. Feed proud of yourself! Few things in life are as satisfying as knowing you’ve done a good job. Even if you didn’t score a single deal at the show, you can at least feel proud that you hit your walking goal. 10,000 steps, here we come!

Expo WestTip #4: Germs!

Germaphobes, unite! You will be shaking a lot of hands, and flu season is still hanging around. Bring a bottle of hand sanitizer and don’t be afraid to use it.

Pro Tip: Also bring a bottle of hand lotion. After a day of using hand sanitizer, your hands are going to be drier than the Atacama Desert. Look it up, it’s real dry.

Tip #5: The See Food Diet

Options may be limited at some shows. You have your nachos, your hot dogs, your oversized sugary sodas. Natural Products Expo West is a little different, in that there are tons of companies giving out food samples. Note: this is the one time of year Costco buyers get to act like the rest of us and steal free samples. Let them have this. You, however, should stay away whenever possible!

Show Stomach is a real thing. Eating a lot of unfamiliar things, whether you have a sensitive stomach or not, is a dangerous play when there’s a lot on the line. You don’t want to miss out on a potential deal because you’re hermetically sealed to a toilet.

Tip #6: Take Pictures

Even the brilliant mind of Sheldon Cooper couldn’t remember everything from the information overload that is Natural Products Expo West. Eidetic memory or not, you’ll need a refresher course nine months from now when you’re scraping together your plan for that year’s show.

More than this, take notes. It doesn’t matter if you’re a vendor, a buyer, or not even in the same natural products category. Notice when companies are doing something well and take note. Make it your own and run with it. You better believe Apple and Samsung are checking out each other’s booths at CES. Knowing it happens is the first step. What you do with that information is up to you. Whatever you do, be ethical people!

Expo WestTip #7: Devices, Devices, Everywhere!

So, you’re taking pictures and exchanging information all over the place. What about your poor phone’s battery? Don’t forget your charger! This is a rookie mistake. Bring chargers for every device you need, and backups if possible. Fast chargers are great in this situation. Need a quick charge? Grab a snack and chill in the corner eating your obligitory trade show churro while you grab a 40% charge. On this note, conserve your battery. Turn off bluetooth, location, and even wifi if you don’t need it. Turn down your screen brightness (it’s pretty bright in most rooms). Your battery thanks you.

Tip #8: Don’t Be That Guy/Gal

People are wheeling and dealing at Natural Products Expo West. If you’re a small retailer looking for a DSD deal, you may feel like you’re getting shut out. Understand, the vendor you’re trying to talk to is probably waiting for a big fish to land them 300 doors. It’s not that you’re unimportant, but there is limited time to talk. Get in, ask your questions, and move on. One of the most important aspects of these trade shows is making contact. Exchange information, express interest, and deal quickly. If you need more information, request a follow-up email. Don’t be that guy/gal who talks for 25 minutes about the dangers of sorbitol on gut health. Sorbitol may be the devil, but Natural Products Expo West isn’t the time for that particular crusade. It’s perfectly okay to not be interested in a particular product.

Tip #9: Parking

Parking for most trade shows is a joke. Natural Products Expo West is no different. If you can, work out the situation with your team ahead of time. Uber/Lyft can be the best option in most cases. If you’re running a small team, the convention center offers load-in help for a fee. Some of these nickel and dime fees the convention center charges are worth it. This one can save a headache as one person helps load in while the other parks at the hotel and Ubers back. It reminds me a bit of the river crossing puzzle…

Tip #10: Mixers

If you think deals only happen on the trade floor, you’re delusional. A lot of the action happens at the after-parties, behind closed doors. There are far too many of these for you to attend them all, so make a list beforehand of any buyers you’re interested in. Keep an ear out for leads during the show as well. You never know what you might hear. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there to be rewarded with a game-changing deal.

Tip #11: The Happiest Place on Earth

If you’re going all the way to Anaheim, it would be a shame to not squeeze in a trip to Disneyland! Go a day early or stay a day late. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

Expo WestReflection Time

Attending shows like Natural Products Expo West can be daunting to say the least. With these 10 tips, your experience will be just a little bit easier. Still, nothing beats experience. The best way to be prepared for Expo West is to go, take everything in, and learn to do and be better the next time. Continuous process improvement is the name of the game. With that in mind, go forth and conquer whatever is on your agenda for the show.

Stop On By

I will be in the Hot Products section of Natural Products Expo West 2018 at the Tahoe Trail Bar booth! Stop by the North Halls 2nd floor at booth N1110. Tahoe Trail Bar sells gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO energy bars with an incredible taste like you wouldn’t believe. Our decadent flavor offerings include Peanut Butter Chocolate, Mango Coconut, and Dark Chocolate Cherry.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Expo WestBonus Tip: Bring a book for the hotel; or two! If you need recommendations, check out my book club reads.

Let me know in the comments below what your experience was like at Natural Products Expo West 2018. Who had the best exhibit? What new brand rocked your socks off?