Are you just starting a company in the natural products industry? Are you still pretty small and considering whether to exhibit at a trade show or not? In this post, we will share with you our philosophy on trade shows here at Singing Dog Vanilla. There are many trade shows in our industry. The biggies […]
Are you just starting a company in the natural products industry? Are you still pretty small and considering whether to exhibit at a trade show or not? In this post, we will share with you our philosophy on trade shows here at Singing Dog Vanilla.
There are many trade shows in our industry. The biggies in the USA are Natural Products Expo East and West, but there are many of them out there. Any first-time attendee to one of these trade shows would be astounded at the seemingly unending rows of booths representing the organic and natural products industry (for the most part “natural products” at these trade shows means food, herbal supplements, and skin care). I have been either attending or exhibiting at these shows since 1999. What amazes me are the number of people I see who launch their company at a show and then are never heard from again. Many of the owners of these companies will put tremendous resources into “launching” their company at the show. They really want to introduce their product line with a big impact and are hoping to receive their first orders at the trade show. One year we were next to a company that was launching a bottled water company based in Provo, Utah. Their main mission in business was to sell only to stores within a hundred-mile radius of their home town. They spent about $6,000 on just the booth space to go to Anaheim, California to launch a company that won’t even sell its products to 99.8% of the people there! We never saw them again and even their website is no longer up. It is our opinion that using a trade show as the platform for a company launch is not the best path.
The cost of renting the space and staffing the booth, along with airfare, shipping, hotels, samples, etc. ends up being around $15,000 per show for us. If you are a startup company trying to watch every dollar that is spent then that is a lot of money and you may find that the return on the money might not be what you would hope. According to Natural Foods Merchandiser Magazine, there are about 30,000 natural and health supplement grocery stores in the United States and only a small percentage of these send buyers to the big trade shows. Many of the people that visit your booth may not be buyers at all. A good portion of the people that attend natural products trade shows are herbalists, nutritionists, naturopaths, and other non-retail industry service providers. They may end up being a great end consumer of your product, but they are not going to be buying pallet loads of it.
It has been our experience that these shows are really great for connecting with the customers we already have. With Singing Dog Vanilla, we did not exhibit at these shows until we first had a level of sales that could support the expense. When we had a solid base of retail stores that carried our products and wanted to meet us in person, we then began exhibiting. The first time we had a Singing Dog Vanilla booth was in our 6th year of business.
Rather than launch at a trade show, here is what I advise new companies to spend the $15,000 on:
- Design a nice digital file with all of your products listed.
- Get on the phone every morning and call at least 40 retail buyers and ask them if you can email them an introduction to your product line.
- Call them back a few days later and ask for the order.
- Support that sale with in-store product demos and a good social media campaign.
Basically, you should use the $15,000 to keep your company (and yourself!) alive while you are busy getting your first orders. Exhibit at a trade show when you have the funds to go without damaging the viability of your company. Then you can meet in person and give a big “thank you” to all of the buyers that are stocking your products. If your resources are limited and you are undecided how best to use these resources, I think you should spend that money selling your product to one buyer at a time. If you are in a position where you must get orders at the show or your business will fail, then you shouldn’t go. Calling individual buyers is a much safer bet.