Going to a conference such as Natural Products Expo East is an amazing experience, but it’s important to maximize your time and make the most of what’s available.
“I think Expo is won or lost in the weeks leading up to the show,” says Ibraheem Basir, founder and CEO of A Dozen Cousins. “Be sure to have a clear plan for how you want to use the time and begin reaching out to key partners and retailers in advance.”
With Natural Products Expo East about to kick off—the virtual extension runs Sept. 6-Oct. 14 in Natural Products Expo Virtual and the in-person event is Sept. 28.-Oct.1 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center—here’s what to know before you go. And be sure to join Natural Products Business School on Sept. 7 for more tips on how to make the most of your time in Philly.
Plan ahead. “Planning is everything,” says Heather K. Terry, founder and CEO of GoodSam Foods. “Never go into Expo without a plan, whether you are an exhibitor or an attendee.”
Know your goals for the show, says Jenna Fitch, senior director, community and conference content for New Hope Network. Understand what are you trying to accomplish and who you want to meet.
Do pre-event research and set up meetings before arriving at Expo East. Study the agenda to strategize and prioritize events. Target educational sessions and block out time to attend and network. “If you leave it to chance, you will always be disappointed,” says Terry, who is an angel investor and author of the book, “From Broadway to Wall Street: Cautionary Tales of an Unlikely Entrepreneur.” “Expo can be a time warp and if you do not set up meetings in advance and leave it to chance, chances are you won’t see the people you need to.”
Be strategic with buyer outreach. The consensus among buyers is clear: How you approach them is everything. During Business School on Sept. 7, The Turnip Truck, Kimberton Whole Foods and 7-Eleven will share how brands can set themselves up for success in Philly by doing their research, understanding the unique needs of different retailers and approaching every conversation with a relationship-first mindset.
Attend pre-show virtual programming. It starts with an exhibitor webinar on Sept. 6, 12-1 p.m. EDT where you’ll learn how to have a successful experience and get your questions answered. Presenters include Expo East Exhibitor Services, Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC), Aramark and GES. Sign up here. Then, on the three Wednesdays leading up to the show starting on Sept. 7, you’ll find amazing virtual programming that will connect you with retailers and help you prepare well in advance of packing your bags. Check out the Natural Products Expo Virtual agenda.
Visualize what’s in your booth. Double check to make sure everything is ordered and instructions, including dress code, has been communicated to the team. The laundry list is endless, Terry says, “But I find going through all the possible scenarios in my head and funneling that info to my team really helps.”
Plan for the unexpected. “This will sound a little crazy, but think about what you’d do if your booth didn’t show up,” Terry says. “In the insanity that is moving goods around the country right now, this is a very real possibility and happened to us at a trade show in Chicago earlier this year.” Her advice: Think worst case scenario. Can you get the product easily through other channels? Do you know who the local printers are who can do fast but decent work? “One hour of google searching will help you sleep at night,” says Terry, who always scouts out the nearest Target and HomeGoods “just in case” anything is needed.
Talk to everyone. “I’m a firm believer that everyone has something to share or learn,” Fitch says. “Be open to who you meet at these shows because you never know what could come of it.” You could make a new friend or supplier.
Hit the networking events and big parties. “Early in my career, this is where I made some of my most important connections,” Terry says. Her advice to other entrepreneurs is to “put in the work to be a part of the industry you are looking to be successful in. Nothing is built overnight.”
Know how to dress. Basir’s advice: Wear a comfortable pair of shoes and dress in layers. “During one day you can go from a full-on workout to a chilly evening outdoors,” he says. Here are some packing tips.
Don’t become a Mack Truck speeding out of control. “I cannot recount the number of times I have seen exhibitors throw themselves at major buyers down the aisle, or where they have gone running after someone,” Terry says. “It’s never a good tactic. Try to establish yourself in other ways so you don’t have to do those things.” Instead, buy a showcase, Terry says. Create some press buzz. Make a meaningful connection.
Check out what’s new. Head to the dry bar on the Grand Hall Overlook for an alcohol-free zone during concerts. Grab specialty mocktails or other non-alcoholic beverages while listening to Arrested Development and G. Love and Special Sauce.
See the Natural Products Expo East Pitch Slam. Ten pre-selected Naturally Network brands will compete for the grand prize a free booth at Expo East in 2023 and over $30,000 in New Hope Network services. There’s a ton to learn from the pitches and plenty of people to meet at the event.
Go to the inaugural Food Sustainability Summit. Natural Products Expo and Food Tank teamed up to create the event with sustainability experts and change makers. The afternoon includes susstainability panels, a short film screening and a networking reception. Speakers include Jeff Tkach, the chief impact officer at Rodale Institute, Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank and Jenn Ladd, a food writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. There you can also celebrate the new FasterForward commitment: New Hope Network/Natural Product Expo and Informa are working to become a zero-waste and net zero carbon business to be carbon neutral across all events by 2025.
Connect Virtually. Use Natural Products Expo Virtual to connect before, during and after the show to complement other online channels such as LinkedIn. “I’m always pleasantly surprised by how responsive and helpful people are when you reach out with a clear and thoughtful request.”
Do post show follow-up. Basir’s advice: Take great notes of you talk to and “be sure to follow-up after the show.”
His final suggestion: “Don’t leave Philadelphia without eating at least one cheesesteak.” (There are plenty of vegan options, too!)