Natural Products Expo West has got to be the biggest natural products show in the world, amiright? Seventy-thousand or more attendees. Thirty-five hundred odd exhibitors. Thousands of new products that will appear on grocery shelves in the near future. It’s a smorgasbord of food, organics, body care products, supporting businesses and more. Frankly, it can be overwhelming.
This year – 2018 – will be my 16th straight time attending the show, assisting and attending to exhibiting clients such as Bob’s Red Mill, Schmidt’s Naturals, Wedderspoon, Dave’s Killer Bread, Hyland’s and more. In a decade and a half, I’ve seen the show continue to grow to supersize, although it was already very large when I first attended in 2003. I missed the days of the ‘mom and pop’ approach, but I do know people that were there for some of the early days.
How does one prepare for such a large show spread out over acres of exhibit space?
In my pre-game planning, I know for certain that I’ll be walking a LOT, so need comfortable shoes without a doubt. I know that I’ll probably be invited to a function or two. I’ll take a little time to visit a friend or two in the LA area. I also know that I’ll graze a lot while walking the show floor. So many exhibitors offer samples of excellent products – you can’t say no to everything! I do make a point every morning of tracking down the really good coffee (and there’s a lot!).
I’m not selling anything at the show. I meet people. Lots of people. I offer a copy of my book to some folks (my new one is still a month or so away, so it’ll go out sometime in April). I make notes on the style and size of the thousands of exhibits. I see what companies are expanding, which ones are downsizing. With over a decade and a half of seeing the show, it’s not hard to spot those types of exhibiting trends.
I take plenty of business cards, a few branded shirts, my trademark TradeshowGuy hat, and a list of exhibitors I plan to say hello to. I’m always with my trusty 2011 Macbook Pro, an iPhone, a mini iPad 2, and a couple of books, a yellow legal pad (although I rarely use it).
I used to regard being on the road as a time to eat out at restaurants frequently – which I enjoy since it’s a rare event – but have found over time that’s a good way to add a few pounds over just a few days. So, it’s the occasional meal out and lots of snacks. Heck, with all of the samples on the floor at Expo, one meal a day is plenty.
In spite of all of the prep I do – and the ongoing work to help clients refurbish exhibits – it still feels like I’m caught unprepared in some sense, like there’s something left undone.
A few months prior to the show, say around December, I start to feel the show coming. It’s like hearing the echo of a faraway freight train that’s still ten miles away. As the weeks tick by, the whistle gets louder, and the train gets closer. You can’t stop it, you can’t ignore it, you have to welcome it. And I do.
Thanks to my trusty Fitbit, I know from past experience that I’ll walk six to eight miles each day, and I’ll get back to my Airbnb room with aching muscles, ready to chillax as much as I can.
One of the observations I’ve made over the years: people my age, while not rare at the show, are dwindling. It seems that a majority of the attendees and exhibit staff are in the 20 – 40 age bracket. It’s always interesting to chat with people who were born a generation later than me. I have kids about that age, so I understand they’re at a very different part in their lives. But it’s not hard to make connections. People are quite friendly at the show and are eager and willing to talk about their company and products.
Methinks my plan is sound: I’ll meet lots of exhibitors, snap photos and post on Instagram and Twitter (maybe the occasional video), check in on clients, say hello to previous clients and connections. It’s all a crazy wonderful wacky tasty sprint from start to finish that leaves me exhausted.
So, no, I wouldn’t say I have Natural Products Expo West Pre-Game Jitters. All in all, I love the show and look forward to going again. But I admit I let out a small sigh of relief when it’s in the rearview mirror.