As I write this article, it is the Monday after Expo West and I have a major hangover. Not one that was alcohol induced, but rather one caused by an exhausting, yet simultaneously energizing 4-days in Anaheim.
Each year this show continues to grow. This year, however, it seemed like it took an exponential jump. I commented to a few friends that it felt more like Coachella than an industry trade show.
As an introvert, I find the show, at times, overwhelming. Yet, the communal shared purpose and love for the industry make it more of a gathering of friends. That sense of community really does feed me (pun intended). So, while a part of me is looking forward to the relative anonymity of a long overseas flight, another is already missing the energy of the show.
The drive home afforded me the time to reflect on some of the ways emerging brands and their founders could better leverage their Expo experience. I thought I’d share some of those with you.
1. Field of Dreams
A booth at Expo West is a major investment regardless of the size of the company. For early stage and emerging brands, it could be one of the single biggest expenses of the year. That being the case, why do so many brands subscribe to the “If we build it they will come” mentality? You shouldn’t leave an investment of that magnitude to chance. It saddens me to see booths filled with folks hoping desperately to have that one key retailer stop by, find their product, and fall in love.
Expo starts 3-months before the event. If you have a booth, then right after the holidays you should start wooing and courting those retailers and partners you want to meet. Appointments should be made. Please, don’t just leave it to chance!
2. Collective Wisdom
You spend 3 to 4 days in a 10X10 both. Those in the booths beside you become your neighbors and friends. You talk about shared experiences with buyers, brokers, and distributors. You discuss promotions that worked and mistakes made. Your booth neighbors are just a small representative sample of the collective wisdom that exists at the show. Go visit the brands and entrepreneurs that you admire. Ask questions, seek advice, and share openly what you’ve learned. The learning potential offered by Expo is massive. Take advantage of the knowledge that exists within its aisles.
3. Build Community
A festival is about community and as mentioned, that is what I think Expo has become. So, make the most of that opportunity. Where else will you find, retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers, investors, peers, and more all in the same place? I get it, after a day on the show floor all you want to do is go back to your room, soak your feet, and binge watch your favorite show on Netflix. Resist that urge. Instead, lean into the experience. Go to the after-show events. Don’t think about it as networking as that is simply a means to an end. Rather, go build friendships and real connections. Being an entrepreneur is tiring and at times isolating. These events and the connections made from them can provide you with that sense of belonging and community that can help sustain you in those darker moments. So, lean in and go to that event at the House of Blues.
I love Expo, which if you knew me well, you’d find surprising. The mass of humanity, the cacophony of sound, the chaos, is everything I ordinarily try to avoid in my life. But, there is something about this event that I just find special. I want everyone involved to have that same experience and that is the spirit in which I write this article. I hope you found the above suggestions helpful and I would welcome your feedback and thoughts.