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Supplement Perspectives

The Trade Show Booth: Buzz or Bore

My first exposure to a booth (that did not involve voting or dining) was in 1981, at Natural Foods Expo in Anaheim, California (now known as Natural Products Expo West). A mere 234 booths, atop 23,400 square feet of floor space (all 10 x 10 booths!), distributed among about 3,000 attendees, did not diminish my zeal and awe. Every booth was a treasure hunt, a discovery, and captivating. My innocence, forged in ignorance (despite six years of natural retail experience on my résumé), rendered me smitten. Buzz was unbridled among a fragmented array of health peddlers who (perhaps unknowingly) were standing in a scaffold from which they (and their unsophisticated industry) would grow and thrive.

Since that inaugural experience, Im guessing that I have attended over 150 trade/consumer nutrition shows on four continents and in seven countries. A notable highlight of my trade show-a-thon life was the inaugural Supply Side (S2) show in Phoenix, Arizona in 1997. Whereas the majority of prior shows I had attended were finished goods-centric, S2 emerged from an underserved but oh-so-critical side of the value chainsuppliers. Suppliers exist as a far larger and hyper-fragmented segment of the industry and S2 created the fabric that has woven them together.

Why spend significant financial and human capital to exhibit and appear at a trade show? As in advertising and marketing, I believe the sole or primary reason is to generate measurable revenues and awareness/recognition. Scanners that read a bar code like the SPCA scanning a pets neck for identity can capture data, but do they capture the interest of a booth visitor? What is the most effective way to generate booth traffic and buzz?

Ive long heard people say that one needs to create an impression through a booth that a company appears bigger than it actually is. I do not believe in the lavish booth (hot tub; elevator; two-story penthouse suite for private meetings). I do embrace the plan of engaging a celebrity spokesperson at a booth (with an appropriate control of traffic). Not just any celebrity but a relevant one who is also a zealous user of and believer in a branded bioactive or finished good.

Example: I vividly recall TSI engaging Linda Evans for its (once prominent) Ostivone® ingredient. In separate discussions with both Larry Kolb (president of TSIs U.S. operations) and Sheldon Baker, who worked together to orchestrate and implement the Linda Evans campaign, two distinctive elements echoed: 1) expensive, and 2) significant ROI. Linda resonated and thus influenced buying behavior and brand awareness.

During my tenure as co-leader of EAS in the early, ascendant years we achieved significant buzz at our booth without elaborate booth architecture or celebrity attendees. We had pre-paved attendee buzz for our booth through our marketing and advertising activities (all pre-Internet). Our appearance, in the main hall or in less-than-prominent show floor positions, was embraced like a celebrity sighting, simply because of the anticipation or surprise of seeing us, and being able to interact in person.

A hot brand can command enduring buzz during a trade show simply by being hot. Ive watched Nordic Naturals, with a simple but elegant booth, be abuzz for two straight years. The model was simple: new products to taste, retailers enamored with the brand, and (perhaps) show specials to inspire bigger orders. No celebrities. No free first-class tickets to the fjords. No cod fishing tank.

One trend that I first noticed at Interbike three years ago was the use of alcoholic beverages to lure thirsty (and ethanolic) attendees to stop by. A beer tap is easy (and does not invite lingering and learning) but mixed drinks, a bar, bar stools, and a dedicated bartender? Does one need to be offering a companion alcohol detox bioactive or shot, with a portable breathalyzer to assess the efficacy of the offering?

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