Petfood Forum 2018 will boast more than 275 exhibitors on its sold-out show floor — leading industry suppliers and manufacturers all gathering in one place to renew existing customer connections, create new partnerships, do business and socialize. That kind of environment can be intimidating for a first-time exhibitor, but it doesn’t have to be.

Why do companies exhibit at Petfood Forum?

Pappas Inc., a manufacturer of food processing equipment, has been exhibiting at Petfood Forum since the late 1990s, and those who represent the veteran company at the show know exactly what they get out of coming each year.

“Petfood Forum has been a vital tool for us to come to one location and get a chance to see many of our customers without having to travel to have a conversation face-to-face,” says Danny Hudson, sales and engineering with Pappas Inc. “Often what you find with phone conversations, email, texting, etc., is that the personal relationship is missing and customers are often distracted with doing their own business (which they should be focused on!). This gives us a unique opportunity to have a conversation and be able to discuss any issues or plans customers have without those distractions.” 

It’s not just existing customers that keep companies coming back to Forum; there is significant opportunity to initiate new business, as well.

“Surprisingly enough, as you get more involved in Petfood Forum you discover that your products or services reach beyond just the attendees to other exhibitors, who often require a product or service you offer,” says Hudson. “So, while your main goal may be to reach those in the pet food manufacturing sector, you must also devote your time to reaching out to fellow vendors and not pretending they are all your competitors and avoid making contacts. Of course, when attendees present their needs, you have to make sure your product or service fits those needs, and if the need is something you can meet then you have to work beyond Petfood Forum to create that new relationship.”

Enjoying Petfood Forum as an exhibitor

Beyond the booth, there are ample opportunities to speak with potential and existing customers away from the fast-paced trade show floor.

“I have to say, I always look forward to the Monday night reception,” says Bob Connolly, vice president of sales and marketing for The Peterson Company. “It’s almost like a family reunion. I always get very excited for that; you see a lot of faces you might not have seen for a year. You’re still fresh, not completely worn out from being at your booth, and you get to see a lot of friendly faces in a nice, relaxed atmosphere.”

Every year, post-Forum survey respondents say that the best part of the show is the opportunity to network.

“Personally, I enjoy getting to see many of my current customers and engage in conversation about what's going on in their world, see what potential projects they may be discussing or just help them with little issues they may be experiencing,” says Hudson. “[Pappas Inc.] most benefits by adding building blocks to that relationship we have established, and of course there are those times we have to make needed repairs. Sometimes you will discover that you are doing little things that are a detriment to your relationship with a customer, and those items must be corrected as soon as possible or your long-term relationship may suffer potential damage. And of course, there is always the potential of building new partnerships from contacts made at Petfood Forum.”

Final advice for first-time exhibitors

Your booth is planned out, your bags are packed and Petfood Forum is just a week away. What else do you need to know about your first time exhibiting?

“The first year is the hardest,” says Hudson. “So, don't be discouraged; hang in there and keep reaching out to every potential customer who walks by your booth. It's like your first day at a new school or a new job — you have to find your niche and stand up and go for it. No matter how good you think your product or service is, it's the person you’re engaged in conversation with who has to be assured you are going to be a good fit for them. And by all means, if you know you are not a fit, be honest and be grateful because there is nothing like trying to repair a broken relationship before it has even finished the forging process. 

“And above all,” he says, “your normal job may be to Facebook, Tweet, email, etc., but put down your device and interact with people. You may find you enjoy it!”