There was a decent showing of pet and specialty petfood, treat and supplement companies.

Although I haven't mentioned it through this venue before, many readers are aware that the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) has recently retained me as its pet nutrition consultant. One of my duties in that role is to attend the Global Pet Expo, an annual event put on in conjunction with the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA).

I had attended the Expo for the first time a few years ago, so what I saw at this year's event at the San Diego Convention Center (San Diego, California, USA) didn't come as too much of a shock. Still, I admit at times the sheer scale of the show was overwhelming for me.

Exhibits, exhibits, exhibits

I may not be the worldliest person, but the Global Pet Expo is not like any other convention I've ever attended. Most meetings I go to, whether industry, government or veterinary-focused, are either educational or business in nature, i.e., most of your time is spent sitting in a conference room listening to people speak. Admittedly, many of these meetings do have exhibit booths to visit when you're not in a seminar or session. Some may have only a few exhibits, others up to a hundred and, on rare occasion, maybe even 200 booths. In any event, the exhibits are never the primary purpose for the meeting itself.

At the Global Pet Expo, the exhibit hall IS the raison-d'être for the meeting. There are a few seminars over the three days, and maybe a committee meeting or other event, but there's no mistaking that the people are there to visit the exhibits. Those who do attend are not disappointed in that regard. This year there were more than 700 exhibiting companies.

Some of these companies' exhibits occupied space equivalent to 100 "booths" each, so the net result was that, from one end of the hall, I could not clearly discern the other end. Just walking up and down all the aisles (without stopping to talk) took me several hours. I wish I had been wearing a pedometer! In any event, it's clear to see why you need three days just to get through it all.

A highlight of the Expo, and separate from the booths themselves, is the New Products Showcase. Attendees view the displays and vote for their favorites in various categories (e.g., dog, cat, bird, aquarium, pond). Some of the top winners this year included a "3-in-1" pet stroller and a bow-front cage for large birds. Beyond the potential notoriety of winning an award, a display in the Showcase has the side benefit of sparking interest by buyers who otherwise might not be inclined to stop by your booth.

Who's at the Expo?

At the industry meetings I typically attend, the exhibitors are primarily suppliers to the industry, such as manufacturers of ingredients and equipment and various other service providers. In this case, it is the final consumer product manufacturer who is exhibiting to buyers for distributors and retailers. Although exhibitors represent all aspects of the pet product industry (from aquariums to dog leashes to cat laser toys to reptile supplies), there was a decent showing of pet and specialty petfood, treat and supplement companies. In fact, I was able to meet a number of my clients during the show, in some cases for the first time in person.

The exhibits at the Expo are not unlike many of those at veterinary meetings, in that their purpose is to entice visitors to purchase products with the intent for the products to be subsequently sold to the pet-owning consumer. The Expo exhibits do the same thing with retailers, but at a potentially much larger scale. While veterinarians may buy products for sale to maybe a few hundred or so clients, in the case of the Expo, buyers from some of the largest retailers and distributors in the USA and the world are in attendance. Thus, closing just one deal over the three days of the meeting could make the whole trip more than worth it.

When's the next Expo?

The next Global Pet Expo will be February 22-24, 2007, in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, USA. If nothing else, it's a great place to escape from the frigid north at that time of year. More information on the Expo itself can be found at www.globalpetexpo.org.

One caveat to displaying at this event is that you must be an APPMA member. More information on becoming a member can be found at www.appma.org. The website also explains the many other benefits of membership, such as access to market research information, import/export assistance, public relations and regulatory guidance and other business building tools. As I understand it, there is a sliding scale for membership fees so any size company can be accommodated.