It’s no secret that the beverage industry is competitive. Staying ahead of trends, making connections, and getting exposure for your brand and product are vital for the long-term success of any beverage company. As a business owner, one way to tackle this endeavor is by participating in events that showcase your company and what you have to offer – not just to consumers, but to potential partners.

Although trade shows, expositions, conferences, and the like have their nuances, they are foundationally similar. Essentially, they function as business-related events where you’re given the opportunity to both interact with customers and industry experts, as well as market your brand in a way not possible in a traditional office setting. At the same time, these events also allow you to gain key insights into exciting innovations that can help improve your product or streamline your business.

You can gain a lot from participating in a trade show or similar event, but there’s a few best practices you should keep in mind to make sure you get the most out of the experience. Hear from Flavorman’s Director & Flavor Architect, Tom Gibson, and Director of Business Operations, Scott Weddle, as they share their insights to your burning questions about attending trade shows in the beverage industry.

What can I do to find the right trade shows to attend?

TOM – “A big part of going to any event is researching what it is beforehand and gauging what you think you’ll be able to get out of it. Trade shows can be very expensive, so you should be looking for criteria that will help you maximize your experience and your time there. If you’re going there for a specific purpose or to find out certain information, get informed on who and what will be at the show. See if they have a schedule. See what opportunities there are for you to open yourself up to a new vendor or customer base, or even a new market.”

SCOTT – “When you’re trying to decide what shows to go to, absolutely find a way to reach out to past attendees. One of the most cost-friendly and time-saving questions that I’ve asked in my career has been, ‘oh you went to that show? Did you find it valuable?’ Most people will be open and honest with you, so if you get two or three people telling you they’ve had a really positive experience at an event, that’s a good indicator that you’re going to get something out of it too.”

“Another thing to keep in mind is that once these events are over, most of the time they’ll put a lot of valuable material online: use it as a resource to do some research on any speakers, booths, or other areas that you find interesting and can help you decide whether you’d like to be there in the future.”

What red flags should I look for when choosing a trade show?

SCOTT – “Without specifically mentioning names, the events that have been the least valuable in my career have been the ones focusing too heavily on selling ingredients and materials without a whole lot of extra value add to it. One of the things I find most valuable and enjoyable about these industry events are those add ins – like breakout sessions or specialized speakers. It’s those details that benefit your own knowledge base and experience, as well as give you and other attendees something to connect over since that networking and rolodex-building component is also incredibly important. Find an event that’s going to offer you those perks for attending.”

TOM –“Sometimes you’re going to trade shows or conferences that, if you didn’t research it before hand or your being sent for one reason or another, there will just be an influx of information that you’ll feel isn’t necessarily applicable to you, your role, or your business. As a flavorist, it’s packaging and equipment shows that are my least favorite – but for some people those are the most important events to attend. It’s another lesson in doing your research beforehand to make sure you’ve found the right fit.”

I’m new to the industry. What should I look for in a trade show?

TOM – “If you’re just breaking into the beverage industry – which is sometimes daunting – look for an event that covers most of the areas specific to your sector or market. The great thing about these events is that there’s a lot of information in one place, so you can get a lot of bang for your buck if you do your research right. You can also be as specific as you want. If you’re getting into the CBD space, there’s a lot of events for that. If you’re looking for ingredient suppliers or co-packers, there’s shows for those areas as well. Anytime you can get into new parts of the industry with new info, those are going to be interesting and beneficial to you. If your new to the industry, there’s so much more to learn.”

SCOTT – “For those just breaking into the industry, I would encourage you to stay close to home. A lot of these events will have the same people attending or the same companies represented at different shows all over the country. If you’re located in the mid-west and there’s a show in Chicago, Illinois, and one in Santa Monica, California, then it makes more sense to do the one in Chicago.”

I’m a seasoned veteran in the beverage industry. How can I still benefit from attending a trade show?

TOM – “I think this is where it can become more difficult. When you’ve been in the industry for a long time, what makes an event important to you becomes more niche-y because you’ve been to a thousand events before, they may start to seem too similar. It goes back to just being a good researcher. Figure out what your goals are and who you want to see, then go from there.”

SCOTT – “For people who have been in the industry for a while or for people who have already established their brands, I think the best thing to look for in these events might be the companies being represented. You’re going to be at a place in your business when you might have the opportunity to be shopping for cost-saving measures or even new employees. The kind of people that you can meet at these shows can be vital in helping you take those next steps in your growth.”

“In general, the most valuable thing about attending trade shows – no matter what they’re focused on or how long you’ve been in the industry – is definitely networking and Rolodex building. Once you’ve attended a few of these shows, you’ll start to see that there’s a lot of the same people represented – even if it’s not the same individuals, it may be the same companies represented. Attending these events may start to seem like it has a declining value over time in terms of visiting a booth to get a brochure, but what persists is the value of continually staying connected to people – the actual players in the industry.”

What are some best practices for attending vs. running a booth at a trade show?

SCOTT –“One piece of advice I would give to somebody simply attending an event is to go with a co-worker or a friend. It can keep you engaged and help you have conversations about the things you’re seeing and learning, and all that will allow you to internalize that information and make it stick when you leave later.”

“A lot of these events will have some great speakers and breakout sessions, so it can be tough to decide which ones to attend and which ones will be most valuable. If someone is on the agenda to speak, chances are they’ve done it before, which means you can probably find them on YouTube or elsewhere online. I would encourage you to check out the list of people speaking the next day, and when you’re in your hotel room that night, take a look at some of the speeches they’ve done before. Find out if the way they communicate is engaging and if the material they’re talking about is germane to what you’re looking to learn. Do just a little bit of that research the day before, and it can really help you discern which presentations to attend.”

TOM – “When you’re running a booth, it’s important to know your market. Know what you want to get from the show, know what the show is bringing in as far as a customer base, and then cater to that. Everything about your marketing materials – your backdrop, brochures, samples, etc. – should match that. You need to create an experience for attendees that makes them want to stop and visit your booth.”

SCOTT – “Running a booth at these shows can be really challenging, but usually in a good way. If you’ve got something that people are really interested in, it can be a bit overwhelming to have that constant flow of people who want to know more and more. I would definitely recommend manning a booth in pairs, at the very least. Everybody is going to need to take a break now and then, and you’re going to want to have that booth constantly manned. The worst thing in the world is that somebody may have walked past that booth at that one moment when you weren’t there.”

“When you’re running a booth, I personally think it’s helpful to never sit down. I think sitting can make you seem less approachable. It can be a little tougher for some attendees to walk up to you and initiate a conversation, so definitely stay standing to encourage them. If you see somebody milling a few feet back from the booth reading your promotional materials, definitely take the first step. Come out from behind the booth and go up and talk to them. Make small talk, ask them what they think of the event. That gives them the opportunity to ask you about what you’re an expert in.”

How do I know if my trade show experience has been valuable?

TOM – “Most events, you can get something out of. Networking is a big part of it. If you can utilize new areas, technologies, or connections in the industry, I’d say that’s a successful experience. That’s always my ‘number one’ from an event: coming away with new leads or connections that can help me find new materials or develop new technologies. As a flavorist, that might be as simple as an introduction to suppliers of new ingredients – or better value ingredients – that I can use to develop beverage flavors.”

SCOTT – “You can tell if an experience has been valuable by what you can almost tangibly take away from it. No matter what event you go to, it can be a little overwhelming. At the time, you can feel like there’s a ton of information or connections being made, but when I come back from a show and I have action items, people to talk to, things to research or follow up on, then that’s when I really know it’s been a successful trip.”

“The most overwhelmingly positive experience I’ve had in terms of business development happened recently at the Cannabis Drinks Expo I attended this year. Of course, with cannabis being such a brand new industry, there were a lot of people in attendance who needed to and wanted to learn a lot. That was a show where we ran a booth to showcase our SoluCan BD product, which is a fully customizable, water soluble CBD isolate. From the day the Expo opened until the minute they closed the doors at the end, people were lined up waiting to talk to us, eager to learn about how Flavorman could help them develop their next CBD drink projects – and I was eager to tell them about it. We’ll be back in 2020 for their Chicago show.”

Overall, it’s important to know the difference between the type of events you’ll be attending so you can bring the right materials and make the proper connections to move your business forward. Know what’s out there, do your research, and you’ll find that these events can be an incredibly valuable resource for you and your beverage business.

Written on November 13, 2019.