Who doesn’t love a good expo? Industry events are like seeing your LinkedIn account come to life, except nobody can get away with using a 10-year-old photo of themselves. Expos and conferences are one of the most reliable ways for us to have face-to-face meetings and meet new connections.
But before writing for Marijuana Venture, I came from a much more corporate environment and mistakenly tried to apply the corporate values instilled in me through years of rapped knuckles. I had to unlearn a great deal about judging books by their covers and the sort of thinking that Corporate America rewards.
So here are some of the lessons I learned, topics I had to reconcile and tactics I’ve gleaned from working at cannabis industry trade shows. A lot of these lessons should be pretty obvious, but somehow, they become the topic of conversation after every show we attend. My hope in writing these 10 lessons is that it helps someone avoid missing an important connection or buying some glossy, black-on-black business cards in the future.
- Be skeptical
The one lesson that has held up throughout my years in the corporate world and in cannabis is that on paper and online, people can be misleading. The life expectancy of a B.S. artist is considerably shorter in person. If someone is making a grandiose claim, ask them about it. You don’t need to be standoff-ish, but the “everyone grows the best weed” joke has become a staple of the industry for a reason.
If a company is doing the work and can back up their grandiose claims, they’ll have a concise answer.
- Arrive early
Anyone who has ever stopped by the Marijuana Venture booth at past shows might wonder why it takes us the entire set-up day to put up a banner and lay out a few magazines. That’s because we try to meet as many of our fellow exhibitors as we can on set-up day, introduce ourselves and the magazine, and learn more about their company without prying them away from a potential lead during the show.
Plus, getting an early start increases your chances of meeting proactive and productive companies. It’s like when you were in school: The straight-A students arrive early and sit in the front while the underachievers shuffle in at their own pace and sit in the back.
6 reasons to attend RAD
By Garrett Rudolph
One of the most important factors in having success at a trade show — whether you’re an exhibitor or an attendee — is selecting the right event. Wading through a sea of consumers at a cannabis cup is typically a complete waste of time and money for B2B companies, such as insurance providers, investment firms, lawyers and grow equipment manufacturers, for example.
Likewise, attending a grow show probably doesn’t make much sense for the managers of a retail business, and companies that are looking to sell their products directly to the public probably won’t have much luck at a B2B event. This is one of the reasons Marijuana Venture started the RAD (Retail and Dispensary) Expo, which will be Oct. 10-11 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon.
Here are six reasons we believe it’s the right event for retail and dispensary owners and managers and for the companies with retail-facing products and services.
1. Most cannabis trade shows are still about 80% focused on grow products. For many retailers, it’s a waste of time to walk up and down aisle after aisle of nutrients, grow lights, extraction equipment and greenhouses.
2. The RAD Expo is the only national trade event focused exclusively on the retail sector of the cannabis industry. This is the best opportunity for business owners and managers to learn more about hundreds of products and services available for cannabis retailers.
3. The timing is right. Although the pace has been slower than originally expected, California still projects to have several thousand licensed cannabis retailers within the first couple years. And other states are starting medical and recreational programs left and right. This industry is growing so fast it can be easy to miss the opportunity.
4. Retail is evolving. Medical dispensaries and recreational shops are quickly learning the value of selling non-cannabis products, such as clothing, paraphernalia, non-infused snacks and drinks and more.
5. This is not “just another pot show.” This is an opportunity for cannabis entrepreneurs to meet with companies that can’t be found at most of the industry events — companies like Bic, the iconic lighter company, Valentine Ventures, an investment firm that offers a 401(k) program for the cannabis industry, and Villa Lighting Supply, a company that specializes in retail and commercial lighting.
6. The price is right. Unlike other trade events that charge hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars for attendees to walk the floor, the RAD Expo is completely free for attendees who pre-register at www.theradexpo.com. So sign up today!
- Not all business owners wear ties
I quickly found that cannabis business people come in all varieties. Sometimes cannabis growers wear suits and ties. Sometimes they wear tie-dye. But that doesn’t void the “be skeptical” lesson. Regardless of attire, if someone is there to do business then they’ll act professionally. But that’s only if they’re there to do business, which brings me to my next lesson learned.
- Wait for the after party
Not surprisingly, people in the cannabis industry love cannabis. And whether it’s a trade show or a social hour, people get high at cannabis events. Of course, it doesn’t help that there’s a “cannabus” parked outside at 8 a.m., but it’s hard to take someone seriously when they’re taking dabs on their way in to a business show.
I don’t condemn people for wanting to have some fun at trade events — after all, we work in a fun industry — but there’s a time and place.
- Cannabis culture without objectification
Honestly, my first tour of a cannabis business event was like walking through a gauntlet of things I was taught to never, ever do at work, like objectifying women. Real basic stuff.
Any booth-babe-packed booth I see immediately makes me question the articles I’ve read about cannabis being one of the most gender-neutral industries out there. I suppose it’s a useful tactic for wrangling young, stoned men into your booth at the cannabis cups, but as a writer looking for editorial content in a B2B magazine, it simply lacks the professionalism that we want to showcase for our readers. It’s also tasteless.
- Bring business cards — lots of them
Business cards don’t need to be reinvented. I’ve seen one of Bill Gates’ business cards — it was plain white and had just a name, a logo and some contact information.
At one event I got a black business card with black text that could only be read by reflecting light off it at the right angle. It was useless because it was so hard to read.
A box of 500 new business cards runs about $9.99, and it might be the best return on any investment you’ll make. If you’re going to a trade show, bring the entire box. You’ll meet a lot of people and if one of those cards leads to a sale, a business partnership or having a killer story written about your company, then it’s money well spent.
- Bring two pens and guard them
Technology will fail, batteries will die, memory cards will have errors and even a pen will run dry from time to time, so bring two. Just in case.
- Prepare to be nickel-and-dimed
It would be hard to imagine that there are worse perpetrators of gouging than trade shows. Exhibitors are charged for WiFi. They’re charged for trash cans. For carpet. For charging your phone if you’re using an outlet.
One trade show tried to charge us for chairs after we’d agreed to trade advertising in exchange for a booth. When I asked them about it, they said, “Well, they aren’t free.” We were about to scrap the deal when the publisher made a counter offer of running their ads in black and white. They begrudgingly gave us the chairs and we never renewed the deal.
- Supplies and tech
You’re going to be standing, talking, shaking hands and not eating for a while. Wear comfy shoes. Bring some mints, cough drops and water. Purell is good too. And try to eat a big breakfast.
Make a list of the things you’ll need for trade shows and update it regularly. A list will not only reduce the number of times you’ll wake up at 1 a.m. the night before a show after remembering that your banners are still in another state, but it can also help prevent you from being roped in to cover for another person’s oversight.
We’re not a tech-heavy company. Like I said earlier, a stack of magazines and a banner works for us. But when you have an individual who wants to make a payment, it’s better to be prepared rather than apologizing for delays. At every trade show I’ve been to, there’s at least one person asking me to hold for a moment while frantically trying to open an iPad presentation. It rarely ends well.
- The show won’t close your leads for you
Just like in print advertising, if a trade show gives you a good number of new leads, then it has done its job. The rest is up to you. These events are expensive and if you’re fine with blowing the money just to hang out and talk then you can contact me at Patrick@marijuanaventure.com any time.