A World of Opportunity
Andrew Darmohraj, executive vice president and COO of the American Pet Products Association, discusses how attendees can make the most of their time here at Global Pet Expo.
Global Pet Expo was recently named the “Greatest Show on Earth” by Trade Show Executive magazine, which also included the show on its Gold 100 list for the seventh year in a row. What does this honor mean to you and your staff?
Andrew Darmohraj: It’s always extra special when your own industry recognizes what you do, and Trade Show Executive magazine is a publication specifically for trade show organizers, whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit organizers. They have a lot of criteria that they use to determine which show they’re going to name as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” It’s not only about the growth in the size of the show, but also growth in attendance. It’s about satisfaction rates from buyers and exhibitors, as well as the use of marketing and social media. Basically, they look at a ton of things that go toward making a good show. And when they pick your show as best out of all the 10,000 trade shows in the country, it’s pretty special.
Winning any award is great, and it is nice when it’s your peers who are recognizing you. It’s confirmation that the things we think are best for Global Pet Expo and the industry really are that good.
It seems like Global Pet Expo keeps growing year after year after year, in terms of exhibitor participation. Has that continued in 2016? Do you see any trends in booth sizes?
Darmohraj: We definitely have more exhibitors and more booths than we had in 2015, so the growth is definitely there on the exhibitors’ side.
What are your expectations for buyer attendance? Have you seen any notable trends in pre-registration?
Darmohraj: Our pre-registration numbers were very strong as well. Of course, until people actually come and register on site, we won’t really know what the final buyer attendance numbers are going to be. But our pre-registration was nine percent ahead of last year, when we ended up with almost 7,000 qualified buyers at the show. So, I’m sure we’re going to be well over that 7,000 mark.
We’re seeing the biggest uptick on the independent retail side, and we’re not just seeing it from the Southeast or from the East Coast; it’s a national thing. So, more independent retailers from across the country are saying that they’re going to come to Global Pet Expo.
Is that a product of any particular initiatives designed to attract more independent retailers to the show?
Darmohraj: We’re spending more time at the distributor open houses, so we’re speaking one-on-one with more independent retailers all over the country. It’s a much different experience than what a piece of direct mail or an email can provide. When someone stops by our booth or when we’re talking with someone in a coffee line, we can better explain the benefits of going to a show like Global Pet Expo, where there are so many manufacturers showing their full product lines. It drives the point home much better than a marketing piece would.
We have a handful of really large spaces, but the majority of our exhibitors are taking 100- to 200-sq.-ft. booths. Still, we are seeing an increase in the square footage per exhibitor, and that’s a clear sign that the industry is doing well. Manufacturers are not going to spend money that they don’t have, and they’re increasing their booth size because they feel that it’s a worthwhile investment.
Are you still seeing a lot of interest in the show’s specialty sections like Natural Pet, the Boutique or Everything Aquatic?
Darmohraj: Yes. In fact, we sold out the special sections in January. So there is a clear demand from companies that want to be in those specialty areas.
A major change that we made for 2016 is we moved the Natural Pet section to the left side of the exhibit hall, where the Boutique section used to be, and we put the Boutique where the Natural Pet used to be. This allowed us to have a much bigger Natural Pet section this year. It also gave us more room for larger booths in the Natural Pet, which is what exhibitors were asking for, and provided us with the flexibility to further expand that section if we needed. So, we have a pretty awesome looking Natural Pet section this year.
Have there been any other notable developments regarding the show floor?
Darmohraj: We’ve taken more space at the Orange County Convention Center, so we are providing more services on each side of the hall. This year, there is food service on both sides of the exhibit hall. We also made a concerted effort to provide more lounges and seating around the hall to make it easier for people to take a break as they’re moving from appointment to appointment. We always provide some kind of seating in the hall, but this year we’ve actually created some dedicated areas throughout the hall with group seating and lounges to make it a little more of a networking opportunity, as well as just a place to catch your breath.
We’ve also expanded our Global Pet Expo trolley service, which debuted in 2015. This year, we have two trolleys running the length of the show, picking people up and dropping them off in an effort to help attendees save a few steps in trying to get from one part of the hall to the other. Last year, people loved it. Exhibitors used it, as well as buyers. And when we measured the usage, we saw that there was enough demand that we could make good use out of having two trolleys running.
At last year’s Global Pet Expo, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) introduced a pilot program called the APPA Young Professionals group. It looks like this group has evolved since then and is actually partnering with the Professional Women’s Network to host a breakfast presentation from soccer star Christie Rampone on Friday. What can you tell us about the evolution of the APPA Young Professionals group?
Darmohraj: We did a bit of a test-run last year to see if there was any interest among young professionals in the industry in having an organization through which they could network and gain some social, as well as business, benefits. We did two meet-ups at the show last year that were very well attended and rated very positively in our post-show surveys. So, we took the next step and expanded the program.
It’s now an official part of APPA and Global Pet Expo. It’s going to have newsletters and an educational aspect to it. But as an official kick-off, we felt that we had a good opportunity to do something with the Professional Women’s Network at the breakfast.
And we’ve got a great speaker for the event this year. Christie Rampone has been on the U.S. national women’s team for a long time. She’s won two World Cups, a bunch of gold medals, and has a great story. She manages her personal life and a very busy professional career, and I think she’s going to have a lot of interesting insight to provide to both the members of the Young Professionals group and the Professional Women’s Network.
For the past several years, Global Pet Expo has offered a mobile app to help buyers successfully navigate the show. Are you offering the app again this year? What are some of the key features?
Darmohraj: It is a free app, and it’s very easy to find if you go to the app store on your iPhone or Android device and search “Global Pet Expo.”
To me, the most important aspect of that app is the on-site access it provides to the floor plan. You can click on booths to see exhibitor details, and it’s very easy to do a search and find the companies you want to see. It also provides information on all 30-plus free educational sessions that we offer retailers here at the show. So, if you’re looking for education, or you want to confirm when and where a particular session takes place, it’s very easy to find that information on your phone.
There is also a section on the mobile app, where exhibitors are promoting specials or incentives that they are only offering during Global Pet Expo. Buyers can scroll through and see what kind of deals are available on the floor at any given time.
Do you have any advice for buyers on how they can make the most of their experience at Global Pet Expo?
Darmohraj: I think the most important thing is to have a plan. Before you start walking the show, you have to know what outcomes you want from your visit to Global Pet Expo. Do you want to just see what the developing trends are? Do you want to find new products? Do you have to meet with certain vendors that you’re already doing business with? Is there a specific category that you’re looking to add to your store? A buyer really needs to have a sense of the purposes for visiting Global Pet Expo.
Once that’s set, it’s much easier to plan—and you really have to plan. The show is so big, in terms of the square footage, that just walking up and down every aisle is the equivalent of doing more than a 5K. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so having a plan ahead of time is really important. That could mean making appointments with the vendors you want to meet with, or making sure that you visit the New Products Showcase early. Of course, you will want to be sure to come back to the New Products Showcase on Thursday night, when we do the best-in-show awards, because those awards are the best indicators of what will be the hot products for the year.
Then, of course, there are the obvious tips that may be easy to overlook. For example, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, and have plenty of business cards, a pen and a bag to carry samples and fliers in. Also make sure that you eat properly and hydrate, because it’s very easy to find yourself looking at your watch at 4:00 p.m. and realize that the only thing you’ve eaten all day is a banana. That’s not good for you.
Last year, the area surrounding the Orange County Convention Center began to get some upgrades, in terms of attractions like the Orlando Eye Ferris wheel, shopping and dining options. Do you have any updates to report?
Darmohraj: Well, the Orlando Eye is now open, but more importantly, there are about 10 bars and restaurants now located around that attraction, so now you have a lot more opportunities for after-show drinks or meals. And they’re much closer to the convention center than we’ve had in the past.
Very close to the convention center, they’ve opened a new venue called Mango’s, which is a restaurant/night club from Miami Beach. It’s a large venue where you can get a quick drink or something to eat and see a show, or just hang out and have a good time, if you want to stay out later.
Even closer—right across from Pointe Orlando—there is now a Del Frisco’s Steakhouse, a really high-end place for dinner with great food and good wine. It’s in a beautiful, brand new building, and it is a very big venue, so it should be pretty easy to get a reservation.
Are there any new developments to report about the convention center property itself?
Darmohraj: I think the thing that people will notice first is the bridge that is being built from the Hyatt over to the convention center. Once that walkway is complete, then there will be covered, safe access from the biggest hotel in the convention center area over to the show. Right now, though, the front of the building, out by the main hall lobby, is under construction. So, people who are staying at the Hyatt now can’t walk out and cross the street, like they could in previous years. Instead, there are two new paths to get across to the convention center.
There are also changes being made to the outside of the West building. It’s still under construction now, but it will eventually provide an outside, covered lounge space where people will have an opportunity to sit and charge their phones or have meetings in an outdoor space that’s right on the convention center property.
They’re in the process of remodeling all the restrooms. They’ve put up new directional signage and video screens; and over the next couple of years, they’re making some more changes to the flooring and the wall treatments. So everything in the West building of the convention center is going to look brand new.
This year, we are part of a pilot program from Orange County, where they are going to be offering a circulator that runs on the campus of the convention center. Basically, it involves little shuttle buses that run from the parking lots to the front of both the West and the North-South buildings, and from the Rosen Centre on one side and the Rosen Plaza on the other side. So people will be able to get from one end of the building to the other without having to take a taxi or a pedicab or wait for the show shuttles; they’ll be able to hop on one of these little circulators.
Given that you work really hard year after year, to improve the show it must be great to see the convention center following suit.
Darmohraj: Well, they understand that the shows that come here are important to the county, and that any way that they can improve the experience for the attendees is good for everyone involved. So they’re always looking for ways to make the experience better.
They actually have a long-term master plan as well. It’s still years out, but they’re talking about putting in dedicated shuttle lanes on International Drive, as well as other people movers and ways to alleviate traffic in the area. The county is really taking great steps to make sure that attendees that come in for events at the convention center have the best experience possible.
In January, the organizers of Global Pet Expo, the American Pet Products Association and Pet Industry Distributors Association, partnered to host the first-annual Pet Industry Leadership Conference. How was it partnering with PIDA for this new event? From your perspective, how did the conference turn out?
Darmohraj: We were very pleased with the final results of the conference. We surpassed our projected numbers, in terms of attendance. We had a great turnout with the tabletop exhibits and sponsorships. And I think everyone would agree that the content—not only the general session speakers, but the breakout sessions as well—was fantastic. So, we’re really happy with the outcome, and we’re already working on 2017. The conference will take place January 30- February 2, 2017 at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, CA. We’re beginning to work on content to make sure that we offer the same high level of education for the second year that we had the first.