The Total Package

Colette Fairchild, CEM, CMP, trade show director for H.H. Backer Associates Inc., the organizer of Backer's Total Pet Expo, explains how the event continues to evolve to better serve retail buyers and suppliers.


Pet Business: When was Backer’s Total Pet Expo Fall Show—which will be held Sept. 19-21 in Rosemont, Ill.—established? What has been the key to the show’s longevity, and how has it evolved over the years?

Colette Fairchild:
Backer’s Total Pet Expo, formerly the Pet Industry Christmas Trade Show, began in 1967. The show’s cofounders, Horst H. Backer and Sue Busch, combined their show management and print production expertise to produce one of the industry’s longest-running events. The key to the show’s success can be attributed to the number of new companies the show traditionally attracts, plus the fall date—timed for last-minute holiday buying. The show is now owned by the cofounder’s daughter, Patty Backer, who last year renamed and rebranded the show, and added a number of new features.

PB: What types of buyers and exhibitors are typically drawn to TPE?

In terms of buyers, Backer’s Total Pet Expo is a B2B event that draws pet store owners, online stores, distributors, superstores, boarding kennels, grooming businesses, aquarium stores, vet clinics, feed stores, lawn and garden stores, boutique/specialty gift stores, mail order catalogs, and department/discount/variety stores.

Seeing new, innovative products is the number-one reason why our attendees come—they want something that will set them apart from the competition and increase their profits during the busy holiday season and beyond. We have a large amount of brand new companies that exhibit, but we also draw longtime industry exhibitors such as General Pet Supply, The Kong Company, Rolf C. Hagen, Coastal Pet Products, Vee Enterprises and Up Country, to name a few. Kong got its start at the Backer show as a small company that grew into a multimillion-dollar business.

PB: What are you expectations for this year’s show, in terms of exhibitor and buyer attendance?

We’ve definitely seen an uptick in the number of new retail businesses in the past year, based on the inquiries we received from buyers. Last year, the show drew 6,501 buyers from 1,999 firms, which included approximately 1,000 first-time attendees. Based on how we’re tracking on our attendance numbers to date, we anticipate a slight increase in attendance.

PB: This year, the show is moving from a two-level show floor layout to having everything on one floor. What benefits will this provide?

The show is actually moving to a larger hall within the convention center that can accommodate what we had last year on two floors. Many of our exhibitors/attendees think the show moved all the booths down to the first floor in the hall we used last year, which is not the case. The convention center’s “A” hall, located on the left-hand side of the lobby, offers a much easier-to-navigate, brighter hall with a larger 20-foot center aisle, easier access to the conference center/social events at the Hyatt and a better concession setup. We’ll be in “A” hall next year and for subsequent shows.

PB: TPE features various show-floor sections (e.g., All-Natural, Aquatic Answers, etc.). Can you talk a little about this segmentation and how it has improved the show?

Grouping the sections such as the All-Natural and New Exhibitor areas simply makes things much easier for buyers to shop for what they need. Retailers need to make the most of the time they spend on the show floor. On the exhibitor side, our New Exhibitor area offers reduced-rate booths to help first-time exhibitors get their start.

PB: Can you tell us a bit about the “Store on the Floor” concept and what attendees can expect to find within?

Basically, it’s a great place to come and get some new store-layout and merchandising ideas, in addition to seeing what’s new from our exhibitors. We’ll have experts on hand to answer merchandising questions, demonstrate POS systems and have information on Pet Store Pro’s online training program for employees. We’ll also feature some innovative companion-animal displays. This year, we’ve added a boutique section. As an added incentive to visit the store, we’ll have daily iPad drawings for qualified buyers.

PB: Are there any other exciting show features that retailers should know about?

Buyers are rewarded at the show for spending—for every $3,500 worth of orders written at the show, buyers receive $75 in cash—maximum of $225 per company—after the show. Winners from our Top Ten All-Natural Products Contest on Facebook will also be featured in a special display area in our all-natural area.

In addition, we encourage buyers to come and see our new “Pitch Your Product” competition for exhibitors. Competitors have two minutes to give us their best sales pitch on their new product. Winner receives approximately $10,000 in public-relations services, trade advertising, video production and a complimentary booth in next year’s fall show.

Other popular events include an 80s-themed All-Industry party on Saturday, Sept. 20 at the Hyatt; a 5K Fun Run on Saturday morning, organized by; a grooming competition; a full-day pre-show retailing seminar; and a special Women in the Pet Industry networking reception.

Lastly, our education stations feature a number of new speakers this year, and the sessions will be held right on the show floor, in small group settings. Buyers can choose from tracks on technology, business management, marketing/merchandising, aquatics, and animal health and wellness.

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