Expo West 2019: A Snacks-to-Sleep Survival Guide

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Expo West 2019: A Snacks-to-Sleep Survival Guide

February 26, 2019

Listen Up.
The GRO Agency Chief Creative Officer Kelly Criswell dispatches her inimitable Expo West survival tools for attendees and exhibitors alike.

Natural Products Expo West 2019 means… Subsisting on cricket protein bites for 5 days. Smiling a thousand smiles and shaking a thousand hands. Navigating a sea of booths under the seizure-inducing fluorescent “glow” of the Anaheim Convention Center. Mustering your last drop of genuine enthusiasm for the umpteenth conversation about the life-changing magic of fermented foods (Omg, my microbiome is straight-up next-level, gurl!). Surely, there’s some artisanal cactus water around here somewhere? YES! It’s Natural Products Expo and WE LOVE IT ALL.

Let’s face it, while Expo West is one of the best ways to connect with CPG leaders and explore yummy innovation, surfing the crowds can exhaust even the toughest conference warrior. And, I’ve made all the mistakes you can make (walking the floor five months pregnant, in heels… yeah, True Story). Now after mannnnny years of attending conferences and trade shows, I’ve got my survival skills down to a science. Naturally, I thought I would share my Do’s and  Don’ts for making the most of Expo West 2019 so you can keep your head on straight and, I promise, you won’t lose your Ashwanganda.

The Expo West 2019 Basics (if you learn nothing else)

March 5-9, 2019 and Attendee Registration is still open!

Anaheim Hilton, 777 West Convention Way, Anaheim, CA 92802

Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W Katella Avenue, Anaheim CA 92802

…it’s crazy. Check out your Expo parking and shuttle options.

Go for your goals.

Identify your strategy and reasons for attending Natural Products Expo West. Are you looking to increase your distribution or maybe showcase an innovative new product? Practice your elevator pitch so that you can communicate your value proposition with focus, clarity, and pizzazz! The time to refine your pitch is now, not when booths are swarmed with show-goers. Trying to conquer the conference without a solid strategy is a little like going on “Naked and Afraid” without knowing how to rub two sticks together. Good luck to you.

Devise a game plan.

Examine the Expo exhibitor list and the floor plan. Make a list of potential contacts that you’d like to engage, as well as existing relationships that you want to enhance, and map out a play-by-play through the conference floor. While prioritizing your face-to-face time is important, badge credentials do not define a valuable contact. Assume nothing. You never know where someone has been or where they are going. Think speed dating. The person sitting across from you may not be “The One,” but they may have a cute friend or give you the name of a great dentist. So, don’t be disparaging or dismissive. Kindness is key.

Chart your territory.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but dedicate some serious time, before Expo, to study the lay of the land. Lock in your reservations, tout de suite, at the Anaheim Hilton, if you haven’t already. Packing tip: bring a bathing suit – the Hilton Exercise Spa sports an outdoor pool plus an indoor adult exercise pool along with jacuzzis. Bonus: Newport Beach is a mere 15 miles away from the fray, so that bathing suit may come in extra handy.

And, just FYI, in case you missed that crucial haircut in the flurry up to Expo, the Hilton’s onsite salon, Pure Escape, has a full lineup of services– of course all products are non-toxic and vegan. Self-care, am I right?

There are five dining locale’s at the Hilton, with the hotel’s hot spot Mix Lounge serving up cocktails, mocktails and nibbles with gluten-free and veg-friendly options, am to pm. Should you want to meet up with new contacts off-campus, we suggest the hip meets hip-pie vegan destination, The Healthy Junk. Tuck into their Tex Mex fare; you won’t be disappointed.

Parking can be brutal at the Anaheim Convention Center so locate alternate lots and shuttle services. Pinpoint onsite Expo West Registration and badge pick-up, so you aren’t lost, looking for the lanyard line. And not for nothing, but you don’t want to log extra miles on your Fitbit hunting for the loo. There are a lot of tasty treats and beverages to be had at Expo that, for example, flush your system or…um… promote elimination. Just saying.

Build a better booth.

The old adage is true: less really is more. If your Expo West booth is disorganized or chaotic, people will think that you are too. Also, it can be frustrating for visitors to pick up packaging at your booth, only to be told that they can’t take it with them. So, put any materials that aren’t for the taking in the back of the booth, and place giveaways, front and center. And be sure to survey your booth periodically, to restock promotional materials and keep things clean and streamlined. Marie Kondo would approve. Trust.

Recharge and refuel.

Be sure to schedule breaks to rest your tired feet, not to mention, your frazzled nerves. Take advantage of the yoga and meditation events at Expo West to ground yourself in the midst of the conference chaos. (Personally, I’ve always wanted to go on the AHPA-sponsored herb walk tour. Who’s with me?)  In addition to getting centered, these events can also be a great place to network, as the environs are more serene and you can easily strike up a casual conversation. (Omg, Blue Planet II was incredible. Did you hear that David Attenborough plans to live beyond 100 for Blue Planet 3? I bet he’s tapping into some serious Reishi mushroom moments.) And a little tip from me to you – eat real meals and stay hydrated. Subsisting on snack samples and guzzling caffeine is sure fire way to exhaust those adrenals.

Download the details.

Seriously, get the Natural Products Expo West mobile app. Like, right now. The app has all the news that’s fit to post about the show, including last minute updates and changes, literally at your fingertips. And, get in on the social media coverage of the event. Use your Twitter/Facebook/Insta/LinkedIn as you maneuver through the conference halls. Look for other brands posting, tweeting, and chatting– don’t be afraid to comment, tag and add new contacts to the stream. Joining the online dialogue is just another way to forge new relationships and Expo is the ultimate ice-breaker. Thanks, Technology! #LivingthatExpoLife #wherearetheCBDvendors

Stock up on supplies.

I like to pack a pouch with essentials. That way, I can toss it in my handbag for an easy grab, so that I’m not caught mid-show, with a tension headache, rummaging through my purse, in a desperate search for some Advil. My trade show survival kit always includes:

  • Extra chargers for all of my devices,
  • A collapsible refillable water bottle,
  • Business cards,
  • Pens,
  • mints,
  • Mini hand-sanitizer,
  • More business cards,
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen,
  • … and did I mention business cards?

(And, after the Natural Products Hemp and CBD Summit at this year’s Expo, I may even be convinced to add a little tincture or two… Expo West 2020, here we come!)

Stay connected.

At the end of each day, I take out every business card I received and enter them into a spreadsheet. I always add notes for each contact. I then wait a week and reach out. I don’t follow up that evening, because I don’t want my “nice to meet you” message to get lost in a sea of emails. And, because I have my notes in my spreadsheet, I can make sure that each message or call, is personal and reflects our meeting.


And, then, once I’ve sent my last email, made my last call, and filed my last brochure, I book a session in a sensory deprivation tank and take a nap. Just kidding… well, not about the nap.

Can’t wait to see you there! Check out our Expo IG adventures at @thegroagency and learn more about our Brand Strategy + Packaging Design agency at thegroagency.com.

Peace out you CPG warriors! Stay fresh.

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