Santa Rosa is calling. Are you ready?
The trade show of the year, Hall of Flowers on May 3-4, 2023, is fast approaching. We want powerhouse, established brands and new brands alike to take advantage of the show in every way possible. This can be accomplished by utilizing our new technology like ENGAGElive to set meeting times, or by tapping into the power of NFC wristbands for easy transactions.
Most importantly, you should take this actionable advice from an experienced industry retailer and plan ahead. Sara Betesh is an industry veteran, founder of Betesh Buying Group, and Director of Merchandising & Strategic Partnerships at Highway Cannabis. The retail strategist has purchased over $500M of cannabis in her career. We asked her what both brands and other retail representatives can do to best prepare for the show.
Betesh offers up her best advice for the show, what to avoid, and how to really stand out among the competition.
1. Arrive with a game plan
“Review the brands that are going to be there in advance,” says Betesh. “I would also recommend you at least have a game plan to connect with brands that you already do business with, brands that you maybe have unfinished projects with or ongoing projects that coincide with Hall of Flowers.”
“I look at the brands in advance to understand which ones I would target and want to speak to, because I think that it would add value to my assortment for the stores that I’m purchasing for,” she says.
Brands and retailers can use our online resources to make a game plan in advance of the show. Betesh’s additional advice to other buyers coming to the show is to get their samples early to avoid the long lines at Nug’s dispensary at the close of the day. “Go more than once,” says Betesh. “Check out once or twice a day if you can, because the second day usually gets a little more hectic.”
2. Set meetings
Betesh advises that buyers and industry folks maximize their time at the show by scheduling meetings. “I would set up 30-minute meetings with the brand,” she says.
“Make sure you are going in with a purpose, with intention,” says Betesh. “Then you can fill in the rest of the time with new brands or catching up with old brands that you already do business with. Use the time to network. Don’t just hang around kind of waiting for people to talk to you,” says Betesh. “I would say, be outgoing and ask questions. Meet new people. take meetings with brands even if you aren’t planning to onboard those products to your menu immediately. Do your future self a favor and do the research upfront for easier decision-making later. Optimize your time at HOF so your follow-up meetings can dive straight into the launch details, rather than starting at the beginning of your courtship.”
Should you make meetings in advance of the show? Betesh says yes, go ahead. “I do make meetings in advance, but only if there is a purpose. “And if there is something that requires a solution, something that we’re going to be able to follow up on afterward”. We are streamlining this process for attendees with a new meeting scheduling platform ENGAGElive.
3. Buyers, budget accordingly
“It’s great to be able to think ahead with your budgeting,” says Betesh. “I have to definitely put money aside for open-to-buy. Do you want to keep some dollars open for opportunistic buys of new products, like a trend that we know that is going to be a big hit? The answer is yes.”
Betesh says if you’re a sophisticated retailer and you have a weekly “open-to-buy budget,” it is advantageous for you to set aside a certain percentage for new purchases. This enables you to be nimble and acquire new, exciting products leading up to trade shows or big holidays. “Set aside a budget over the previous 4-6 weeks so you have X amount of dollars to spend,” says Betesh. “Whether it be for a new brand, a new product, or a trend that you want to invest in.”
In Betesh’s role at Highway Cannabis, her primary focus is merchandising and strategic partnerships, which requires a lot of planning out promotional activity in advance. “I definitely have to have a budget for promotional activity because there is an associated spend on the retailer side,” she says.
4. Vendors, get creative with your booth
Brands that utilize the experience well are getting wildly creative. “Brands that have creative booths draw us in to come and speak with them,” says Betesh. Betesh offers up a few examples of cool products or exhibits in the past: “Ones that stand out in my mind were interactive. I really loved the Selfies by Heshies booth last year. That was a lot of fun, and I think they worked really hard on designing that.”
Creativity means finding a way to display your hero packaging front and center. “At shows like this, a lot of it has to do with packaging,” she says. Betesh was also intrigued during past shows by Sonder’s unique, jumbo-sized versions of cannabis products that stood out among the crowd. “It was really fun and creative,” she says. “I remember chatting with my coworker and saying, hey, sounds kind of corny, but where are all the gimmicky types of booths that will draw you in?”
Good design entices consumers in the storefront, and it draws buyers in at Hall of Flowers. “When they have unique things that stand out, those booths tend to have a lot of people around them,” she says. “You want to see what’s going on.”
5. Take advantage of the great outdoors
The buyer says she very much uses the outdoor space throughout the show. Offering a safe space to consume products on-site, the outdoor activations are designed for testing, meetings, and connection. “It’s a more relaxed environment,” she says.
Should you find a comfortable seat in the consumption lounge to take meetings, or focus meetings to your time on the floor? “I think it’s a combination of both,” says Betesh. “If you’re doing your meetings in the Exhibition Booth, that’s probably geared towards the merchandise, a situation where they want you to look at new products they have out or strains they can show you.”
6. Let your product speak for itself
Design is great, but the most successful exhibitors at the show have a quality product to back it up. “It’s always really great to be able to see the flowers in the jars and in clear jars so you can see the sample you’re going to get. So I think that’s always great in terms of products.”
This advice goes for ancillary and edible products as well as flower. “It stands out if you have an edible company and you’re able to offer non-medicated samples at the booth,” she says. “Then buyers, be sure to follow up with purchasing the medicated samples at the dispensary.”
7. Time a limited-release product drop to the show
“I definitely look for limited-release products,” says Betesh. “The brands are very proud to be at Hall of Flowers and want to showcase their latest and greatest. They also use that as a marketing tool before they go. It’s a way to say, ‘hey, will you be there? I would love to make an appointment. We’re featuring some new products.’ If I do know to look for a limited-release product in advance, it would be really cool.”
Utilizing our new ENGAGElive platform, brands will be able to say if they have limited-release or exclusive product SKUs with launches tied to the event. Brands can plan to see that as one of the categories when registering on the platform. Betesh suggests sending marketing and digital promotion in advance of the show to let buyers know the new product is coming soon. “I do believe that the vendors use that space and use that excitement to show new products. You expect that new things will be coming when you’re there as a buyer.”
8. Focus on building relationships
“There’s a lot to do, a lot to talk about, and so many passionate people who want to be there. After the initial overstimulation shock passes, I would tell buyers to expect to feel very welcomed by the brands. This is like a no-pressure environment situation.”
Betesh says the show doesn’t feel like, ‘buy now, buy now, buy now.’ “It’s more about, ‘let’s build a relationship and let’s talk about what works for your store.’ I think you just pull that out of certain people. At this point, a lot of the vendors and a lot of the brand reps have been working in the industry for a long time, and they’re experts in their territory. So I think you can expect that your experience will be tailored to you and your territory because they’re so knowledgeable. You could expect that they already know about your dispensary and you’re already on their radar.”
9. Think into the future
“Even if you’re not interested in a product right now, you never know that you might be interested in six months,” says Betesh.
The retail strategist plans months in advance. “My goal is to use Hall of Flowers this year as a platform for me to schedule out and get some more marketing ideas for promotional activities throughout Q3 and Q4,” says Betesh. “I’m using this platform as a meeting space for me to be able to start to relay that message to our brands that we work closely with and to also, yes, use the budget that I set aside for Hall of Flowers.”
Betesh plans to come back and speak to her purchasing manager to say what is worth buying, and what she sees potential in. “For us, it’s like a six to eight-week onboarding process, so we want to get ahead of it. And the money that you’re putting aside from your budget weekly to be able to pay for that will benefit you. You’ll be able to launch products sooner rather than waiting until you have money for it because, news flash, you’re not going to have money for it. You have to plan to have money for it.”
10. Book your travel sooner rather than later
“I’d say book your flight because that’s always my number one concern,” Betesh says. “Especially if you’re flying in.” Driving is an option, but make sure to look up traffic times as to avoid the rush hours. “Book the flight and your accommodations as early as possible,” she says. “That’s always my number one thing.”
“If you’re able to bring one of your counterparts, that is something that I would highly recommend,” she says. “You can divide and conquer, and then you have somebody to bounce your thoughts off of. I would not go there to smoke weed the entire day. It’s a nice perk, and I definitely partake and think it’s cool that we work in an industry that allows and normalizes consumption, but you still have to get the job done. I would say, be curious & ask questions, don’t just hang out with the same old gang that you see every day back at home. Making some new friends, expanding your network, and catching up with the homies all contribute to understanding the market and making informed decisions for your future product assortments and overall business “