Big trade shows were the nexus of the cannabis industry — until COVID-19 hit.
Now, after two years of cancellations, postponements, and reconfigurations, the future of our trade shows hangs in the balance. And many stakeholders say cannabis trade shows have lost their focus.
Are trade shows still a good way to connect, or invest marketing dollars?
Which trade shows will be most beneficial in the future, and for what types of participants?
This post forecasts cannabis trade show trends based on research, expert predictions, and what’s worked in the past. You’ll also find some tips on how to better leverage trade shows as an exhibitor or an attendee.
Virtual Trade Shows: A Problematic Solution
When the pandemic lockdowns started, show organizers scrambled for safe ground on virtual platforms. And while Zoom is convenient and cost-effective, it’s just not the same.
Virtual platforms dilute the trade-show experience almost beyond recognition.
Exhibitors have reported fewer sales leads at virtual events. And without the organic interactions of an in-person venue, they didn’t have the deal-making spaces that fostered sales and full CRMs. That means attendees also had poor experiences and were less likely to connect with the products they needed at virtual shows.
Yet, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, show organizers appreciated the format. Only 22% of organizers said they would discontinue their virtual offerings, with most reporting plans to move to a hybrid model.
A Hybrid Solution?
Hybrid shows have in-person exhibitors and educational panels, the latter of which is available remotely via live stream video. And to straddle the virtual/in-person gap, these shows often have Zoom networking sessions.
The hybrid format works well for conference-driven shows focused on educational content and networking. For exhibition-driven shows — where attendees want to see, touch and experience the products firsthand — the virtual aspect still falls flat.
Virtual-only formats, however, greatly reduce costs for organizers, exhibitors, and attendees. So for those wanting to attend the expert panels of trade shows and get introductions to equipment providers, virtual may be a good option.
The Perfect Place to Shop for Cannabis Packaging
Packaging for cannabis should fit your product and match your brand. That’s why seeing the package in person is a prerequisite to having a serious conversation with a supplier.
Our sales team at AssurPack loves trade shows because it gives you — the customer — a chance to see our packages in person. You get to compare packages from a variety of suppliers, and you’ll come home with a variety of samples to test with your product.
Too often, cannabis-packaging relationships are transactional until there’s a supply problem. Trade shows are a way to mitigate that risk by meeting the service representative you’ll be working with. You’ll make real human connections and have a better sense of each prospective vendor’s ability to fulfill their contracts.
The Best Cannabis Trade Shows to Attend Now
The big industry shows — like MJBizCon and the NCIA Business Conference — might not be the best fit for all attendees and exhibitors.
The size of these shows, which draw 30,000+ visitors and hundreds of exhibitors, can make the experience unmanageable. It’s difficult to connect through the busyness and noise. The people you most want to reach are likely tied up in pre-scheduled meetings.
Moreover, the large national shows are expensive. Booth prices scale as high as $40,000 and ticket prices can exceed $1,000.
Niche or regional shows might be a better option because they can put you in better touch with relevant contacts. The Emerald Conference, for instance, is focused on extraction technologies and science. BizCann Expo tends to feature ancillary service providers such as payment processors and marketers.
Find the Right Trade Show for You
There are hundreds of cannabis trade shows and festivals across the USA and Canada, making the details hard to track from year to year.
Fortunately, some websites actively track trade shows and provide links to details. Here are three lists of upcoming trade shows you should consider:
Tips for Success as an Exhibitor
We here at AssurPack® have been working the trade show circuit since 2014, so we have a special perspective on what works for exhibitors.
Choose Your Show Wisely
Beyond the exhibition fee, consider which shows suit your objectives. It pays to understand the demographics attending the show and their intention for being there.
Will there be dispensary purchasing managers looking for new products? Cultivators seeking the latest equipment? Or is the show more oriented to business-to-consumer interaction? The answers should guide your choice.
Design How Your Prospects Will Engage
A crowd draws a crowd. So do what you can to drum up engagement. Promotional items are a good way to garner interest, as are contests and giveaways. Our standby promo item is — you guessed it — airtight cannabis packaging and our latest child-resistant package designs.
Giveaways and promos are a good way to collect prospects’ information, too. When people sign up for your contest, you can collect their information for a follow-up call. Some shows make data collection easy with scannable show badges for every attendee.
Post your announcements on social media, and make sure to remind your email list that you’ll be at the upcoming show. Your best customers won’t connect with you if they don’t know you’re there.
Continue to promote during the show, too, by posting pictures of you and your team on social media. Make sure to note your booth location in every post.
Bring Your Best Salespeople
To leverage your tradeshow for maximum returns, you need sales skills. Leave the engineering team at home and book airfare for the employees who spend the most time interacting with customers — your sales staff.
Also, be sure those folks are accessible to prospects and engaged with the crowd. If your team is sitting behind a folding table answering emails on their phones, the chance of a successful trade show is nil.
Tips for Trade Show Attendees
Choose Your Show Wisely
The biggest shows may not be your best option. If you’re a retailer seeking new products, ensure that local manufacturers or growers will be exhibiting. Likewise, close-by shows may not have the exhibitors you need, such as packaging suppliers, payment processors, or legal advisors.
Dress for Success… and Comfort
If dressing to impress means wearing uncomfortable shoes, don’t. Instead, choose supportive footwear that will stand up to all-day standing, and remember that cannabis trade shows are casual affairs.
Don’t Self-Promote (Too Much)
You might have products or services to sell to the exhibitors, but remember: they’re in “selling mode” rather than “buying mode.” It’s alright to drop a card and follow up, but overt self-promotion is often unwelcome. Most shows prohibit the distribution of flyers by attendees.
If you know who you want to talk to at a trade show, schedule a meeting with them in advance. Otherwise, they may not be at the booth when you stop by, or they could be busy with other customers, even if you circle back around in an hour. Reach out to your supplier so they can block off time for you.
Trade Shows of the Future
Badge scanners are just the beginning of the next era of trade shows. Experts predict that technology will play a greater role in the future and improve the overall experience.
Expect more augmented reality and “metaverse” experiences that bridge the gap to the virtual, at-home platform. These might include virtual facility tours, product demonstrations, and even video gaming experiences that relate to the brand.
Future trade shows may feature new ways of connecting too. Experts say tracking devices similar to Apple AirTags could help locate vendors and prospects, and even provide details about individuals before you’re introduced.
Whatever the future holds for trade shows, genuine human connection will continue to be the hallmark of good networking — and customer service will be the cornerstone of great business relationships.If you have questions about cannabis packaging, feel free to reach out to the AssurPack® customer service team at any time. We’re here to help.