Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting the most out of your visit to the World Tea Expo

We have been attending the World Tea Expo (WTE) in Las Vegas since its first inception as the Take Me to Tea conference. The event is always well attended and if you're still on the fence in terms of deciding whether to go or not, I would certainly encourage you to go.

So what makes the WTE so attractive? Believe it or not, I would have to say its organizers. George and Kim Jage and the team at SFG Group, LLC are really dedicated to making a good experience for all. Sure they try a few ideas that don't work so well, but you can easily tell they truly want everyone to walk away thinking they will attend next year, too. I've attended similar coffee shows where they just randomly throw up a bunch of speakers and open an exhibit hall to vendors. On the contrary, the organizers of the World Tea Expo are always trying to keep you engaged, offering lots of activities and sidebar type opportunities.

While the World Tea Expo has been conducted for probably near 7 years now, it's much more than a "seen that" "done that" experience. The format of education and exhibits and cultural demonstrations and workshops offers a nice balance between the pure fact finding about tea and the practical world of how we can all share our love for this healthy, simple beverage.

The event is scheduled for June 11-13 at the Las Vegas Convention Center with a New Business Boot Camp (where I am an instructor) offered immediately before and the Specialty Tea Institute certification courses offered immediately after. It will certainly be a long show if you run the whole span, but I've know people to have done it!

To get the most from the World Tea Expo, here are my list of top recommendations (not in any particular order):

1. Network, network, network. Bring your business cards and get to know as many people in the industry as possible. Whether you are just starting out or have been in the business for awhile, you quickly realize there aren't too many formats that allow us to meet face to face. Certainly, once you've opened your tea room it becomes even harder to break away for several days in a row. I recommend you take the time now to make at several hundred business cards and try to make it a point to hand them all out! Of course, a business relationship is more than exchanging business cards, but at the very least, you don't want to run out of cards at the show.

2. Sign up for courses that best suit your needs. The seminars in the morning run concurrently, so you will need to find the classes that best match your interests. If this is a repeat visit for you at the WTE, don't feel as if you have to revisit a class that you've taken before just to see if there's anything new. Chances are you'd be better served attending a class that's completely a new experience. For me, I think many new ideas are sparked by the unexpected. Putting yourself if a new, unexplored situation is the best way to feed the creative fire.

3. Manage your exhibit time. The exhibit floor is generally buzzing every minute of the show. Last year as an exhibitor, we were constantly swamped with so many show attendees that we hardly had time to take a break, let alone see the other events scheduled throughout the afternoon. This year we're a little smarter and will have additional staff at the show. If you're attending, you should have ample time to visit all the exhibit booths without a problem. You shouldn't feel rushed at all, especially if you're going to be there all three days.

On the other hand, if you're only going to be at the show for a single day, I would certainly encourage you to visit the exhibits for the entire time it's open. Manage your time wisely and know that if you're planning on attending a guided tasting or afternoon cultural demonstration, this is time you will not be on the exhibit floor.

4. Taste a few teas, but know it's the relationship that counts. Many of the exhibitors will offer a few teas to sample. While this can give you an idea of a new tea that they are introducing, don't take it as an indication of whether you will work with that vendor or not. For each vendor offering tea, there are probably about 100 or more teas that aren't being offered for sampling. Furthermore, will you really be able to make a decision about tea quality when you're sampling out of a small paper or plastic cup, standing in a loud conference hall while holding a bag of conference materials over your shoulder? No, it's much better to select a few vendors to work with and get a catalog or website to examine when you get home.

4a. Establish a relationship with your vendors. We have owned our own retail storefront for over 6 years now. We used to see the World Tea Expo in terms of a buyer. Now we see the World Tea Expo in terms of both a buyer and seller. Since overall there are fewer sellers than buyers, let me share a secret with you. Vendors can often be your source for much more than providing product. Since they work with so many independent retailers, they can also be a source of guidance on which teas might work best in your environment. If they have direct retail experience, they will also know much more about the hurdles you will need to overcome in a retail environment - anything from business plan, to staff management, to product margins. While you don't want to use the time at the show to pound vendors for information, it's an ideal time to quickly describe your business and what makes it unique. The vendor will appreciate and remember your individual story and be able to note that for future interactions after you get home.

As a wholesaler, we often receive inquiries from start-up business owners, but if a start-up entrepreneur has taken the time to introduce themselves at the show, to share their vision and a little of their personality, it goes a long way in terms of understanding timeframe, range of teas, typical client demographics, seasonality and much more.

5. Consider attending the pre show New Business Boot Camp and the STI Certification Classes. I lump these together, but they are really quite different animals. The bootcamp is designed more for the fundamentals of setting up your own storefront. The STI Certifcation Classes are dedicated to educating you in the appreciation of a specific set of teas. Both are quite valuable. If you have never attended an STI class, you will probably wish you had a chance to attend even before the exhibition had started. Both pre and post courses are very practically oriented, loaded with lots of tips and hints you will be able to immediately bring back with you once you get home and your head stops spinning. By all means, consider the STI Certification class if there is not a class offered in your region some other time throughout the year. The time and cost you'll save by not having to travel to another location will be well worth it. FYI, the Boot Camp is only offered once a year.

6. Consider scheduling meetings at the conference. Let's say there is an open slot in the morning that's not taken up by a class or perhaps you will want time to sit down some time throughout the busy exhibition schedule. Why not set up a time to meet with someone you'd like to have some face-to-face time with? Perhaps it's someone you've just met at the show, or even a vendor who you'd like to discuss some specialized blending or packaging project with. Chances are they'd be more than happy to meet with you, especially when they're going to be giving you their complete attention and not looking to help a new client who's been waiting patiently at the booth for 5 minutes.

7. Practice your 15 second elevator speech. You know the story. What would you say to a rich investor if you bumped into them in an elevator? Practice this script so it will aid you in transmitting your vision and act as a base for discovering who you will be able to partner with after the show. "I'm starting a tea shop." while possibly accurate and succinct isn't going to get the same reaction as "We're launching a new, retail and online resource for the world's freshest organic teas, SensitiviTea. SensitiviTea be sold across the country and will include home recipes for adding seasonal fresh fruit and flowers to freshly brewed tea." What you're doing is getting others excited by your idea, leading them to want to help you be successful. What about divulging too much? Believe me, if your idea is that easy to copy, you probably won't last long in a competitive environment where some parties will have much deeper investment resources than you. Who knows, maybe your idea is unique enough to attract investors at the show - wouldn't that be great?!

8. Be prepared to blog/facebook/twitter about your experience. Nothing can be more viral than the net. Your enthusiasm, your new venture, your overall impressions at the World Tea Expo, when shared with others who participate in your success, can only help fuel your expertise and dedication to the field. Let's face it, no one really cares if you're the type of person who bounces from one interest to another without really accomplishing anything. For many of us, tea is a life long journey. Whether we stay in the field professionally or not, we will always be loyal to the leaf and the many facets of its appeal.

9. Consider all contacts valuable. Maybe this comment has more to do with how you manage your contact information when you get home, but take note of the fact that the industry is always bigger than you are. Today you may have specific needs to launch your business. Next year you may stumble upon a big corporate client who wants to use your brand to make tea bags in every national health food store across the country. How could you do that? Would you have the connections to pull this off? Or did you just shop for new tea blends, tea cups, and novel infusers for 6 hours?

10. Give back. My last recommendation is to take a few moments to contemplate how you can give back to the tea community. Whether it's a donation of tea, or hosting a few tea seminars, or even becoming a featured speaker at next year's World Tea Expo, it's a great feeling to help those who were in your position a year or two from now. That's why I'm speaking at the Expo. That's why we're exhibiting. That's why I'm so interested in helping you. This industry has always been so supportive - everyone wants you to do well.

11. I leave #11, 12, 13 and on to you. Share you ideas on our blog or consider cooperatively linking with us at Kopius Teas (


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