The Reading Pet Expo was, it turned out, a fantastic place to first test the waters with Kronch. This Expo visit, the first one, started out the day as this:
One of the most key skills to business that I have developed is an intense level of organization. Also I wanted to go into this with a clear motivation/objective, which was mainly to get sign-ups for the mailing list for Kronch U.S.A. Once the product arrives from Denmark and the online store goes live I wanted to have a fairly large, targeted mailing list to send a reminder to. Therefore it was my mission to ask people about the concept of the product and gauge their feelings about potentially feeding salmon oil to their dogs or cats via supplement. If it was something they would never consider I knew the product was not an interesting one, not to American consumers at least. But if I could generate some interest at the expo and get people to sign up for a mailing list, then I knew something could be there.
Rather than develop a product or even ship a bunch of product here, I wanted to make sure the demand was there. That was key. So my advice to you, at the kernel of the inception of your business: don't put out any cash yet! Test the waters, get some advertising brochures perhaps, or go in like I did: learn about the product and ask people what they think!
I arrived at the Family Pet Expo, a little bit nervous but pretty excited. After all I knew I'd know something after talking about salmon oil long enough at the expo, but I had no idea really what to expect. It turned out to be a pretty cool little exhibit! Any nervousness I had subsided as soon as I realized how relaxed and pleasant the affair was going to be. There were a lot of animal lovers and everyone was friendly and smiling-- I think the nice weather lent to a generally happy mood. I walked up and down the aisles of the expo for a moment, hesitant on how to proceed-- for all my business development experience, I never cold approached people much in my day-to-day life. I went up to the first stall and said "Hi! What are you doing here?" After we talked a little about her business, I told her what I was hoping to do and she was pretty receptive but not super interested. I shrugged and continued on my way-- oh well, no interest yet but no rude cold shoulder. So I tried again. This time I was approached by some people who were raffling off a car. I decided "what the heck" and filled out the raffle, and then I said "Actually, I was wondering if you mind if I asked you a question... I came here because I want to see if anyone would be interested in a salmon oil health supplement for dogs?" She asked what it did. I told her that it's good for dogs with allergies, good for dogs with joint pain, and gives energy to old dogs while giving a shiny coat to all dogs, young and old... generally pitching the product features, and she seemed interested, so I asked "Well, would you like to sign up for the mailing list? I won't spam you or anything... I'll just let you know with one e-mail when the product gets to the country?" She said "sure" and there I had it, my first e-mail for the mailing list.
That was a pretty cool feeling as I walked on to the next stand. It was a shelter for Galgo Espanol, and I talked to them a bit about what they were doing. Apparently the Galgo Espanol is a dog that is often abused in Spain and they find them nice homes in this country. It was a worthy cause I thought so I donated a couple bucks and then I asked them what they thought of salmon oil. One, a vet, had heard of it before, and said that sometimes he would recommend his patients use generic fish oil, which is available in the grocery store. Another mentioned coconut oil, which is an alternative product that has health benefits for dogs as well. The third hadn't heard of it.
Actually this group I found to be the most informed of the product. As I continued onward, I sat and watched the dog show for a bit and got back to it. I wandered from stand to stand, talking to a bunch of people about what they were doing and then discussing what I was doing. I would say from a sales perspective this is a good one-- I imagine if you cold-approach people and start in on a sales spiel they would probably not be that into it, but a little back and forth to establish a rapport did work wonders. People want to talk about what they're interested in talking about. If you express a genuine interest in it then they are often more than happy to talk about what you're interested in.
It was at the Reading Pet Expo that I discovered the following essential data:
About 50% of people have not heard of the health benefits of salmon oil, fish oil, or any of that.
About 25% of people had heard of fish oil's benefits, and used a generic fish oil from the super market
About 18% of people had heard of coconut oil and its benefits, whether they used it or not
About 7% of people had actually heard of salmon oil for pets as a health supplement.
To me this data spoke of an advantage. If there was a major adoption of salmon oil then we might have been too late to the market, or at the very least would have to change our marketing strategy to be more along the lines of highlighting our benefits vs. competition. A large quantity of consumers unaware of a product with a general interest in the product when it was mentioned, however, seemed to present to me a large opportunity. I was able to obtain a reasonable quantity of e-mails from people who were interested along with a lot of contact details of people related in the industry.
There are a lot of what I would call (but probably isn't a word) non-quantifiables, which were feelings related to the product. It became clear that it was easily sellable because of peoples familiarity with omega-3 fatty acids. While they may not have been aware that they were good for their animals, they did know the health benefits of having fish oil in their own diets and were easily convinced that, too, it would be good for their dog. This first expo, while it did help start develop the current incarnation of my mailing list, which I thought was a convincing factor more for the Danish Kronch parent company than anything else, ended up being a convincing factor for me.
One of the difficult considerations with an overseas import product is shipping. If the product is sent over by airplane, it can arrive quickly, within the week, but all possible profit from selling the product is essentially gone from shipping costs -- if it is sent by ship, it can arrive much cheaper but takes a month or multiple months to arrive. This presents a challenge so I needed to be quite sure that the product was one worth pursuing before I placed an order by ship. Thus the Reading Pet Expo convinced me as much as I convinced it of the place that a salmon oil dog supplement should take among their ranks.
As I have mentioned, the idea is to scale into this such that expenses are kept low from inception. The cost of attending this expo and generating a bit of buzz on the product while doing some exploratory market research was pretty minimal. I already had my neat little black organizer that I bought from Rite-Aid for all of $6 - $10, something which with its ability to carry documents in one side and hold a pad of paper on the other side (Advanced technology I know!) has stuck with me far longer than any other piece of organizational kit I have on the go. (Honestly a tablet PC has just been too unwieldy for me for data entry and the fact that you have to be careful with it and can't leave it anywhere for a second without keeping your eyes on it).
Otherwise I made a mailing list in Microsoft Word and printed it out on my home printer. The cost was negligible for that, but I knew then and still know that sort of ameteurishness will only take you so far at one of these things. The upcoming D.C. expo will be one better equipped to get e-mails for the list and Facebook subscribers. While it's possible for you, as a person and as a salesman, to pitch your product and get people excited about it, what's going to get them to buy it later or remember it later is the pamphlet or business card you hand them. So make sure it's a nice one!
The cost of travel was probably the most expensive thing to take into account -- 120 miles and two hours of travel each way equates to about, let's say is at the most 15 cents per mile in gas and wear and tear on the vehicle, about $18. Oh, and a hot dog and a big glass of lemonaid that I had while watching the dog show which was about $7.
All-in-all the event was illuminating as to the future prospects of Kronch and cost very little, along with netting me a few very useful contact details to people involved in the business. If 1 out of the 12 people on the mailing list ends up buying one order of Kronch products in the future, the expo has paid for itself. Not to mention the other value in terms of market research and networking that is available there.
And it was fun! Expos tend to be a lot more lighthearted affairs than you may be thinking, if you've never attended one before. It's a chance for you to really get in touch with your target market and understand what they want. And don't be depressed if you find out that your idea isn't interesting to them. By the end of the day you might have a new idea! Feed off the energy of the crowd and get in tune with them. The owners of the expo themselves were very helpful in directing me as well to different distributors and other expos I could attend.
Being that I now felt I understood pretty well the rewards available, the risks to ordering a pallet of the stuff shipped from Denmark seemed less and less daunting. But I wanted to know for sure, and so it was time to test out another expo. This time I am going to go in fully equipped with advertising materials and my best friend from high school who has gotten swept up in the idea as well. Together we're going to go see for ourselves what we can get going at the Capitol Pet Expo to further develop the business.
Stay tuned! It's happening on the 16th and I'll take lots of photos and tell you guys about it. And I might update before then too.