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Lessons from Expo West 2016

I've been to many trade shows over the course of my lifetime but they have almost all exclusively been catered to the vending industry.

Expo West caters to a different demographic (primarily natural food groceries [think Whole Foods]), and as we continue to evolve our menu at J&J we're hoping to close the gap between what's in these groceries and what's in our machines, pantries and micro markets.

Although I've been to many trade shows, ones that seemed large at the time, nothing compares to what took place at the Anaheim Convention Center March 10th-12th. With over 80,000 people in attendance and hundreds upon hundreds of suppliers, distributors and retailers, we, Ashley (our Purchasing Manager) and myself found many exciting new products (some that Ashley will actually let me bring in) and learned a few lessons.

1. If you can, always show up

We were less than thrilled about the first Key-Note Speaker, Martha Rodgers on Thursday morning. Multiple times the night before and that morning we debated whether or not we would go.

I am SO GLAD that we did. Martha was not only a compelling speaker but her subject matter was exactly what we needed to hear.

She spoke on the issue of Extreme Trust (a subject matter she just wrote a book on, don't worry we bought, I'll share what we learn). Although we pride ourselves on being a trustworthy company (we report accurate numbers, we do our best to treat others the way we would want to be treated, etc.) there are a few shortcomings that we couldn't help but notice during Martha's presentation. I'll get more in to that with a later post but just know that we asked ourselves "if we were the customer what would we want from J&J?" We answered. And I'm very excited to let you know of some positive changes you can expect from us soon.

2. It's important to control the information flow & play nice

We visited Tanka's booth. (They have a product that I'm crazy about: trail mix and beef jerky in one bag. Unfortunately the price point doesn't currently fit our market strategy but trust me as soon as it does I'll let you know.) They have a bison bar that looked delicious, it also looks very similar to one of their competitors, Epic. I asked the woman at the booth how they compared and rather than focus on her brand she started talking down on Epic. Mentioning how they were recently bought out by General Mills and basically because they were sell outs would now be exiting the natural food category.

A gentleman that was also at the booth said something along these lines, "aside from that we also are the original. Our ancestors have perfected this recipe over hundreds of years and we also only focus on one meat, buffalo. This is who we are."

I like his response. It was more personal, it left me feeling positive and it felt genuine.

I didn't like her response. Mainly because it was hostile but also because I know it isn't true. I know it isn't true because the week before General Mills was in my office, sharing how they just bought Epic and that they weren't going to touch it. The recipes would remain the same, the original owner was still in control of his brand.

I took two things away from this experience. First, don't talk down on competitors (something my dad taught me 7 years ago when he was training me on sales). "We stand on our own merit. We don't talk down on others to get business." And second, if you have news to share make sure your customers hear it from you first. It's far better if it comes from you than the world wide web or a competitor.

3. "Everyone has a laughing place, trouble is not everyone takes the time to find it."

This is a quote carved on a plague at Splash Mountain in Disneyland. While we were in Anaheim we decided to have a little fun, outside of work too.

The quote struck me when I first saw it and although it's only been a few weeks it's replayed in my head almost every day since.

Work can be hard, it can be all consuming. I'm in a phase of life where I'm trying to figure out the appropriate work/life balance (arguably really hard since my family is my work and my work is my family) and this quote is exactly what I needed. I was feeling guilty for being in the happiest place on earth while others were working. It was a wonderful reminder that it's good to work but it's also really good play.

Quick recap: show up, compete nice, share openly and always make time for fun.

Take a look at what we deemed to be The Best Products from Expo West 2016. Full disclosure: not all items will be available right away but we're working on it. Currently eating a Chia pod (my new obsession) while I write this.

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