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The HQ/SSE Event: A NEW Type of Trade Show

The HQ/SSE Event: A NEW Type of Trade Show

By Norm Bour

There are trade shows—and there are trade shows, and unfortunately, most of them are pretty much the same. So trying to introduce sophistication and organization is always welcome, and has been all too rare in the alternative trade show space. 

Let’s face it, the world of cannabis and alternative has been a home grown movement—literally—and many who entered this Wild West were not from business backgrounds, but were fueled by passion and love of MaryJane. For many years there were not many trade shows available, but a few reared up over the years and made it work, with seemingly little effort to “grow.” 

Not just in the sense of size, but of organization and innovative structures.

This past March a unique partnership was launched between HQ magazine—us—and an event company that many of you are familiar with, Smoke Shop Events, also known as SSE. For half a dozen years SSE has offered boutique style trade shows with a select and limited number of participants.

Many times called “speed dating for business,” SSE brings together over two dozen sellers of various products and services and houses them in an upscale hotel setting. Some of these are large manufacturers and others are small companies looking for exposure. Bring in about the same number of buyers and give them each 20 minutes behind closed doors, and business gets done.

But Mike Sessoms, SSE owner, and his team wanted more: they wanted to do a booth show and do it differently; better. And that they did.

The New Orleans Convention Center was the site of the first HQ/SSE event and The Big Easy welcomed us with open arms as this was the first trade show they had in almost one year, since COVID stopped the world. The one million square foot structure dwarfed the event hall, but the 100 plus exhibitors and almost 300 buyers were just glad to get out!

“This was the first time I’ve been on the road in over a year,” was a common refrain from many, and everyone came ready to do business.

Some of the largest names in the industry were there, including CAKE, Windship, JustCBD, and many more, and even with bitingly cold weather on day two of the show, everyone was having fun, along with doing business.

Eddie Villarreal from Polar Blast was particularly pleased before the end of day one.

“This show has been amazing!” he effused, “and we did more business in the first half of day one than we’ve done over two days at some other shows.”

Headway Design New Business Director, Andrew Tharrington, was also overwhelmed, especially since this was his first trade show ever.

“It’s been amazing,” he shared, “and we’ve done enough orders in just these two days to make our year. If I can follow up and double it, I’ll be over the moon.”

Aside from business, there was also fun, in the form of a four-piece jazz quartet playing during the morning of day one, and the home spun Marc Stone duo singing their own original music during the afternoon of day two.  

The registration process before the show and during each day worked flawlessly considering they were using new technology with the largest show the team of almost 20 persons had ever been part of.

Alexander Taras, son of co-owner Russell Taras, was the man behind the scenes, setting up much of the technology and logistics in this, his first large scale event. When asked what he learned on this first go-round and what worked and what didn’t: “The registration process was awesome, which was a blessing since no one waited more than 5 minutes. On the other hand, as expected, there was some lack of clear communication both internally and with the convention center.”

HQ sales executive Pilar Gonzales made the trip from our own HQ and was elated at the response. 

“This HQ Event  brought together the best of both worlds, the exclusivity and business oriented structure of SSE and the prominent reputation of HeadQuest Magazine! I think the HQ Event will bring business and class back into trade shows.”

Another unique feature of this inaugural event was the location: New Orleans, home of more amazing food than you could ever fit in your bellies! Southern fried, Cajun, BBQ, Creole; the city prides itself on their culinary variety. And rather than the “same old cities,” the attendees were entertained on Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and viewing the Mighty Miss, rolling by right behind the venue.

Life being what it is, all attendees and personnel were COVID conscious, wore face masks, and tried to maintain social distancing, which was difficult. The hope of all the attendees and the SSE and HQ staff is that the next show in July in Las Vegas will be less restrictive and more like “business as usual.”


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