Total Product Expo and the Power of In-Person Networks
By Matt Weeks
Has the digital world made us more productive—or do we just feel busier? We’ve been told that the digital revolution made us more efficient. But if that’s true, why have services like Trello, Monday.com, and Slack—all of which promise to boost productivity and improve communication—become billion-dollar ventures? Perhaps it’s because we’re simply social creatures at heart.
That’s the spirit that animates Total Product Expo, the industry’s most exciting B2B trade show, and its Senior Sales and Development Manager, Dawn Conger.
“It’s still true that face-to-face connections and relationships are critical to growing your business,” says Conger, who’s been with the event since 2018. “People come to TPE and they get those stories that they tell for years. Because when you’re there, you’re closing huge deals, then you come to the industry night party and something hilarious happens and you talk about it and remember it for years. I feel like it’s kind of an extension of summer vacation or spring break. Those things only happen face to face, and we have a great platform for creating those kinds of memories.”
Built to provide independent retailers direct access to product manufacturers, distributors, and brands, this year’s TPE takes place Jan. 31 – Feb. 2 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. In addition to the usual field of cannabis, tobacco, and adjacent exhibitors, attendees will get to mingle with vendors from the Glass Vegas trade show, which this year is happening simultaneously. The Glass Vegas side of the event will feature creators and distributors of functional glassware.
But while the products might be the stars, the personal connections are the real draw power. TPE is about the people, Conger said. She points out that when you’re at an industry show, there’s no switching tabs or waiting on a text from your supplier—your contacts are right there on the floor with you. You do business with a person, not an email.
“Last year we had 4,126 attendees, and right about 10,000 people overall. When I say attendees, I mean the buyers. And the rest are the exhibitors, the press, the suppliers, all of that,” she said. “This year, with the addition of Glass Vegas and their attendees and everything we’re doing to bring in more buyers, I think we’ll be somewhere around 26,000 folks. We always like to see 20 to 30 percent growth on the attendee side. So, we’re doing everything we can to hit those numbers.”
Part of those efforts include hiring TPE’s first Attendee Liaison, a new position built to improve the experience of the independent retailers who make the yearly journey to Vegas to view the latest products, ink new deals, and network with the industry.
“We realized that we had a team of people focused on the exhibitors. We didn’t have a person who was solely dedicated to our attendees. And we want to provide white-glove customer service there. So, we hired someone who could focus on our attendees, get them registered, and develop some attendee programs,” Conger said. “Our Attendee Liaison manages our Hosted Buyer Program, which allows exhibitors to invite their best buyers to the show and stay for two free nights in a hotel. And we have our Loyalty Program, where we do the same thing for our most loyal attendees, the ones who come every year. They get a free room with nice loyalty gifts in the room. This year, they’ll be at Caesars.”
In addition to ensuring that guests enjoy every bit of Vegas luxury, TPE has made changes to its annual after-work soiree. Typically, the Industry Night Party runs from 6 to 9 p.m., just after the final booths have been abandoned and the convention center goes dark. This year, the party will take place later, running from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Omnia Nightclub in Caesars Palace, where vendors and attendees can enjoy an open bar and a looser atmosphere.
“We had a lot of feedback about how vendors and attendees wanted a little more time to get ready for the party,” Conger said. “Some of them said they wanted to take their clients out to dinner or that they wanted to have more time to leave the trade floor show and make it to the party. We’ve got the full nightclub to ourselves, too, thanks to our sponsors. We’ll have gourmet desserts, and popcorn and snacks will be served. It’s something I look forward to every year, where we can just blow off steam and chat with everybody.”
That’s something else a computer can’t provide—a place to fully unplug and relax. After, of course, getting business done.
“We do like to have fun, but we like to do a lot of serious business, and I do feel like we’ve developed that reputation that we’re the place you come to write those big orders and make those long-lasting business connections,” Conger said. “I think we’ve really set ourselves apart as far as being on the professional side of trade shows.”