Wednesday, June 4, 2008

World Tea Expo: Is It For Me?

Most of you who are reading this series of posts on the Expo are probably doing so because either you wanted to go and couldn't or you are trying to decide if you should go in future years. If you fall into the latter category, or if you are planning on attending (or exhibiting or speaking) in the future, this post will be of use to you. I spoke with a number of people about their feelings on the Expo and found some major trends in their level of satisfaction about attendance. The people who were the happiest about their Expo experience fell into some of the following categories:

People who are strongly (and I mean strongly) considering opening a tea business
Those who were only toying with the idea seemed more overwhelmed than anything else. Those who knew the basics of tea and had some kind of business outline fared much better. If you're not fairly sure you want to take the plunge, consider waiting another year to attend.

People who are in the planning stages of opening a tea business and who planned their Expo goals
E.g.: "I will find (and get samples from) at least three exciting new potential vendors, decide on a packaging supplier, and investigate supplementary products, such as chocolates, teaware, and tea-related beauty products."

People who have already opened a tea business, but who have specific reasons for attending the Expo
E.g.: "I need to find three great oolong teas to add to my menu," "I need to learn more in-depth information about several of the topics covered in courses and demos," or "I need source supplementary products that reflect the quality level and attitude/image of my tea business."

People who had booths AND either had booths in the past or attended the Expo before to see how the whole game works
Most people who hadn't investigated which types of booths' products and displays fared best seemed dissatisfied with their exposure level. If you're considering a booth, attend first if at all possible. Note the display styles, the attention to overall design and the details, the logistics of setup, the quantities of samples and info handouts necessary, the numbers of employees manning each booth, etc. If you can't attend, well... I guess the closest second option would be to talk to as many people as you can about it. I'm available for consultation, but my first suggestion is still to go for yourself!

People who spoke about an issue they are both knowledgeable and passionate about

What better feeling than sharing your expertise with a room full of people who want to learn about something you care about? The people who seemed most satisfied with their speaking experience were those who had spoken at the Expo or a similar event before, were well-prepared, and who had been to other Expo lectures/tastings.

People who know the tea basics and are in beginner to intermediate stages of tea knowledge
Of course, this applies for people who are only attending, not speaking or exhibiting. If you are practically a tea master and none of the other reasons for attending apply to you, then you will not gain much by attending. On the flip side, if you are at square one and know nothing about tea, I suggest waiting a year and getting the basics down before you attend.

People who are seeking to network with other tea people
It can be a very social event just as tea can be a very socially-based industry and, for better or worse, both can be just as much about who you know as what you know.

People who can plan well AND go with the flow

A difficult balance, but necessary for such a large event. Some people were very frustrated with bureaucratic errors, unexpected circumstances, changes of plans, etc. Sure, it's expensive and you had to travel all the way from wherever and blah blah blah. Still, if you can't just drink a cup of tea, relax, and get over it, this may not be the best tea event for you. There ARE other tea events out there!

People who don't completely despise Vegas

It's a polarizing town, for sure. If you hate it, try to ignore it or find SOMETHING you like about it outside the Expo, even if it only your hotel room's bathtub. (I found Red Rock, Cirque du Soleil's Love, and time with friends as focal points to balance out the bright lights, gambling addicts, and overall sleaze.)

Another interesting trend with satisfaction and attendance I noticed has to do with repeat attendees. It seems that the first year, people are going to be a little overwhelmed regardless. (As I said before, you can reduce that by preparing well or by waiting another year to attend.) When people return to the Expo, it seems that they know what to expect and how to get what they want out of it. This can lead to increased satisfaction with the event. However, if they don't want very much out of it (remember what I said about specific goals before), they find it to be a waste of time and money. My suggestion--don't feel that you have to attend every year! If you need something urgently and can't find it on your own or you have a big enough "grocery list" for your business, go for it. Otherwise, wait until your trip is warranted. You'll feel a lot happier that way, I promise.

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