Pet Insight recently had a chance to chat with Andy Darmohraj, SVP of the APPA. In the below interview, Darmohraj discusses the APPA’s overall role, the Global Pet Expo and growth plans for the show.
Pet Insight: What do you see as the APPA’s mission within the pet industry?
Andy Darmohraj: The association’s been around for 55 years and when it was started 55 years ago it was a handful of manufacturers of pet products who were looking to improve their business. They figured by getting together and starting an organization, they would be able to get programs and services that would help them do things better, plus have a trade show that would help them get their product in front of the largest distributors. So basically, one of the founding principles of the association is to provide pet product manufacturers with opportunities to improve and build their business. That’s what we do as an association. We do the national pet owner survey, the largest pet owner survey of consumer pet product buying habits. We also offer import and export programs and insurance. Probably the biggest and most important thing we do is Global Pet Expo, which is an opportunity for our members to show their products in front of thousands of buyers from all over the world.
PI: What have been the driving factors in the Global Pet Expo’s growth to its present size?
AD: We’re fortunate on a few levels. The pet industry itself in terms of consumer spending on pet products has been steadily increasing. Pet owners love their pets, they’re buying items for their pets. So that helps the industry. From the show’s perspective, what helps us is the quality of attendee that we have. We have every major mass-market retailer, every major distributor, buyers from around the world. The manufacturers know that with such a diverse buying audience, they need to be there and they need to be showing their full product line, and they need to have the owners of the companies and senior management there to talk with their really important customers. So really it’s the high quality of the buying audience that has helped the show grow over the years.
PI: Outside of the United States, where do you see buyers coming from to attend the show?
AD: This year we had buyers from 77 different countries. The largest attendance is from countries that are close by – Canada, Mexico. But we do have large numbers of buyers come in from Latin America and from Asia and from Europe, so it really is an international show in terms of the buying audience. The international buyers know they’re going to see a lot of really high quality manufacturers and cutting edge product, so they feel like they need to come to Global Pet Expo or they’re going to miss out on the next greatest pet product.
PI: What are the benefits of holding the show in Orlando? Are there any downsides?
AD: You know what, if you were to say a downside, some people would say, “Oh, we want it to be in different places, just so we can go to different places.” But the benefits really outweigh the downsides. Number one, when you keep the show in the same place from year to year, both exhibitors and buyers develop a comfort level. They get to know the airport. They stay in hotels that they know. After a while they start going to the same restaurants, and there’s a comfort factor there. “Oh, at Global Pet Expo I’m going to be staying at this hotel, I need to go back to this restaurant, because I really enjoyed it.” They get to know the facility more and how to get around, and it just makes things much easier. It’s like getting to know your local supermarket. You know where the milk is, and you know where the bread is. The comfort level really, really makes it much more pleasant experience. For the exhibitors, staying in one city makes it better for them. They get better rates on all the things they have to rent and buy. So keeping the show in one place has definitely helped us. Our exhibitor attendance has grown, our buyer attendance has grown, and people really like coming to Orlando in mid-February or March to attend the show.
PI: What is one enhancement that you’re planning to make to the Expo for 2014?
AD: We’re actually doing some floor plan revisions to make the show easier for attendees to shop. We have five specialty sections that we have at the show and what we’ve done is change the layouts of those to make them easier to find, get them a little more exposure and make them a little bit easier for the attendees to navigate. We’ve also made a couple more (changes), but these floor plan changes, it’s allowed us to expand the new product showcase and improve the traffic flow a little bit more in there, so that it’s easier for the buyers to be able to access all of that stuff.
PI: How do you balance specialty retailers and exhibitors versus large chains and their partners?
AD: One of the reasons we started the specialty sections was because it started with the boutiques. It’s a very specific buying audience. Some of those exhibitors were saying, “The show’s so big, we kind of get lost. If we could all be together, the specialty buyers looking for our product will be able to find us, and they can do all the business they need to do.” That was followed almost immediately by the aquatics exhibitors. That’s about as specialized a market in the pet industry as you can get. What we’ve done is made it easier for the buyers in the industry to find what they’re looking for, and then the companies that deal to the larger retailers and the smaller retailers that have a large range of products make up the rest of the show. There’s a lot of things they do to make sure people find them. Over the last few years, natural products have become such an important part of the industry. That’s become the fastest growing part of our show by next year; it’ll probably be 4 times larger than we did it the first time 3 or 4 years ago. That area has seen great growth.
PI: Aside from the natural products, do you see any areas of the show growing the most rapidly?
AD: You know, it’s interesting. Every year we have more and more international companies coming to exhibit. For a long time, the international companies attending as buyers were coming to find American product. It was sort of the gold standard of pet product manufacturing, stuff that comes out of the US. As our international buyer attendance has grown, so has our international exhibitor attendance. This year I think 15 percent of exhibitors were from outside the US. It’s becoming an international show in the sense that a buyer from Germany is coming and buying products from a manufacturer from Brazil. Participation from international manufacturers is growing at a high rate.
PI: How does Global appeal to those international buyers?
AD: We do sort of the standard stuff. We advertise in the international magazines, in the websites, but we also have a presence at the major international shows. We’ll have a stand at those shows, so not only are we talking about those manufacturers, but we’re talking to distributors, importers, the big retailers from euro countries. Talking to them about what benefits Global Pet Expo would give them if they attended the show. On a personal level, we’re getting out to people and trying to convince them they need to get to the US to see what’s out there.
PI: What channels or types of retailers provide the most opportunity for the show to expand its retailer attendance?
AD: All the large supermarket chains come, and the hardware stores and all that. One of the areas we’re focusing on now are those type of retailers who have, let’s say, 20 to 100 locations. So sort of that middle range. They all carry pet products, it’s a big part of their business. In some cases they’re buying from a distributor or whatever. We’re trying to get the word out that if they can spare 2 or 3 days, they can come and see everything that’s out there in the pet industry all in one shot. To be able to compare, contrast, talk to the principals that are making those products… there’s really a benefit to investing a few days to come and see what’s out there so you can expand the area that you have in your store and ultimately make some more money.
PI: Where would you like to see the show in five years?
AD: You know, the show has changed a lot in in the last 5 years. We’ve grown a lot our international participation, both on the exhibitor side and the buyer side as well. Like I mentioned before, the whole natural products for pet has sort of exploded. What I personally would like to see for the show in 5 years is to see more supermarket and drugstore and variety stores, the non-traditional pet retailers that sell pet products, but aren’t just typical pet stores. And also we work very closely w specialty retailers on the pet side – that part of the industry has been growing as well. For us it’s a year-in and year-out effort to make sure that we know which stores are around where, to make sure that we’re communicating with them, to make sure they’re coming to Global Pet Expo as well.