Animal Health International Trade Show: A Click Away


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Animal Health International shifted its regional trade show to a virtual format and created new business opportunities in the process.

Every year, the Animal Health International division of Patterson Veterinary puts on four regional trade shows in the East region. There is normally one venue in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and another one in Orlando, Florida, for both spring and fall shows. It produces income for Patterson Veterinary, creates ways for vendors to make meaningful connections with veterinary clinics, and presents buying opportunities for Patterson customers.

A lot of work goes into each show, said Kira Earley, a sales and marketing coordinator with the AHI branch in Ocala, Florida. Planning, booking, and coordinating for the shows begin about a year out. So obviously the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into all those plans.

Rather than cancel outright, Earley started making calls. She called manufacturer partners and sales reps to get their input. The feedback she received was that people weren’t going to travel, but still wanted to participate in the show in some capacity. “I felt that it was important to continue the trade show, not only for the sake of buying opportunities but just for a little bit of normalcy in a kind of crazy world,” Earley said. “And that’s why we ultimately chose to continue with it.”

The regional buying show shifted to a virtual format that would still allow customers to interact with manufacturer partners, facilitate deals, and earn the popular cash back and giveaways that customers had come to enjoy as part of the event. The only difference was it would take place from the comfort of their homes.

Simplifying the look and feel

Some adjustments were made. Rather than having a large online booth for vendors, Earley thought buyers would like something simpler. “I’ve been a buyer at a dealer store myself, and I was imagining myself sitting at the store, wanting to participate in a trade show, but seeing eight buttons to click and knowing I wouldn’t have time to look through everything with deliveries and purchase orders to complete.”

The online format had an Instagram feel to it. Manufacturers’ logos and names were displayed on the site alphabetically so it was easy to navigate. Once customers clicked on the logo, a very simplistic booth would open with a visual similar to what the physical booths would look like.

In the booths, manufacturers offered videos and product PDFs. “People got creative with it,” said Earley. “There were some vendors that were normally the person behind the booth at our trade shows who were actually on camera. They recorded themselves talking about the deal. I thought that was important to drive home – this is going to be similar to the things customers should see when they go to the show. And customers loved it.”

Feedback from vendors was positive as well. The booths weren’t too cumbersome, and Patterson streamlined the process by putting the information required in one pdf document. “One thing I think we did really well, and this was clear across the entire business sector, was the teamwork involved,” said Earley. “These events are not done by one person. There are a lot of people that go into it, from our pricing teams, to our purchasing teams, to our salesforce, and our manufacturing partners and vendors. I look at it almost as a family. I’m very appreciative that nobody knew how to do a virtual platform before this, but we were all able to get through it together – and pretty successfully.”

The virtual trade show was so well received that Patterson is considering leaving that as a facet of the business when it comes to trade shows in the future. Earley said she’s already brainstorming what they can improve based on feedback received from the sales staff, customers, and manufacturers.

It’s also opened up opportunities with a customer segment that wouldn’t physically attend a regional show. Those customers would normally lose out on some of those cashback opportunities, bonus books, and giveaways if they didn’t physically attend. Having a virtual platform would help Patterson target that market and get some new products in front of them, or provide them with learning experiences about a specific product. “We’d be able to draw attention to those products, which would be great,” Earley said.

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