Thirty-five years ago, in a room at Hotel Louisa in San Francisco, a small group of coffee roasters and importers gathered to share some wine and talk about forming a new trade association, the Specialty Coffee Advisory Board. Fortunately, they eventually opted to name the new group the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), rather than SCAB.

In 1988, SCAA held its first conference in New Orleans. There were 349 attendees and 55 exhibitors, but within just a few years the annual event had become the largest gathering of coffee professionals in the world.

Now named “The Global Specialty Coffee Expo” to reflect the recent merger between the European and American associations to form the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the annual event attracts thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors from around the globe.

Even if you’ve been to this event a few times, it can feel overwhelming, so Olam has gathered some advice on attending the Global Specialty Coffee Expo.

Have A Plan

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” -Helmuth von Moltke

Hopefully, you don’t have any enemies at the Expo other than time and a thousand distractions. While it’s impossible to see and do everything, it is possible to avoid missing something you really wanted to do. It can be disappointing to arrive home from the Expo and have trouble remembering what you accomplished while making a list of all the things you meant to do and all the people you meant to see but didn’t. All you can remember is bouncing around the conference and the city for four days like a pinball. This “buyer’s remorse” can be avoided if you have a plan. You might discard parts of the plan when you get your boots on the ground, but at least then you’re making a decision and not being a pinball.

Don’t wait until the last minute. Take some time to carefully review the Global Specialty Coffee Expo website. Write a schedule and create a checklist of things you would really regret not doing. Make sure and set alarms on your phone for the “must do” activities. It might seem like overkill to schedule each hour, but you can always rebel and ditch the optional parts of the plan. Melmuth von Moltke didn’t have anything on General Eisenhower, who said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Face Time By Appointment Only

“The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.” -Horace Walpole

Make a list of all the people you need to talk to and want to see. Don’t leave a meeting to chance, even if it’s just a social encounter. If you really want to see someone, schedule it. If it’s a friend or colleague you just want to say hello to, make sure they will actually be at the party or reception you’re assuming they’ll be at.

This is true even for visits with exhibitors. Yes, that sales representative for that brewer manufacturer is always in their booth, but if they’re busy talking to someone else every time you “stop by,” you might miss your chance. If you set a time to meet in the booth weeks ahead, they can make sure they’re available at the time scheduled. Even if they’re in a conversation with someone else, they can warn them that they have an appointment coming up to meet someone in the booth. Also, be willing to set appointments on Sunday afternoon, when the exhibitors are less busy.

If you’re hoping to have a chance to talk to your trader at Olam, be assured they would really like to speak with you too, but don’t leave it to chance. Let them know you’d like to see them and they can let you know when they’ll be at BOOTH #2110 and they will keep an eye out for you.

Olam’s booth at the 2016 SCA Expo

Divide and Conquer

“There’s a lot to be said for small, manageable dreams.” -Douglas Coupland

If more than one person from your company is attending the Expo, it’s a great idea to have a meeting before the event to talk about the things you want to accomplish and divvy up the educational sessions. Having two people from your company attend the same lecture is a lost opportunity. If they attend different lectures, they can each bring what they learn back to your company.

Divide and conquer also applies to the exhibitor show floor. Don’t try and tackle the entire floor in one day. By the time you hit the last third of the floor your attention span will be shot along with your feet. If touring the floor is part of your plan, break it up into short visits over all three days.

1999

“I like restraint, if it doesn’t go too far.” -Mae West

It’s a good idea not to party like it’s 1999 unless you were just a kid in 1999. No matter how old you are now, you were much younger back then. We’re not saying you should teetotal your way through the event. But jetlag, exhaustion, likely dehydration, perhaps less than stellar grub during the day, and a night of imbibing more than usual can have an unexpected debilitating effect the next morning. To each their own, but don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you want to cut loose, leave the next morning open on your schedule.

Speaking of parties, you’ll never make it to all of them, and if you did, there would have been little value to the evening beyond finger foods and drinks. More than most industries, the coffee business is still driven by relationships and if you spend more time Taxi’s and Uber cars than you do establishing or reviving relationships, it’s another opportunity lost.

The three main events are the opening night party on Thursday, the Roasters Guild Party on Saturday, and the Barista Party on Sunday. All three are open and welcoming and good places to meet people if this is your first Expo, or see people you know if it’s not. On top of these three events, as a roaster you will be invited to parties hosted by vendors, potential vendors, industry organizations, and maybe even entire countries. It might seem silly, but again, it is best to have a strategy. For every party or reception you are invited to, ask yourself why you would attend and go to those for which you have the best answers. And sometimes, if not always, a long dinner with just a few people you know well, or would like to know better, is the best decision.

Where We’ll Be

Olam Coffee’s Mark Inman and Rob Stephen

“Learning is not compulsory, neither is survival.” -Peter Zwack

In addition to BOOTH #2110, you can find some of us in the lecture halls. Our own Hayden Kwast will participate in a discussion on How B2B Ecommerce Can Strengthen Coffee Producer Brands at 10:30 on Friday morning. Rob Stephen and Mark Inman will be lecturing on Effective Strategies for Green Coffee Buyers on Saturday morning at 10:30. Olam is sponsoring the Expo’s first ever podcast series, where lectures will be recorded and released on the Expo website after the event.

We hope Olam is part of your plans for Expo and look forward to seeing you.