Right. Now. Laws are changing nationwide, both medical and recreational. As a consequence, the industry is expanding faster than we can measure—and it’s not slowing down. It’s only getting bigger, which is why our industry needs to evolve now; to grow into the high-tech, high caliber industry that we all know we are.”
Mike Sessoms’ excitement is palpable. There’s a heat to his words that’s almost kinetic, as if they are emerging from a pressure cooker. The best part: It’s contagious.
If you know, Mike, you know this is nothing new. It’s just his nature and frankly, why we’ve chosen to work with him. That choice isn’t new either. We've been the proud sponsors of his primary gig, Smoke Shop Events, for the last six years. We know his work ethic. We’ve watched over the years as he’s tirelessly and continuously pushed the event he co-created to levels previously unseen. We know he’s a doer even more than he is a talker—and that’s saying a helluva lot. It’s why, when we decided to enter the trade show arena ourselves, there was never even a question as to with whom we’d partner. SSE, of course.
Really, it’s unclear as to whose idea it was first; theirs or ours. It’s a bit of a ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum, a metaphor that fits even better if you stretch it a little. We’ve been working hand in hand with Mike and his crew for well over a half-decade. It was only natural that one thing would eventually lead to another and we’d end up spawning something new that reflected us both. And what an offspring it’s shaping up to be.
“We’re really trying to raise the bar in every way,” Mike asserts, the fire in his voice in no way subsiding. “We want to bring the HQ Event and Trade show to a higher caliber than what this industry’s seen before. Other industries have already stepped up to this level, but the smoke shop world has been lagging behind. There are so many things to address, but I think the most important is our high-tech integration.”
That’s more than hype and buzzwords. Remember: Mike’s a doer more than a talker. With our assistance, he and his team have developed a mobile app that will integrate seamlessly with the inner-workings of the event and make the experience virtually painless for the attendee.
“The app will have a number of functionalities that participants will find essential, but I don’t want to give them all away yet,” Mike teases. “But I think the most important is the pre-scheduling app. Buyers will be able to go in pre-show—or even during the show—and schedule appointments with their favorite vendors. That way, they can map out their entire show before they even walk in the door. No more aimless wandering; no more getting lost trying to find that booth that seems to have magically disappeared.”
The time saved is reason enough to celebrate, but anyone who’s been to a trade show lately will likely also celebrate the sparing of their aching feet. Those event show floors can be unforgiving.
“Speaking of painless,” Mike cuts in excitedly, “WE HAVE CARPET!!” Carpet. Sweet, soft, sole-saving carpet. Truthfully, that in itself should close the deal. But that’s hardly the cherry on the sundae.
The pronoun, “We,” is being used somewhat in the collective sense, since this is, after all, a joint effort. Yes, of course, Mike and his team at SSE are the ones putting in most of the leg work on the production end. Event creation and execution is what they do best—a fact that’s been tested and proven repeatedly since they showed up on the scene six years ago. The point is, we have our respective talents, and we’re delegating accordingly.
“We’re also offering a free night’s stay for our buyers,” Mike continues. “That’s a limited basis, but we still have plenty of slots left at this point. We’re also giving every buyer that walks in the door a $300 retail value gift card to spend at any booth at the show. That’s just for showing up. And once they’re in the door, there will be plenty more giveaways and prizes as well.” In short, we’re treating the buyers like rock stars.
“Oh!” Mike interjects “Speaking of rock stars, we’re going to have an official buyer’s lounge—and no, it’s not just going to be some chairs roped off. That’s yet another front where I don’t want to give away everything this early, but suffice it to say, it will be a true VIP lounge.”
Exhibitors, we haven’t forgotten about you either. If you’ve been to an SSE event, you probably already knew that, but for the rest of you, rest assured the HQ Event and Trade Show will likely be the most productive show in which you’ve ever participated. “One thing we’re doing for our exhibitors that we’re really excited about,” Mike offers, “is we’re giving every single one of them the entire attendees list, post-show. That’s complimentary; absolutely free just for exhibiting. The app will also feature plenty of functionality for the vendor end of things that will allow them to do all kinds of cool stuff, but again, I want to save some of these details for when we get closer to the show.” If there are any exhibitors out there who are still yet to be fully swayed, let’s sweeten the deal. Every company that exhibits will also be getting a free ad in the print edition of HQ. Every. Single. Exhibitor.
“Plus,” Mike adds, “There will be prizes of a sort for the vendors too. Everyone who exhibits will have the opportunity to win a free booth for the next show.”
Even the things that aren’t outright perks are practically perks. For instance, the options for exhibitors are practically a buffet of possibilities. Whatever your company’s level, we likely have a booth size and price that will fit you where you’re at, starting at the 5’x10 for the artisanal glassblowers, going all the way up to a gargantuan 50’x50’ for the big dogs with plenty in between. What’s more, you can customize your options, combining booth size, location and sponsorship level package in any variety of ways.
“And for our select vendors, we’ll be adding a touch of the SSE experience with private meeting rooms,” Mike throws in. “That way, for your bigger clients, you can have a quiet conversation in a relaxed atmosphere with the option of food, drinks, etc., with the whole display set up behind you. Again, we’re going for the full VIP experience.”
Did we mention yet that all of this is happening in New Orleans? Yes, as in Bourbon street mayhem and low country boils. It’s about time someone gave our Southern shops some love. That’s why we’re making it easy for them—by putting this on in the Big Easy; nearly the dead center point between Texas and Florida. Those two states alone have enough retailers to pack this show out.
“There’s nothing haphazard about any of this,” Mike asserts confidently. “We’ve planned out every detail to the T. Even the dates, January 14-15, were carefully considered. We feel that’s the optimal time to assist the buyers with restocking after their holiday rush. And by the way,” he adds, “I’m a total foodie. I’m REALLY excited about the location.” As we all are, Mike.
We’ve covered a lot already, but it’s barely the half of what will make this show truly special. And there’s no question of whether we can deliver. Remember, we’ve teamed up with Smoke Shop Events. They don’t do anything half-assed. Nothing. The only thing needed to make this, our first show, a resounding success is you.
With that in mind, though, it’s time we address the elephant in the room. Why would we add another trade show? Why risk inflating an already inflated space? The answer is really quite simple, and hearkens straight back to Mike’s initial words. For the last decade, with the seismic shift in both legalization of cannabis and general perception of smoking culture, the industry has expanded ever outward, with the playing field widening at-near exponential rates every year. But while the horizontal growth is inarguably a positive step, it’s time we
took the industry in a vertical direction. Raising the numbers is great; raising the bar is greater. It’s not only what we need at this juncture, but what we deserve. We’ve come of age and it’s about time we started acting like it. Yes, we’re aware of the risk involved, but ultimately, that risk serves as proof of concept. We’re talking about the longest-running, most respected publication in the industry teaming up with the most innovative event production team the space has yet to see. Neither of us would risk our reputations on anything less than perfection.
Don’t stay home this round and wait for the next. Come to New Orleans this January. Make history with us.
(Reprinted with permission from Headquest Magazine, issue #244 September 2020 )