St. Louis’ Amazing Pet Expos produced 33 successful events this year, but those weren’t the shows that spurred exhibitors to contact The Bee. About 10 called or emailed about three recent shows the company canceled – in Boise, in Anchorage and Dec. 6 in Sacramento.
Amazing Pet Expos CEO Sheila Rilenge said that she hoped her company wouldn’t be judged by these cancellations but by the overall work it has done for animal rescue organizations and small businesses.
“Since we started doing pet expos (in 2009), we’ve had 1.2 million guests with their pets walk through our doors,” Rilenge said. “We’ve worked with 15,520 exhibitors, and we’ve had 23,500 pets adopted at our events.”
Indeed, a number of people praised Amazing Pets’ events. Deirdre Franklin, a burlesque performer who founded the nonprofit advocacy group Pinups for Pitbulls in Asheville, N.C., said she was able to speak with thousands of attendees at 20 Amazing Pet Expos this year.
“Regardless of what city we’re going to, we know what to expect,” Franklin said, “and we know it’s going to be professional and well-attended.”
However, the experiences of exhibitors who had events canceled or postponed by Amazing Pets underscore the risks of signing up for a trade show without investigating the event operator.
In Sacramento and in Reno, where a Nov. 1 pet expo was postponed until January 2015, exhibitors were dismayed at Amazing Pets’ abrupt schedule changes. Sacramento inventor Maria Morais Shields, for instance, had ordered up 5,000 Messy Meow cat bowls she designed and planned to sell at the Sacramento event. Megan Hughes said the Reno show was to be the first big sales event for her Saintlees treats for dogs with sensitive digestive systems. When it was postponed, she signed up for the Sacramento event.
“I’m out my booth fees, so I’m out about $900 right now,” said Hughes, a Reno resident. “The thing that is most upsetting is that I’m out of the opportunity to put the product in front of customers before the holiday shopping season.”
The frustration of Anchorage-area exhibitors is best summed up by Cindy Liggett, who runs Kool Kat Rescue. She told me: “After many, many, many inquiries as to our refund, and being ignored half the time, and the other half (being) told it would be in the mail and never was, the CEO of Pet Expo contacted me. I finally got our refund check this past Saturday (Dec. 6).”
Rilenge said all Sacramento refunds would be issued by Monday, but when this column went to press, Shields and others had not received their refunds. All Anchorage exhibitors have been reimbursed, Rilenge said, but she did not know whether all Boise customers had received their money.
Susan Dunsmore, founder of Arctic Pups Dog Gear in Eagle River, Alaska, and Cherie Northon, executive director of the Anchorage Waterways Council, said that when they complained about the wait for refunds, the Amazing Pets staff said their contract stated that refunds could take up to 90 days. Neither recalled signing a contract.
However, they had clicked a button on the Anchorage Pet Expo website saying they agreed to the company’s terms and conditions. Neither had fully read the document, they acknowledged, and they were aghast at some terms.
The Amazing Pets contract does not provide refunds if an event is postponed, for example. And as part of a dispute resolution process, it stipulates that exhibitors will be fined $250 each time they post a complaint on Facebook, Yelp or other websites that offer no mediation.
“If I was counseling a business client, I obviously would advise them not to accept these terms,” he said.
Rilenge said: “Although the terms and conditions of the contract are certainly written to benefit our company, as any company would do, I very rarely adhere to it. … Clearly, customer service is what is most important to us and having a long-term relationship with people.”
Since the Anchorage show’s cancellation, Northon and Dunsmore said that they have done the research they should have done in the first place. For instance, they spoke with venue operators, a step recommended by the Better Business Bureau. This columnist randomly called venue operators as well, and here’s what was found:
In Dallas and Minneapolis, venue operators said the Amazing Pet Expos had staged successful shows and has booked events for 2015. But at Boise’s Expo Idaho and at Reno-Sparks Convention Center, spokesmen said they tried to get final contracts signed up until a week or two before Amazing Pets either canceled or postponed events. The whole time, the Amazing Pets website listed the venues as confirmed event locations.
At the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, officials said Amazing Pets has unpaid balances from 2013. Steve Stagnaro, a marketing consultant for the fairgrounds, said the company must pay its past-due debt and a substantial portion of fees for its Jan. 17, 2015, event before a contract will be signed. Rilenge said last week that she has a final contract with the fairgrounds, but Stagnaro could not immediately confirm that information.
Cal Expo staff expected Amazing Pets to have its first-ever Sacramento show on Dec. 6, but marketing manager Jennifer Castleberry told me the company did not send the required deposit by Nov. 3. Cal Expo provided a final deadline of Nov. 21. When no deposit was received, the staff canceled the show, according to Castleberry.
Rilenge said she never received written notice of Cal Expo’s decision before she emailed her exhibitors a week later, canceling the show. In that message, she attributed her decision to the civil unrest resulting from the police shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo. Rilenge said the company had scheduled two shows in California on Dec. 6, but couldn’t run both shows because the St. Louis-area employees were reluctant to leave their homes and families.
Jim Wurm, a 30-year veteran of the trade show industry who now manages the Bend, Ore.-based Exhibit & Event Marketers Association, said: “If you don’t have a venue, you can’t have an event. As soon as the venue canceled out on (Amazing Pets), their event was essentially over.”
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.
Before booking a trade show
When considering renting a booth at a trade show, the Better Business Bureau advises potential exhibitors to:
▪ Check with the venue to confirm the event is scheduled.
▪ Investigate the event sponsor to be sure it is reputable. Check for complaints with the BBB or the attorney general’s office in the state where the company is based. The Missouri attorney general can be reached at (800) 392-8222 or online at ago.mo.gov.
▪ Ask past attendees about their experiences.
▪ If possible, pay fees by credit card. If there’s a dispute later, you have recourse through your credit card provider.
▪ Be wary of websites promoting trade show events that do not list the name/address of the show’s organizer.
▪ Ask about add-on costs, such as fees for electricity, Internet hookup, tables and other charges not included in booth rental.
▪ Review the booth rental contract before making any financial commitment. Be sure you understand the contract’s terms and what recourse is available if an event is canceled.
Source: Better Business Bureau