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Trade Show Talk with MJ Unpacked CEO George Jage – Cannabis Business Executive – Cannabis and Marijuana industry news

In the aftermath of the recently concluded MJ Unpacked in New York City, a very well-attended and produced event whose attendees were palpably flush with excitement and optimism with the opening of adult-use sales in the state and the promise of a bright future, I realized that the fervor that suffused the event, as real as it may have been, was no different from that experienced in every other new market, and that the sense of déjà vu I was feeling was precisely because I had experienced it all before. That it was no less meaningful for the participants or organizers of MJ Unpacked New York, or myself, only reinforced the fact that MJ Unpacked’s next scheduled event in Michigan this October – a more mature market that is dealing with different issues than New York – will have to address those different concerns and priorities, just as next year’s MJ Unpacked in New York will have to address that market a year on, and so on and so on.

To try and get a better understanding of these trade show dynamics and how they may play out, which is important because trade events are essential components of a thriving industry, I spoke recently with George Jage, co-founder of Jage Media and MJ Unpacked, former president at Marijuana Business Daily, and a trade show veteran with 30-years of experience under his belt.

“The thing that really excites me about trade events is just the sheer economic power and catalyst it can provide an industry,” he said as we jumped on a call. His trade show experience dates all the way back to just after he finished college. “My dad needed help at a business, we ended up starting a trade show and I really liked it.” He was running a tradeshow for the off-price apparel industry, and a lot of their exhibitors did 70 to 80 percent of their annual sales at his two or three trade shows a year. “It was a very much of an order-writing show and everything else, but trade shows are where innovation happens,” he noted.

“When you talk about the evolution of industries, trade shows have always been a forward-looking indicator of an industry, and also somewhat of a lagging indicator,” said Jage. “When you see that attendance at a trade show for a major industry is going way down, you know that means that there are fundamental issues within the industry, and that people are making cutbacks and scaling back based on their forward-looking projections for that industry. Conversely, it’s the same thing when you see people investing time and money and being really exuberant and excited about a trade show. That’s energy that hasn’t reached the consumer market and been translated into dollars and cents in the economy yet, but it’s that kind of precursor that happens at trade events. You get really good optics on what’s happening in the industry over the next 12 to 24 months.”

From Tea to Shining Tea

Jage has had far more that 24 months in which to evaluate the cannabis industry. His origin story stretches back to about 2014 and involves a friend of a friend who wanted to start a cannabis trade show with him in Colorado. “I was just wrapping up exiting a trade show that my wife and I built for the global tea industry,” he recalled. “My friend was a very chatty guy, talking to a lot of people. He spoke to Anne [Holland] and Cassandra [Farrington], the owners of Anne Holland Ventures at the time, and brought my name up.” Holland and Farrington co-founded Marijuana Business Daily in 2010.

“They reached out and wanted to talk to me about coming on board and helping them scale and build what was a very small, early-stage publication,” said Jage. “Their business strategy at the time was to create publications for different industries and have a thousand subscribers, and then sell them for a million bucks and move on to the next. They didn’t have any event experience other than running conferences for 50 or 60 people, and there was only one full-time employee. It was for all intents and purposes a startup other than having Chris Walsh as the managing editor of a publication.”

Walsh turned out to be the deciding factor. “Chris was really the biggest reason I wanted to take this opportunity,” said Jage. “Having built a lot of trade events in the past, when you are able to build a strong content platform that supports it and engages the audience 365 days a year, it can really help accelerate things, and I saw that Chris was an exceptional journalist. He was paying attention to the industry, he was thoughtful, he was a critical thinker, and I saw him as somebody that would be instrumental in us being able to build a business. So, I jumped in.”

He ran MJBizCon from 2014 to 2017, taking it from a 20-tabletop event at a Seattle racetrack to a thousand-plus booth trade show at the convention center. “When I came on board, there was no infrastructure in the company,” he said. “I had to build all of the accounting systems, database systems, the sales team; the one thing the owners hung on to was marketing, but there wasn’t much of a company. They were basically publishing a digital newsletter, and we had shared staff standing up a one-track conference, so it wasn’t much of a trade show at that time. I basically set up the company to have five-year financial forecast and three-year rolling contracts on the event space, designed every event from top to bottom, start to finish, hired and contracted every single vendor that was a part of the event, and left them in a really good spot that if they didn’t fall out of the car, they were going to have a very successful exit.”

It wasn’t to last, however. “We had a falling out over equity provisions the owners were reneging on and that we needed to resolve in court, which obviously ended my employment,” said Jage. His next stop was Dope Magazine, a B2C publication that was his first foray as an executive doing a turnaround, and a year and a half gig that culminated with the sale of Dope Magazine to High Times Holding Corporations. Jage then worked at a cannabis social network with plans to target the Canadian Stock Exchange, but he stepped away fairly quickly. “I’m somebody who believes that you need to be an honest broker, and you need to be transparent,” he explained. “I am not going to stick around and keep company with people that I don’t think share that value.”

They were all stepping-stones, however, placeholders for ideas that had been percolating in his brain ever since he got into the business. “When I was running MJBizCon, I always knew that at some point in time cannabis becomes a consumer-packaged goods industry,” he explained. “And I was always thinking about how and where I would find those turns and those moments to shift the focus of the event away from the supply side of the industry to more of the packaged goods side of the industry, and or integrate that into the overall event. I never went there with that company, but it was always something that was in the back of my mind, and post-MJBizCon, I always felt that if you look at any mature CPG industry, the biggest and most important trade show is going to be focused on brands and retailers, not around labels and label makers.”

It was time to begin conversations with his wife – Kim Jage – in earnest. “After we sold our last business, which we had built together, we wanted to spend a couple of years focusing on our children during their early-stage development,” said Jage. “But Kim had gotten to a point where she was anxious to get back to work and build something again. We had always talked about creating a consumer-packaged goods event for the cannabis industry, it was the right time and the right place, and then along came Patrick Rea, a longtime friend with experience in the natural products industry, who offered to fund us with some seed capital to see if we could launch this business through his CanopyBoulder accelerator.”

Launch they did, with a vision that took inspiration in part from their experience building the first and largest tradeshow for the tea industry. “There were a lot of similarities,” said Jage. “The tea industry was separated out as a standalone industry from the coffee or foodservice industries, so there wasn’t really a good understanding of how to operate retail yet, and a lot of early-stage people were jumping into the space.”

Similarly, in cannabis, “There was a need for information, there was a need for education, there was a need for infrastructure and supplies to stand up the industry back in 2014 as companies were coming online. Nobody knew what a manufacturing facility would look like or an indoor cultivation. People were going out and figuring it out and designing and using technologies and tools from other industries. So, the design of the MJBizCiz events I was running from 2014 to 2017 was focused around how do you support the infrastructure, the industry, and that’s a supply chain issue.”

But it could not last. “What I started seeing in 2017 as I was exiting that business is that a lot of licensed operators, once they had figured out what equipment and supplies they needed for the business, they don’t really need to go to a trade show to figure that out,” said Jage. “I think the point to understand is that in every single industry the supply-chain spend decisions occur at the frontline operators, so it’s the brands and cultivators and retailers who are ultimately going to initiate and originate any type of spin that is going to trickle out throughout the entire supply chain in our industry.

“Whether it’s retailers who need a POS system, or design, fabrication, display equipment, or they need training for their staff, brand new packaging, or extraction equipment, or joint rolling machines, or a cultivator needs light bulbs, system trays, or air quality control systems. all of these things originate from that group, and I started to see that that group was very difficult to attract to a show,” he added. “I could see that if we didn’t start shifting that the event was going to eventually run out of gas, because there wasn’t going to be the dollars coming in the door to make it economically viable for the growth of the exhibit side of the business, period.”

A CPG-focused Show

Jage wasn’t about to make the same mistake with his new show. “A lot of trade shows are selling supply side space, and they don’t care if they have 100-plus packaging companies,” he noted. “If I were doing that, I would want to make sure that there were enough buyers coming to the show that are looking to buy packaging for their product to make sure I could substantiate a return on investment for those packaging companies. Whereas they’re looking at how many more booths they can sell, how much more money they can make, and that’s a huge disservice to any industry. We’re not selling real estate at MJ Unpacked. What we’re doing is selling access to opportunity.

“That’s why I think smaller independent-focused media companies like ours do nothing but focus on how to help support the brands and retailers and cultivators in our industry,” he added. “Right now, they need access to capital, so we want to put our arms around investors and find ways that we can bring new money to the market that can help support these businesses in the long term. We want to support the advocacy groups that are doing the work that helps everybody in our industry be more successful because they’re trying to get laws changed that need to be changed. So, we’re always looking at this more holistically, like how do we build a community; how do we create value; how do we create a return on investment; how do we create a return on objectives; and how do we create a return on experience?

“But again, over 30 years I’ve seen a lot of people look at this as just the grid, as booth space, as how many can I sell. It’s not, how do I make sure that the companies that are there can spend $1 and make $3, and when they invest money in an event marketing spent – which should be at least 17 to 20 percent of their overall marketing budget – are they spending this money effectively to get a return on it?”

Does that mean the trade show needs to take a more active role in facilitating access to capital? If so, how? “You have to understand each sub-segment of your audience,” said Jage. “We have a very exclusive audience that we allow to come into our event environment, so we can filter out all that noise, filter out to people that are just looking for a job or free samples, or the supplier that doesn’t want to pay for a booth and wants to sell from the aisles, and we can increase that return on objectives by having a narrower focus with a very specific audience that has a very strong need to meet and connect.

“That’s probably one of the most differentiating things that we do at MJ Unpacked, and not everybody loves it,” he added. “Suppliers will say, ‘I want to come to your show, and I’m really important.’ We say, ‘Great, but we already have six packaging companies, and we don’t want more because we don’t want them to not get a good return on their investment.’ We take the time to curate everything that we do. As far as the investment capital is concerned, we are focusing on the needs of the market at the moment, and the market needs capital, so we brought in people from the Force Family Office to our last event to speak so we could tap into their Force Family Office network and hopefully get some more family office executives at our event.”

Making the effort to help with capital is not an option but an imperative. “It’s very challenging, but we take an active role in finding ways to bring capital into the tradeshow environment, because that is a need of the market,” he reiterated. “If we’re not paying attention to that and we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job to be of service to the industry. So, when we look at ways that we can do that, when we started the event we created Money Stage, which was an opportunity for companies to pitch in front of the credit investors who came to our event. The challenge with that, and the reason that we no longer do it, is that there are not a lot of investors that have capital, and they don’t necessarily want to sit in front of a stage and be pitched to because there’s no shortage of deal flow.

“Because there’s a shortage of capital,” he added, “we decided to spin that around last fall at the event in New York, and instead of having a Money Stage for investors to listen to investment opportunities, we created a very bougie kind of exclusive conference program that was called our Venture Summit, which was exclusive to active investors in the space. They could come into this room and have conversations with their peers, and not have anybody sticking their hand in their pocket trying to get money out of them. We do that so that we can get them to the show, so those investors can then filter out onto the tradeshow floor, meet with the brands, meet with the retailers, have conversations, and find those investment opportunities.”

They then took it a step further. “Every company that was exhibiting or sponsoring with us had an opportunity to provide us information on their current capital raise,” he said. “We created a dossier that we shared with every one of the ambassadors, and Patrick Rea, who co-moderated the event with me, and I went through and talked about each of these companies. ‘Here’s what this company is doing, here’s what we know about them, this is how much money they’re looking to raise, these are the terms that they’re raising on, this is how much revenue they had last year, this is the problem that they’re solving in the industry.’ These are the things that we know investors need to understand before they have that conversation, so what we’re doing is helping investors vet the opportunities that are available at our event.”

The Trade Show Business

Creating a successful trade event is not easy or for the faint of heart. “We have a business that we need to run, and it’s important for us to be a profitable business to keep delivering value and service to the industry, and it’s not easy,” said Jage. “And we didn’t go into this meekly; we went in strong. We did our first event during MJBizCon to be of service to the thousands of people who go to Las Vegas and don’t waste their time going to the show anymore. I think we really created a very disruptive moment, and people saw there was a different way to design an event.

“We take a lot of time to curate how we onboard our customers,” he added. “We have a turnkey booth package, so when you buy a booth from us, you don’t have to figure out buying the booth somewhere else, shipping it to the show, paying material and handling fees, ordering electrical, going there and being all sweaty setting up your booth and lugging stuff through the airport. Your booth is built for you, you show up, and you’re ready to go. If you’ve got some products, you put them out on the table and your shelves and you’re ready to go. We know that brands are struggling, so we didn’t want to say, ‘Here’s a $5,000 or $6,000 booth and you’re going to have to spend another $5,000 or $10,000 to activate it.

“We offer them brand showcases,” he continued. “It’s an opportunity for the brand to control their own visual merchandising, which they don’t get to do in the retail store, where they drop their product off or a distributor does, and the retailer decides how that box is displayed on the shelf and what stories can be told about their brand that makes it special. When these brands have an opportunity to control their visual merchandising, they’ve gone hog wild and really get very creative. I’ve seen disco balls inside of these showcases and miniature versions of those floppy balloon people you see outside of the carwash; it’s great to see that type of excitement around this.

“What we wanted to do is say, ‘Listen, we want you to be there, because when you think about the psychology of how events work, when you’re standing in a booth, people are going to walk by, they don’t want to get sucked in unless they want to talk to you, and sometimes they stand back and look, and maybe grab a business card or a piece of candy. That’s fine for being able to window shop or browse different types of companies, but real business gets done when people sit down and they have a conversation, because if you can’t establish a level of communication and trust first, you’re not going to have a business transaction. So, we designed our event with this concept of creating a lot of soft seating and having untethered display opportunities for brands, so they don’t have to sit in a booth. They can walk around, talk to people, go look at other exhibitors’ products, and they can have meetings with investors and retailers and really drive transactional success.”

The goal is to create a connection between the trade show and its clientele that creates an invaluable level of trust. “We’re a small team, but we’re engaged,” said Jage. “We’re friends with these people, our customers are invited over to our house for dinner when they’re in town. That’s who we are, and people will tell you if you’re doing a good job or bad job pretty unabashedly. This last show, it was absolutely and overwhelmingly humbling, but people kept coming up to our team saying this was the best cannabis event they’ve ever attended because of the fact that we took the time, we made sure that people were in the room, we made the passes to the exhibitors and sponsors easy and cost effective, and we had different opportunities for engagement.

“I don’t want to say it’s about smiles and hugs, but it kind of is,” he added. “When we’re talking to people who we consider our friends that we’re trying to help support their businesses, and they’re coming up and they’re hugging some of our staff, thanking us for the work that we’ve done, we know that we’re doing a good job. And in all of the work that we do leading up to the event, when we’re thinking through everybody’s experience and the steps that are required for them to be successful, when the curtain gets pulled up on the opening day our work is done, and we just need to manage any small problems. It’s the audience that takes control of the event, and if there’s exuberance in the market, they’re going to be running around actively wanting to meet as many people as possible, build as many relationships, have as many conversations as possible, and get deals done.”

The success of an event is measured in many ways, he added. “We have gongs on our show floor, so when you get a deal done, you go bang the gong, and people get excited,” he pointed out. “Exhibitors who were setting up were like, ‘I’m really looking forward to banging the gong this week.’ So, hearing that gong means that our show is being successful, and deals are getting done. Measuring the immediate success on site of the event is also certainly going to include the number of people that decided to invest their time and their money to come to our event because of what they believe what we’re offering has value, but then just watching the reaction, seeing how they behave at the event, seeing the smiles, getting the compliments, those are the things that are tangible, and we can really know that we’re doing a good job.”

But there is an ever more basic metric that signifies for Jage the success of MJ Unpacked. “When I said we started this business back in 2018, we got our funding in February of 2020 right before the pandemic, and the probability of a trade show organizer starting a company in February 2020 and still being here today is probably less than 5 percent.”

A National Event

Stepping back from the specifics of the New York show, a larger question looms regarding how trade show organizers manage to meet the needs of individual markets or sections of the country when each market is at a different stage in its development. After New York, for instance, MJ Unpacked will be in Detroit, Michigan this October. To address the needs of Michigan’s legal cannabis market, which is far more mature than New York’s currently is, will MJ Unpacked have to essentially redo its focus and content, and then do the same when it revisits a more mature New York market next year? Is this dynamic not a factor with each and every show?

“Great question,” said Jage. “When we started the business, we felt that the market could sustain and probably needed to have a bicoastal, biannual type of event platform. I lived in Las Vegas, I’ve done a lot of trade shows there, and there are a lot of things that are attractive about Las Vegas from an event producer standpoint – the abundance hotel space and meeting space, but we really learned some valuable lessons last fall, including that people are tired of going to Las Vegas. The town has changed a lot, and the other challenge is that the majority of the West Coast market is really struggling. There are businesses being shuttered every day, and California is certainly a big anchor of that. I’ve heard reports from recent trade shows out in California that were not favorable. They’re struggling out there, and if you take the time to understand where we are now and where are we going to be next, everyone’s got a new thought process. There’s a certain rinse, lather, repeat element to getting event registration set up, and security, and designing the floorplan, but as far as thinking through what the content is going to be, my wife curates all of that. She’s got a committee of retailers she works with to get feedback, we listen to people and understand what their pain points are now, where they expect their pain points to be, what’s going to be valuable for them to learn, and who to learn from.

“And we’ll never sell our stage,” he insisted. “When organizers offer a pay-to-play opportunity that you can speak if you spend this money, it’s not going to work that way here. Do we favor the people that are supporting our show? Yes, but we also base it on a very strict litmus test. Do they have real-life experience and stories that they can share that are going to help other companies in space and are they unique and insightful.

“We also want to make sure that we don’t have the same people talking,” he added. “The MSOs always get pandered to a little bit to speak on stage because of being the bigger players in the market, but a lot of times the executives from the CEOs are not boots on the ground, they’re not sitting in the retail store, they don’t worry about their employees getting shot because they’re working a $15 an hour retail job, and making sure that they’re safe, and that they feel cared for. Those are the things that a lot of the independent operators care about and worry about every day, and we want to meet the needs of the entire market. But our focus is on how we support businesses that are operating in the space now and tomorrow with the tools that they need, and that’s always going to be best from peer-to-peer learning and having people that have walked a mile in their shoes tell their story so that they can learn something so that they can avoid a mistake or adopt a best practice.”

So, what exactly will be the focus of the Michigan show, and will it be marketed as a regional event? “We market our shows nationally, but no matter what you do, when you’re running a trade show it’s always going to be regionally impacted,” replied Jage. “We knew there would be a lot of participation from the CAURD holders, the New Jersey market, Connecticut market, Massachusetts market. But we feel that Vegas right now is a little bit underwater, a little bit overdone, and that there are challenges for an event our size to operate there. We also spent considerable time doing database analysis and having conversations with people in the industry. Michigan’s still the second largest market in the United States, it’s still got double-digit growth year over year, it’s an expanding market, and if you look at a lot of the operators in Michigan, and the way that the state is set up, there’s a very diverse license ownership. It’s not like when Illinois launched and there were a handful of companies that controlled 80 percent of the market. That’s not going to work very well for the trade show, because we want to be able to bring in enough people to make it successful for everybody participating.

“So, the show is marketed nationally, but we’re focusing on the Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Minnesota markets,” he clarified. “And from our attendance at this past event, where we had strong participation in the Northeast, we’ll be encouraging them to come to Michigan. It’s a really strong market, and if you look at the Midwest, a lot of people in the industry see that Michigan is growing better cannabis, and they’re more innovative in their packaging and their products than a lot of the other neighboring states such as Illinois. So, Michigan could actually be a regional epicenter for cannabis as we start breaking down these artificial walls of state commerce.”

A similar dynamic is in play back east. “The New York and New Jersey markets are going to have a big influence over the entire east coast, and Massachusetts is a big player out there, too,” said Jage. “I think that when you start seeing where the market is headed, there’s going to be a lot of regional influence. Look at the specialty beer industry. People like local, but if somebody is successful in California, they’re going to want to go into Oregon, or Arizona, or Nevada, because it’s next door. So, when we looked at the Michigan market, we considered a lot of different data points, like accessibility, stage of the market, growth of the market, number of brands, number of retailers, neighboring states, and everything else.

“So, this is going to have a little bit of a different feeling,” he said of the next MJ Unpacked. “I don’t want to say it will be a step back in time, but we’re not going to try to say we need to have the biggest show, or we need to sell more blue space. We want to be the most valuable show, and I think there’s a huge opportunity to create value in the Michigan market, celebrate what they’ve done, and import and export what they’ve done to other markets. That’s a big part of what we offer at our shows, the opportunity to connect with brands and license holders in other markets. If you’re an operator, you don’t want to go into another state and spend a million dollars to acquire another license; you want to find a partner in that market that can carry your product.”

A Capital, CPG, and Supply-Side Trade Show World

The cannabis industry still seems to have more trade shows than most people need to attend in a given year, but that may be the enduring legacy of federal prohibition and the piecemeal nature of the state-by-state marketplace. For Jage, however, a type of segmentation is taking place that signals a maturing marketplace that still has a lot of consolidation ahead of it.

“You asked something when we started about the changes in the market, and I’d like to take a little bit of liberty with that question, because it is something I talk about with my investors, my team, and people in the industry,” he said. “When I was running MJBiz, that 2014 to 2017 period was all about standing up the industry, and there was a strong need to have a supply side show, which facilitated a lot of the growth and success of MJBizCon. During 2018 to 2021, there was expansionism going on, and you wanted to go to smaller shows in places like Arkansas and Mississippi or Oklahoma, as these new states were coming online, so you could start expanding your footprint. There also was the rise of the MSOs, the stock exchange opened its doors, and they started publicly listing cannabis companies in Canada.

“In 2021 and 2022, we’ve moved into the dawn of the brand,” he continued. “This is where brands are starting to build a direct relationship with the consumer, where you’re going to see companies that are going to potentially be the Seagram’s, Bacardi, Anheuser Busch, or Marlboro of cannabis at some point in the future when the true wealth creation is going to happen in our industry around consumer-packaged goods. That can be flower in a jar, it can be a preroll, it can be a gummy, a tincture, or whatever the case may be, but this is the first moment where we’re going to see the birthing of giants and see the companies that are going to be the future in the industry. And there are some front runners out there. You’ve got Wyld and Wana in the gummy space, Kiva and Bhang in chocolates, and other companies that have established themselves as more dominant multistate players in the space. I won’t call any of them national brands yet because we don’t have a national market, so we don’t know who’s going to cross that finish line.

“I think that’s an important point about why MJ Unpacked now,” he added. “When I look at the tradeshow landscape, and I do a lot, I’ve got a deep sense of respect and a very good friendship with Mark Shepard at NECann, and I like what he does up there. But it was a very short period of time – only 18 months ago – that we launched our first show, and you could probably say that there are three top national shows right now: MJBizCon, MJ Unpacked, and Benzinga. Benzinga is focused on the investor, MJBizCon is a supply side show, and we are the CPG show.”

On a regional and state level, the playing field has also leveled out to a certain extent, said Jage. “I think Hall of Flowers has done a great job as a state market event in California, and NECann has done a lot of state focused events,” he noted. “Boston is their bellwether event, and part of that success is that Massachusetts is a really exciting market for cannabis and was one of the early East Coast states to go full tilt adult use, and Mark’s show has grown as a function of that. Now he’s doing shows in Albany, and a show in Chicago next week I think. He will go into these markets at a certain time, and while a lot of his shows tend to be a bit more supplier-focused in other markets, in Massachusetts, I’ve seen a lot more brands and retailers participate at the event, because some of the bigger players in the market have very state specific or regional marketing budgets, and Mark is the game when it comes to Massachusetts. And even if you look at the surrounding states – Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and even Connecticut – Massachusetts is still the center of that economic engine. So, while NECann is this northeast cannabis convention, people from New York and Maryland find a lot of value in what he’s doing, and I think he does a really good job executing the show.

“So, I would put Mark as the top regional event on the East Coast and Hall of Flowers as the top regional event on the West Coast,” he added. “There are a smattering of small shows – Lucky Leaf, CannaCon, and Imperious Expo – that move around the Midwest a little bit. I don’t see a huge amount of success in those events from what I’ve heard, but I think that we very proudly have asserted ourselves as one of the most exciting shows in the industry, and certainly the only national trade show that is a CPG-focused event.”

What about the current economic pressures on cannabis companies? Can they impact or imperil the economics of running a successful trade event? “As a business, we need to find a way to be profitable, and like I said, we didn’t come into this to be meek, and we’ve been very bold,” replied Jage. “As far as how we design our events, what it costs me to produce our event with turnkey booths is probably four to five times, or maybe even 10 times, what it costs somebody to set up a pipe and drape booth and then leave the exhibitor to fend for themselves covering all those other costs. I think probably the most notable thing is what we’ve seen with a lot of these big companies, especially in the ancillary side, that tend to sponsor a lot of events, They had a kind of drunken sailor approach to their marketing spend for a lot of years, because they’re raising tons of money at super high valuations, so they wanted to be everywhere and sponsor every event, whether it was Weedmaps, or Dutchie, or LeafLink, and they’ve all taken some heat because of economic pressure in the economy as well as just the down valuations of cannabis.

“A lot of them are trying to right-size into their valuations to create some efficiencies, so almost categorically they’ve dried up this sponsorship well that a lot of events look to support their event financials,” he added. “But a lot of them are coming back. We had a lot of them at our show that weren’t able to commit to anything at the first half of the year event, but they’ve committed to our event in the fall and for next year, and so they’ll come back. But it’s tough, because we have an industry that has got a lot of financial pressure, so when we go out to the market, we want to make sure that we have a product that not only offers a better value but it’s at a better price, and I think that we can stand up against any other national event in the industry.”

Is it his expectation that brands will pick up the slack? “Brands are going to continue to want to have a more direct relationship and focus on truly building their brand within the industry, and it’s been challenging for brands to do,” said Jage. “How do they build brand? How do they reach consumers? How do they reach retailers to carry the products? And how do they differentiate themselves from 10 or 100 different products that are very similar to them on the market? Trade shows give companies an opportunity to show why they are different, and they can control their own narrative, their own visual merchandising, and their own storytelling. So yes, brands are going to continue to grow and be the most important part of the cannabis tradeshow.”

Following the October event in Detroit, MJ Unpacked will be back in New York next year in late April. “We’re planning on anchoring that event in New York, but I don’t want to disclose the other places we’re looking at or any contracts we have beyond the next two,” said Jage. “That said, we’re working on a three to four show cycle that is contracted and planned out in advance.”

This content was originally published here.