This Trade Show Took a Cue from a Kid’s Birthday Party, and It Was Awesome

Author: David McMillin       

Want to attract more traffic to an exhibit hall? Get some puppies. Seriously.

The entrance to an exhibit hall comes with a fairly standard soundtrack of the beep of a badge scan and some high-energy music to help early-morning participants wake up and prepare for product demos. But when attendees entered Exhibit Hall A at the Anaheim Convention Center for Destinations International’s Annual Convention on July 11, they were greeted with an unfamiliar-to-events sound: barking.

It wasn’t annoying barking, or even much of it, for that matter. It was the joyful, occasional yipping of a group of nine cuddly puppies that emerged as the stars of the show. There were exhibitors who could help destination marketers manage their data, archive their images, and better engage with potential visitors, and there were top travel names like Expedia and TripAdvisor. While all of these services and solutions can clearly benefit anyone in the DMO world when they go home (disclosure: PCMA was also an exhibitor), the puppies provided an immediate benefit.

“They break down barriers,” Eric Hasenfang, co-owner of California-based Parties Fantastic, told me. “No matter who you are, you see these guys, and it puts a smile on your face. It’s always a smash hit.”

For Hasenfang, most of those smash hits have not come at conventions and business events. Instead, they come at children’s birthday parties — the main activity on Parties Fantastic’s calendar. Hasenfang and his team are staying busy throughout Southern California, but the celebrations aren’t confined to canines. Hasenfang lives on a farm with more than 80 animals including goats, miniature horses, goats, alpacas, and rabbits. “I grew up around nature and animals in northern Wisconsin,” Hasenfang said. “When I moved to L.A., I wanted to be able to stay connected to the outdoors.”

Hasenfang does more than keep all the animals to himself. He also works with local animal shelters to help find new homes for rescue animals. In Anaheim, six of the four-legged friends were available for adoption, and Hasenfang was fielding requests for information on the adoption process. “I even had one woman ask if I could ship a dog to Canada,” he said. “I don’t have any idea if that’s even possible.”

I had so many questions for Hasenfang. How hard was this to coordinate? Did he worry about the dogs getting annoyed by humans? And of course, the obvious question: What about the poop? Hasenfang had been subcontracted for the event, but the entire process seemed fairly simple. “It’s all pretty straightforward,” he said. “We put a tarp down, and there is an expandable fence to give them the right amount of room. We pick up after them. There’s extra hand sanitizer gel to keep their area clean.”

Hasenfang said that events like Destinations International are somewhat of a rarity, but he is hoping to find more opportunities. With adults who can be trusted (he mentioned losing a tortoise at one children’s event) and weekday work (most birthday parties are on weekends), business events are an ideal fit. If you think these photos of puppies are cute, just imagine seeing what Hasenfang calls the “Hot Dogs & Buns” combo package: one pen of dogs and one pen of bunnies.

If you’re hosting an event near Los Angeles and interested in bringing the surprise-and-delight of a puppy appearance for your participants, Hasenfang can be reached at [email protected]. And please send us images from your event. If there is one thing that will always make the internet a brighter place, it’s pictures of puppies.

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