Luca del Rosso – Gentleman’s Expo founder [ Interview ]

 gentlemens expo

 

Welcome to the Gentlemen’s Expo

Imagine, if you will, a place where all men (and women) are welcome… a haven that holds the latest, greatest advances in tech gadgets, state of the art power tools, sports paraphernalia and entrepreneurship information.  If you think the existence of a Gentlemen’s Expo that encourages and offers quality cigars, delicious food, gamer goods, the latest in men’s fashion and grooming accessories and booths, sexy distractions, along with fantastic music, is not possible, you’d be wrong.

 

 

 

A 100,000 Sq. Ft. haven for men (and women) that holds all the above and more does in fact exist… and it is not “heaven”. However, it might be considered heaven on earth. Every year we gather together as many new and exciting materials as we can, along with fantastic entertainment and quality products to encourage men and women to join in the fun. The skilled bartenders and chefs anxiously anticipate preparing the drinks and dishes that will have you coming back, year after year. Rather you enjoy shooting pool, playing shuffle puck, video games, golf or just listening to amazing music while seeking out the latest trends, the Gentlemen’s Expo is the place to be.

 

Each year we strive to make the Gentlemen’s Expo better than the year before, encouraging men and women alike to come out and enjoy the festivities. We work hard all year round to make this an unforgettable event, and every year the attendance grows. We are adamant about making our Expo the most talked about and incredible experience available, and look forward to seeing you all there.

Q: Could you tell us a little about the Gentleman’s Expo?

Luca: The Gentleman’s Expo is intended to give a voice to a specific sort of lifestyle for men and women. The Gentleman’s Expo is actually unique because it is targeted towards men, but we do get a number of women that come to the show as well. In essence, what we’re really trying to do is create an experience. Sort of take the idea of your favorite men’s magazines–whether it is GQ or Esquire or whatever–and bring it to life. We want to work with our brand partners to create an experience. That is obviously the message that the brand is trying to get across, but at the same time, we want to create an opportunity for brands to engage with the consumer by way of a content-rich integrated memorable experience.  We also want to find a way to create a special weekend for everybody involved.

 

soccer simulator

 

Q: That’s really cool. You’ve done this for the past two years, correct? 2013 and 2014?

Luca: That’s right. We’ve just completed our second year in November, and are hosting the third annual Gentleman’s Expo event from September 25 to 27 here in Toronto. We will be announcing the details for that soon. The event has grown and we’ve now moved into a larger venue with 130,000 square feet of space. Lots of cool stuff happening. I guess we’ve hit it off with the city of Toronto–for the guys in the city, anyway–and have managed to create something that they want to expand on and be a part of.

 

mens interests

 

Q: How many people are actually behind the scenes that ran Gentleman’s Expo for the past two years?

Luca: Gentleman’s Expo is myself and my co-founder, Settie. We launched it in 2013 and it’s been, for the most part, a small team of people who put this together. We have a very small but dedicated team that works throughout the year to not only do all of the operational work required to put on an event of this caliber and size, but also to create unique experiences that will be well received.  Trying to top ourselves every year in order to create better and better experience requires a lot of time and a lot of creativity, and of course, execution. So for our team, this is basically a full-time gig that we work on 365 days a year.

Q: Maya Angelou once said

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I think that is what most brands fail to accomplish these days, make a connection with their consumer base. What do you think.

 

Luca: Absolutely. That’s one of the challenges I think a lot of brands face right now. The audience we target is the ‘typical’ millennial male, 25-35 year old, still trying to make his decisions on his brand loyalty, if you will. A lot of times traditional advertising with the community hasn’t really worked all that well. And a lot of these guys are cutting the cord. Television isn’t reaching them, traditional radio isn’t reaching them, because they’re either on Spotify or Pandora of whatever the case is and streaming the music that they want to stream.

quality mens productsSo it’s getting harder and harder to reach this audience and really engage with them in a meaningful way. What the Gentleman’s Expo will do is help create experiences that are brand-specific, but tell the story of the brand in a unique way. The event makes it possible to do that in a live event setting, and create a memorable experience around that.

We find that the brands that have participated in the previous years’ Gentleman’s Expo have had a tremendous amount of success in reaching out to audiences. We find that for most participants, the main reason for coming to the Gentleman’s Expo is the opportunity to enjoy a fun weekend, while also learning and engaging around content. That’s why, as you mentioned earlier, we have some bigger name speakers and talents to discuss certain things from that end, and it’s been well-received from the audience.

 

Q: Could you give us an idea of the numbers?

  • How many people actually came through the doors?

Luca: During the first year of trying to launch something, it’s hard to gain traction due to the lack of history, especially in the event space. It’s one of those things where you are sort of working with a website, a handshake and a promise that you will put on a good event, because people don’t know what you’re going to do, or what it’s going to look like. So year one is always a struggle, but we knew it was going to be a struggle.

One of the keys to what we did during the launch was bringing in a lot of the marquee talent, like the Dragons and John Jones and so forth. Year 1 was all about being able to leverage their names as a key marketing play to be able to go to brands and say: listen, this is the caliber of talent that we’re working with, and this is who we’re working towards getting, etc.  That’s sort of how you launch an event like this. It is very difficult to get the traction you’re looking for in your first year. But because of the talent we’ve managed to pull, we had a fairly strong start.

We had just over 20,000 people walk through the door in year one.

stuff guys likeWe had a number of participants from small independent retailers like an independent and bigger online companies involved in electronics like ulike.com, both of which were our initial supporters. We were able to grow bigger in time for year two, and bring on a number of other marquee brands, if you will, more name brands: Canadian Tire, TSN and so forth.

We had over 25,000 participants in year two, and this year, we’re hoping for 30,000 through the door.

  • Do you have any numbers on the male-to-female ratio 

The interesting thing is that in year one and year two, the amount of women who participated in the Gentleman’s Expo was phenomenal. In year one’s event, over 30 percent of the attendees were women. In year two’s event, over 38 percent were women, so the number of women participants is growing all the time. It’s hard to figure out exactly what it is that’s attracting women to the event, but we do try to make the Expo as female-friendly as possible.

A number of others have tried to do men’s-based consumer programming in the past, and it’s always revolved around the same kind of thing, which is really sort of going after the lowest hanging fruit. Beer, booth babes, as they call them, the sex appeal and stuff like that…we felt that was sort of tacky.

With the Gentleman’s Expo, we take on a slightly different approach. One thing I always tell friends is that we keep to the ‘right’ side of sexy, if you will. It’s a show that my mother comes to every year, so I always take that into consideration when we’re working with brands. When positioning the show, I always think that this event is something that I bring my mother to. Is she going to feel comfortable when she walks into that room?

We try and create a sophisticated environment for people

to get involved in and to experience everything from scotch and craft beer tasting to men’s fashion and rock climbing, and so forth. So the idea is to create a sophisticated and enjoyable environment for everybody. With an event like the Gentleman’s Expo, we have to keep that in mind whenever we’re working with new brands, or coming up with a new idea. We make sure that everything we’re doing fits the name and its ‘gentlemanly’ approach.

One of the things that we’re trying to do is to position, to make it comfortable for brands like Johnny Walker or Unilever or whoever else is participating in the Gentleman’s Expo to feel comfortable that the show itself is going to be reflective of their brand, and not something where they feel their brand is being sullied or shown in the wrong light. Ultimately for us, it’s about producing a show that is as high quality as possible. We are also about making sure that it is as entertaining and content-rich as possible for our attendees.

Q: One thing we also noticed is that you try to focus on higher-end luxury-type brands. Is that intentional?

Luca: No not at all. We feel like our gentlemen audience spans the entire spectrum of the brand lifestyle.

Some of our guys are going to be that higher-net worth guy, for sure, and some of are going to be guys new to the workforce who are just starting out in their careers. From that perspective, we didn’t intentionally set out to bring in the more luxury brands, as much as we tried to cater to a broad range of gentlemen in the city and to provide them with something of interest, whether it is a speaker, a brand, or an experience we’ve created.

For us, a gentleman isn’t so much defined by how much money he makes, as how he lives his life. Whether or not you are a gentleman, you will know it. By extension, you will know whether or not you fit in with the show as well. At the end of the day, our goal is to appeal to as many guys as possible because obviously, the more people through the door, the better. Although unintentional, we do get a lot of higher-end brands to participate, but we try to find and work with new brands every year as well.

 

things guys want to buy

 

Q: How did you connect with the really big name brands that have participated in the two previous years’ Expos?

Luca: A lot of hard work is involved obviously. You definitely have to put in the hours and find the right people positioned in specific companies to help champion your cause. You also have to believe in what you are trying to create. Honestly the brand has to be aligned with what it is that you’re doing, and they should want to be in that space. Once you’ve figured that out, it’s pretty much about leveraging your relationships, and picking up on who would be willing to at least have a conversation with you, and going from there.

The bottom-line is that we hustled.

It’s really that simple. My partner and I started off with a goal to make a hundred new contacts every day, whether it was through a phone call, an email, a voice-mail, a tweet, or whatever. Whoever we needed to get in touch, we would set a goal of a hundred people that we should talk to each day. No one worked harder than we did in trying to reach the right people, and to do the things that were required to make the event successful.

 

Q: Considering that you had to make a hundred calls a day, how did you manage to stay focused and productive from day to day?

Luca: Well, before I started the Gentleman’s Expo I had launched another company and it sort of taught me the importance of preparation. A lot of times when it comes to sales–and I know ‘sales’ is a dirty word for some–but it is the lifeblood of every

best products for men

organization. Sales is the one thing that keeps the lights on. When I had my last company we had a sales team of 15 people or so. I used to tell them all the same thing: the hours from 9 to 5 are for selling, not for preparation. A true salesperson or professional prepares for making those calls the day before he has to actually make them.

Whether it meant staying up late or getting up early in the morning, you had to know who you were going to contact even before you come into work.

You had your goals in place, you know the people you want to connect with that day and how you’re going to do it. You didn’t spend your day trying to find those people–you already knew who they were. So that when you went in for the 9-to-5, you are able to immediately do the work required, which is to make the necessary calls. Because, as you guys know, when you run a business, you will be wearing a lot of different hats. You will be expected to perform as a CEO or part of the cleaning crew.

From that perspective it’s really about putting in the hours and finding the time and making sure that you are grinding harder than anybody else. Because ultimately, the key to your success is how well you’ve prepared, how much research you’ve done on particular organizations, and being able to understand what their needs are. By doing your research, learning, and devoting the time required to do those things, you’re going to be well-positioned to succeed.

 

mens clothing

 

Q: Recently we came across an articles on Esquire, which you retweeted, where the article stated that men are nowadays aren’t buying online cars, or toys, or gadgets, but men’s clothing.

Luca: We’re all obviously busier than ever. For most of us, there just isn’t enough time during the day. Everyone has their commitments–whether it’s friends, family, work, recreational stuff–and everyone has stuff that keeps them busy. The realty is that there is less and less time to go out to a mall and buy clothing, or do the things that once were the norm.

With the advent of online shopping, life has become a lot easier for everybody. I can shop for my new suit online at 3 o’clock in the morning if I wanted to. That’s the reality of it.So from that perspective, the one thing that is unique is that the Gentleman’s Expo offers brands the space and the opportunity to actually engage with people who maybe wouldn’t make the time to go out to a retail store.

gentlemens exibitionBecause of the experience that we’re building, and because this will fit into their recreational time and is something fun they can do with their buddies or their girlfriend, here’s an opportunity for brands to actually bring the store to them and engage with them on that level.

We found that brands that have traditionally operated online and have moved to an experiential program with the Gentleman’s Expo have seen a tremendous amount of success. Because what the Expo does is create a personalize relationship with a brand where you normally just visit their website, and you don’t ever really interact with anybody. And now you have a guy at the Gentleman’s Expo who will measure you up and give you some advice on buying a suit, what you should be looking for, the new styles of suits, colors that are coming out in the spring, etc. Here’s an opportunity for a brand that primarily operates online to create that in-store experience in a place where the guys are going to be anyway.

Q: What do you guys have planned for the 2015 Expo?

Luca: Ultimately, we’re all about two things: creating experiences and creating content. Both of those lead to the creation of memories for the consumer and for the brand that participates in the Gentleman’s Expo. For us, whatever we can do to work with a brand to help them create a new experience, or help them create a new way to engage a consumer is always of interest. But from the consumer side, it’s always about what are we doing to earn that consumer’s dollar.

The competition for consumer dollars is becoming fiercer and fiercer, especially in the entertainment niche, which is where we would place ourselves. Every year we have to reinvent ourselves, and try to create new and engaging opportunities for the consumer to come out and experience something that they haven’t experienced before. We provide the opportunity for them to do something that they probably wouldn’t have ever tried. With our guys, for instance, we’ve had a lot of success around the content side of things. From that end every year we try to find new and relevant content to share with our brands.

Last year we had a guy called Gary Roberts who is a former NHL and Stanley Cup winner, come in and talk about how he trains NHL athletes like Steve Stamkos through his high-performance institute. That was an opportunity to learn from a professional what other pros are doing and how they incorporate fitness and well-being into their lifestyles.

For the average Joe, that provided the opportunity to learn what these professionals are doing, and how to apply that into their own lives in order to better their pickup hockey or basketball game or whatever. For us it’s always going to be about the content that is of interest to guys. So this year we will be focusing on a lot of interesting new stuff, such as craft beer tastings and tutorials. We found that a lot of guys are interested in learning more about wine, so we’re going to be featuring wine from certain sommeliers. Brown spirits have been very popular, so we will continue to do the scotch vs. bourbon vs. whiskey debates we’ve been doing, and build the conversation around the differences and the nuances between the three spirits.

It’s always going to be about new and interesting things to learn and to provide our gentlemen audiences with, and giving them more of what they want. We encourage all our guys to give us their opinions, and one of the things we found out was that the guys are really responsive. We surveyed them on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and they usually get back to us with ideas about what we should do different this year, what we should have had, or what we can do better. We take that data, review it, and figure out how we can make our work better, how we can put it all together, and how we can create a better experience.

 

race car simulator

 

Q: What about the creative process? Do you guys let different brands come in and create their booths according to their own ideas? Or do you provide a dedicated marketing professional?

Luca: It’s usually a combination. A lot of the bigger brands like Johnny Walker, Canadian Tire, or Jack Daniels usually have their own activation and use their own agency. This makes it easy for them to just ask how much space they need to activate. That’s what we’re looking at. Then we work with them to make sure that the activation fits in with the show. With the smaller brands, we sometimes work with them to help create the right experience. For instance, we worked with a new online brand this year, which is called Live Out There. The company is an online retailer of outdoor merchandise for athletes such as rock climbers, skiers, and runners. They have a great selection of brands for that lifestyle. For our part, we create an opportunity for them to communicate that lifestyle through an experience. We worked with them to bring in a rock climbing wall to the show this year. And Live Out There with their products and their services were able to really tie in with that experience and get across the idea of Live Out There. Some brands come pre-activated, and some are created around finding the right fit. The bottom-line is if a brand wants to speak to this audience, we find a way to make it happen for them.

 

Q: Looking back at the past two years, what is the one thing that you wished you understood about the Expo industry?

expo for guys stuffLuca: How much it costs. Gentleman’s Expo is not an inexpensive show, for sure. The amount of money we spend on talent and production is probably more than what most people spend for their entire event. But we want to produce something that is very high-end as far as the experience goes. Given that goal, we sort of issue a challenge to other shows to do what we are doing. As far as we know, we were the first consumer show to do a standard hard wall for all of our booths. With most other consumer shows, it’s pretty much all pipe and drape.

Whether it is a big brand or a startup, we provide a hard wall to ensure that their booth is as professional-looking as possible, and that it measures up to the typical big brand activation. Producing the show is really expensive, but it also delivers a much better experience for everybody. So thinking back, I wish I had known how this was all going to cost. One thing that was a definite learning experience was realizing how much time is required to get a show like this off the ground. It’s like any other business: you’ve got to put in the man hours, and put in the effort to get it up and running.

If you’re not committed to doing it, it’s never going to work.

So you have to go at full-throttle and hope that it works out in the long run. It’s been good to us so far. We want to continue to build a great event. Oftentimes, you don’t know what there is to know about a particular industry, but you basically just dive in and hope that you have the right team to deal with whatever challenges might come up and find solutions for them.

Q: When are you going to bring one to the United States?

Luca: It is on our radar, guys. We still have a lot of work to do in Canada, but moving to the US is definitely in our plans. Just so you know, Seattle has been targeted as one of the markets where we feel that the Gentleman’s Expo would work well in during its initial phase in the US.  We hope to have a show in the US within the next two years, but there’s a lot involved in launching a show in a new market. You need to make sure you’re well-versed in what that particular market already has, and you need to figure out whether or not you’re a fit for that market. So having an event in the US is definitely in the works. The help you guys would provide us will make it a lot easier, so we will definitely take you up on that offer.

 

Stuff for guys

Q: Anything else you would like to share with us?

Luca: Well, we are a small business just like everybody else. We’re not some huge conglomerate running the Gentleman’s Expo. We’re just two guys working out of a small office with a dedicated team to help with our social media and all the logistics. As I said earlier, sales is the lifeline of any business. Bringing in new brands or bringing in new people to attend the show are very important to us, so I spend a lot of time focused on those two tasks. Any time we can get an intro or favorable review, or some form of help in reaching out to the community, we’re always grateful. For our part, we try to give back to the community and help out however we can, and we’ve always been repaid nicely. So we’ll say this: if we can help you guys out in any way, let us know. Were always happy to help out! If you know people who might want to come to the show, or brands that want to participate or are looking to open up markets into Canada, let us know.

For vendor and sponsorship opportunities take a look here: HERE

If you would like to just attend and have a blast then this page will answer all your questions: HERE

We can’t wait for the Gentleman’s Expo to come to the United States, until then we will keep you updated on all the amazing things they come up with this year.

 

 

Author: Eric Pangburn

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