Nursery Trade Show Time.

It’s winter and the Daphne is blooming so it must be trade show time. During the slow season various nursery trade shows vie for our attention. In my area we have a Sacramento Nursery and Landscape Expo, then the slightly larger Nor Cal Show in San Mateo, then the even larger Far West show in Portland, and now the mega-show in Chicago “The Independent Garden Center Show.

Generally the shows follow somewhat the same format. They are staged in large halls with row after row of vendors each with a display trying to attract your attention. Someone selling beneficial insects might be right next to a booth by Bayer or Scott’s. It’s all a bit overwhelming. You pick up a plastic bag, usually emblazoned with some corporate logo to put all the papers and samples from the different vendors. Business cards, brochures, fertilizer packets, and anything else you’re given. Some of the vendors will offer discounts if you buy product at the show. Buy “x” amount of plants and receive a discount and maybe delayed billing.

There are seminars with various experts on all sorts of subjects. The IGC is going to have seminars with a store management consultant, garden café consultant, color trends expert, counter trends expert, garden center marketing expert, organic garden expert, store design global consultant, international garden retail expert, store display expert, garden retail industry consultant, Jim “cares about independents” Hagerdorn of Scott’s, and Susie Coelho of HGTV fame.

What I find interesting is how every one of the speakers has a different title, with some being quite creative. Garden café consultant is a new one for me. It may be the first. What a great niche to have discovered. Counter trends expert is a bit confusing. I am not sure what that means. I like “store design global consultant.” Not just store design consultant, but "global" to boot.

In our rush to embrace what’s new and hip I hope we don’t forget the little things that make or break a small business. While we discussed cafes in garden centers I wonder if we aren’t just getting a bit too carried away. Building a café or coffee kiosk may be out of the budget for some, but upgrading to a better coffee maker and a better brand of coffee may be all we really need. I stopped in a local garden center the other day and saw they had a coffee maker with a sign that said “help yourself.” I did and threw away the cold coffee. What a bummer, it was a cold day and I wanted to warm my hands. Does this garden center really need a café if they can’t even brew a decent pot of hot coffee? Maybe they should lease out the spot to someone else that will make the coffee for them.

Many of the speakers at the IGC show and other shows have interesting stories to tell. If they have an enthusiastic, upbeat outlook just listening can be worth it. My question is why should have to get that information second hand from “consultants”? I interact with the consumer daily via my nursery and blog. Garden bloggers in Austin, TX turned me on to John Dromgoole and “The Natural Gardener” nursery last year. I have already “visited” his store and had a taste of his philosophy long before he will be speaking in Chicago at the IGC Show. We have already talked about Jim Hagedorn of Scott’s and Susie Coelho of HGTV at this blog last year. I think we have a handle on what these folks will be telling us.

If you really want to be different and create a niche for yourself I doubt any consultants are going to be able to help you. You have to believe that your ideas have merit and that following the consensus is often an avenue to mediocrity. The interesting, funky garden centers are that way because that’s the way the people running it are. You can’t fake it. I get nervous when everyone starts doing the same thing. It seems lately that if you don’t have garden center that looks like it came straight out of Europe, complete with pet center and coffee bar you are doomed. Sometimes I think we listen to “experts” because we had the same idea long before but need the ‘approval’ of experts before trying it out ourselves. That way if it fails we can blame the “experts”.

There are a couple of new nursery bloggers out there and I wanted to point them out. “Mallee Native Plants”. It's written by Corinne and her small native plant nursery and home block in country South Australia. "Growing Up” is a blog by Sherwood Green Houses located one mile east of the Regina Tourist Booth, on the North Service Road Regina, Saskatchewan. They say “Running a retail greenhouse operation on the Canadian Prairies could be considered a bit of a challenge. A short summer season, a long intense winter and a couple of days of spring and fall stuck between. But, --Hey it's better than not working. It is my hope to record our daily activities and describe seeding, plants, planting and everything in-between. Finally, Daleys Fruit Tree Blog, Australia. They have the “You Tube” thing down and the enthusiasm they have for their craft is evident. Check it out!