Winter trade shows and educational events – it’s hard not to talk about them. If I didn’t have at least one column a year that addresses them it would be sort of sacrilegious, now wouldn’t it?

Show and tell

This year, the closing of Mid-Am in Chicago marked the end of an era. I used to attend Mid-Am religiously every year because it was “the” show, and the industry’s movers and shakers were sure to be there. I have a bank box full of fond memories of past Mid-Am shows.

But, I haven’t attended Mid-Am for several years. While I love the Windy City, it was just too expensive and my target audience was no longer attending, either, so the return on my investment was not paying off. While it is definitely sad to see this icon fade away, I think it needs to serve as a wake-up call to other trade shows: “Things must change to stay the same.” And no, a new show floor layout doesn’t count as change.

Change doesn’t always bring about the anticipated result. For instance, after a few years of trading places between St. Louis and Kansas City, The National Green Centre will return and stay for the foreseeable future in KC. The show name will return to “The Western,” but the educational events will remain the National Green Centre.

I can’t help but admire those who aren’t afraid to go out on a limb. After all, without risk they wouldn’t have created the Plant Fashion Show, which showcases new plant introductions to the industry. This year they also had a fashion show version that was presented directly to the consumer. I feel their new plant awareness efforts that reach the industry and the buying public have set the bar high.

MANTS did not disappoint. For the most part, the aisles were hopping. Two years ago people attended, but no one was buying a thing. Last year attendees were hopeful, but the needle only moved slightly. This year people remain cautiously optimistic, but their wallets are opening more freely and shortages are happening (thank goodness!).

And you can’t discount smaller shows; sometimes bigger isn’t always better. The Green & Growin‘ show held in North Carolina draws a good crowd with a reasonable price tag to exhibit. It is well-worth the long and winding drive through West Virginia to be there. Overall the trade show vibe was truly positive, and I walked away feeling as though things are on the upswing.

Educational events

There is, of course, the Short Course in conjunction with the CENTS Show. Affordable education for your entire staff in conjunction with a trade show is what differentiates this event from its competition. It is a good example of how together these two entities can do so much more than if each tried to pull the load individually. Let’s hope these two groups see the value this long-standing partnership has, and that it continues for a long time.

I was a first-time speaker at the GardenScape Professionals Association (a chapter of the New York State Nursery and Landscape Association) Education Conference & Trade Show in Rochester, NY, and the Mid-Atlantic Horticulture Short Course in Newport News, VA. Great lineup of speakers from across the country, great attendance and good weather made for a winning combination at each event.

I was also lucky enough to go to The Next Level event on behalf of the Agricola Management Group to represent the HGTV HOME Plant Collection. Just like trade shows, educational events are what you make of them. Even though I was only able to attend a portion of the event, working our Connection Club hospitality suite and attending the last day of talks, it was so worthwhile. The networking with new and old acquaintances, plus what I learned from the speakers – which can benefit me both personally and professionally – was invaluable.

The Next Level is a new beginning. It was the first joint collaboration by the ANLA and OFA teams. I suspect it was a team-building exercise at its finest with a steep learning curve for all. They’ll evaluate what worked well or what they need to change for next year and provide one of the best conferences for you, your team and your business.

At The Next Level, John Kennedy spoke on “The Great Game of Business.” One of his best lines was, “Be in a groove, not a rut.” Where are you?

John spoke about dealing with a problem employee who is just not toting the load. He said you can’t afford not to get rid of someone who is not performing. Either they get on board or they need to leave. You need to tell them, “Your sucking at your job is getting in the way of my succeeding.”

The energizing closing speaker was Chip Eichelberger, who focused on balancing life and business. His parting words of wisdom were:

Wow, if that last sentence is true, then no doubt we’re an industry full of the strongest people in the world!

When it comes to education, too often we say, “I’m too busy.” And we say it not only for ourselves, but for our employees. Instead, we need to step back and realize that we can’t afford not to invest in education for ourselves, our staff and/or our business. If you don’t, you’re bound to be standing still while the world and your competitors pass you by.

Originally published in American Nurseryman Magazine, March 2013


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