2017 IGC Show keynotes offer applicable advice, inspiration

2017 IGC Show keynotes offer applicable advice, inspiration

The 11th annual independent garden center trade show also included new networking opportunities and the return of the New Vendor Zone.

August 23, 2017
Michelle Simakis

Wayne Messmer, a well-known Chicago-based National Anthem singer with a baritone voice, kicked off the 11th annual IGC Show in Chicago’s Navy Pier with his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

IGC Show founder Jeff Morey welcomed attendees and shared a few points of interest on the show floor, including the “Shop Talk” Retail Conversation area, an informal space for garden center representatives to discuss a range of topics, including minimum wage increases, rising health care costs and social media marketing.

He also announced the return of the New Vendor Zone, which featured 40 companies new to the IGC Show this year, and an area where attendees could vote for their favorite new products and plants.

Before the trade show floor, which had more than 500 booths, officially opened, Tuesday’s keynote speaker, IGC retail expert John Stanley, gave the audience an overview of findings from “The Gathering.” The meeting of IGC representatives from around the world took place in Paris in January, and IGC Show attendees got a “first look” at discoveries from the conference. Here are key takeaways from his talk and more from the IGC Show.

Key trends
The Gathering noted a few key trends for retail in 2017, including the importance of promoting product quality and sustainability, providing unique in-store experiences and personalizing services and interactions with customers.

Why, not how
Quoting James Wong, botanist, science writer and broadcaster, Stanley urged the audience to not focus on how they communicate with their customers, but why, and “to focus on inspiration and communication of what gardening can give to well-being and health.”

Focus on families
Most marketing conversations are dominated by what garden centers can do to attract Millennials to their stores, and IGCs could potentially be forgetting other important customer bases, Stanley says. Although “The Gathering” did address Millennials and the importance of understanding how they shop, marketing to families could be more effective. A generational approach caters to all ages and to Millennials who may not like gardening themselves, but want to engage their kids in the garden, Stanley says.

IKEA inspiration
If you’ve ever walked through an IKEA store, you’re well aware of the model – customers walk through showrooms with products displayed as they’d look in a home, and products are selected at the end. Stanley says it’s important that IGCs develop more space for garden room settings, but also as important, showing the spaces before and after so that customers can see the transformation. There is already too much choice at garden centers, which can be overwhelming for consumers, and that space would better be allocated to inspirational settings.

“Fad or future?”
Stanley wonders whether the interest in urban agriculture, especially among young consumers, is a fad or the future of gardening. IGCs can engage those consumers by offering relevant products, such as raised beds and vertical gardening products.

Promote health and nature
Marketing should focus on the health benefits of plants and not the gardens, but the “outdoor retreats” garden centers can help consumers create, Stanley says. Messages can center around bringing nature indoors, promoting plants as air purifiers and the mental health benefits plants provide. 

The future is not retail, it’s spaces
Although it was not planned this way, attendees of “The Gathering” realized that their name hit on an important focus for retail in the future – garden centers need to create spaces for people to gather, Stanley says. “It’s not us that needs to have the space for gathering, it’s the consumer that needs to have a space for gathering,” he says. Instead of traditional make-and-take workshops, Stanley urged retailers to think about workshops differently. For example, why not consider 12-minute workshops in three to five locations in the store, instead of hour-long workshops in a private room? Garden centers must rethink the traditional model and provide other opportunities for people to spend time in their stores.

We’ve entered the era of active retailing
It’s important for retailers to do the following in an “era of active retailing,” Stanley says: Engage customers before, during and after the visit; inspire with room setting ideas; provide a seamless experience online and in-store; give team members mobile devices to make shopping more convenient and efficient for customers; offer post-sales advice to ensure customer success; and hire day makers, not salespeople, who are more likely to grow your business.

O’Neill Keynote – “Never quit”
While Stanley’s keynote offered practical, applicable advice for retailers, Robert O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six Leader, shared inspirational stories from his time as a Navy SEAL. O’Neill, author of the memoir “The Operator: Firing the Shots that killed Osama bin Laden and my years as a SEAL team warrior,” delivered Wednesday’s keynote, and urged retailers to never quit, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He also offered leadership and decision-making advice learned from his time serving in the military. A few lessons he shared included:
•    “The less we talked, the better we worked. Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean your communicating,” O’Neill says. Effective communication also means that you stop talking when you are finished with your thought. Too much noise does not improve the message, the team or the work.
•    Don’t take short cuts.
•    Stay prepared for uncertain situations
•    Success means not resting on your laurels – complacency kills businesses. 
•    Separate decisions from emotions.
•    Your enemy is your fears and doubts, and you must keep moving forward.

Though discussing serious situations, his recollections of his time in the military were often peppered with humor. He shared a story about one of his colleagues who didn’t give up his dream of being a SEAL, nearly drowning while trying to tie a knot in a rope underwater, one of many skills they were required to master. He also talked about a moment his team chose not to move forward with a mission for the right reasons –there was the possibility of bombs being detonated on a bridge they were trying to cross – and how separating his decisions from emotions helped him make the right choice in the end.

Shop Talk Retail Conversations

There were several opportunities for attendees to gather informally on the show floor to discuss everything from "getting Millennials into your garden center" to "inventory management." We dropped in on a group talking about minimum wage increases and rising health care costs, and how they could adjust and reduce their budgets in other areas to be able to afford the new minimum wage increases. 

More from the IGC Show, including new products we spotted on the show floor, will be published soon. Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, presented Thursday's keynote, "Creating a customer experience that stands out from the crowd." You can read one of the articles he wrote for Garden Center magazine here.

Photo: Attendees listen to Robert O'Neill share his stories during Wednesday's keynote at the 2017 IGC Show. Michelle Simakis