IGC Show Chicago kicked off the 2016 event at Navy Pier on Aug. 16 as it has for the past decade. A polka band and traditional dancers helped ring in Jeff and Cheryl Morey’s 10th anniversary trade show, and Amanda Thomsen, blogger, GIF master and author of “Kiss My Aster: A graphic guide to creating a fantastic yard totally tailored to you,” delivered both an entertaining and educational keynote about social media best practices and how to win over the Gen X, Y and Z crowds.
The morning of the show, electrical issues at Navy Pier knocked out some of the lights on the trade show floor and air conditioning at the facility for most of the morning, but the local power company restored the power before the show opened at noon. About 500 exhibitors showcased their plants and products, and industry experts Steve Bailey and Judy Sharpton were among the speakers in the lineup of educational sessions offered throughout the show, which concluded Aug. 18. Many exhibitors reported good traffic and orders during the show, and new vendors were right on the trade show floor this year. There were a lot of interesting products and displays this year from new and experienced exhibitors, some of which are listed below. One person can’t find them all – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I missed something great. Next year’s IGC Show Chicago has already been set, and will take place Aug. 15-17, 2017.
As usual, there was much to see and do during the event, but we’ve rounded up 10 highlights and takeaways from the independent garden center show:
1. Keynote speaker Amanda Thomsen urged attendees at the show to give Millennials, who are often portrayed as entitled, a fair chance. After all, she explained, “Gen Y is not the enemy. Carbs are.” Her humorous address was peppered with GIFs, those funny moving image files that sometimes help get the point across better than words, and memes. She suggested garden centers “get ‘em (customers) while they’re young-ish” by using humor in marketing, offering wedding registries, “home brew stuff,” bounce houses, succulents, encouraging PokemonGO players to come to the store and, perhaps most importantly, hiring young people. She also went through some “must-haves” for IGCs, including e-mail blasts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, “the No. 1 thing you should be doing,” and other social media platforms. Exploring YouTube is not a bad idea for retailers either, she said, as it’s an incredibly popular site for kids, who, among other things, love "un-boxing videos" where they watch other kids open toys and other products. Most importantly, be authentic. Don’t buy likes, she cautioned. Spend your money to boost posts instead.
2. Keynote speaker Mike Ditka drew upon his career as a football player and coach to offer advice that could be applied to garden center businesses. He spoke about what it means to have ACE leadership, or a good Attitude, a strong Character and unwavering Enthusiasm for your job. Some key points from his presentation included, “You’re not entitled to anything but the opportunity;” "The players win it, coaches don’t win it;” and, companies can build winning organizations by putting the right people at the top, meaning the right managers in place to lead teams.
3. Recycled flatware was transformed into dragonflies, frogs, fish and other garden creatures made by Paul’s Metal Petals, which features decorative stakes made in the USA. One of the Battle Lake, Minn.-based company’s signature products, Drunken Dragonflies, get their name because they balance on a spoon and move with the wind.
4. New technology to help garden centers sell more plants and connect with customers could be found throughout the show. The Perfect Plant is one such company, which offers a tailored, interactive program to help customers find plants they are looking for by categories and solutions. For example, customers can use the touch screen kiosk to search by a range of categories and qualifiers, including plant color, size, sun or shade and plant type. Based on the choices customers select, plant options appear with growing information and suggested companion products, like fertilizers and soil. The technology categorizes plants to help customers find the products they want, especially during busy seasons, when employees knowledgeable about plants are busy.
Another exhibitor, Local Plant Pro, helps garden centers connect with new and existing customers through a peer-to-peer app that allows users to ask specific questions and get expert advice from independent garden centers in their area. For example, customers can send photos of plants that have been attacked by pests and disease in their garden, and the local expert IGC can then send care recommendations and products to help, encouraging the customer to visit their store for those products. Garden centers can also help users identify and find plants they are looking for. IGCs can send push notifications through the app about frost alerts and sales. The app was developed by Changing Seasons Landscape Center, a full-service garden center in Marion, Ill.
5. Urban AgricultureCo.’s mission is to simplify the gardening process, especially for urban gardeners. They offer a wide variety of flower, herb and vegetable grow kits that include everything a gardener needs to be successful, including the seed, soil and a container. The bags are produced from 100 percent recycled tea bags and all products are organic. At the show, they also showcased their new craft cocktail kits that come with a featured plant ingredient, like basil, that customers can grow themselves.
6. LED Habitats featured their wooden LED light systems that feature an aesthetically pleasing spectrum and design. They offer a variety of sizes and other indoor growing products, including pre-planted seed mats and planting trays. The display included gardens with edible flowers, herbs and a fairy set-up.
7. Floral Elixirs are flower-infused mixers that can be added to champagne, wine, sodas and liquor to create cocktails and add flavor and color. The elixirs are handcrafted in Cleveland from real flowers blended with pure cane sugar. Customers can buy single elixirs or flavor packages that feature five choices, including “Champagne Lovers,” “Tea Lovers,” and “The Tiki Lounge.”
8. Day of the Dead sugar skull-themed decor has surged in popularity recently, and can be found on glassware, wall hangings and pillows, so why not in the garden? D'barro Pottery displayed a few sugar skull-inspired pieces at the show.
9. Beautiful fairy and miniature garden displays with appropriately-sized plants designed by Mark Langan of Mulberry Creek Herb Farm were found throughout the show. This one incorporated miniatures from Georgetown Home and Garden, and another display was found in oversized miniature garden containers from Eco Personal Garden that are plastic but look like broken pottery or cracked acorns.
10. Haiku Shade's goal is to help set independent garden centers apart from the competition by incorporating aesthetically pleasing, movable shade structures into outdoor nursery areas to create destinations within the store. The company showcased some of its structure offerings, including those that can be customized and tailored to individual garden centers.
Main photo of IGC Show floor: Courtesy of IGC Show Chicago
Photos of products: Michelle Simakis