13 takeaways from TPIE 2017

13 takeaways from TPIE 2017

Highlights from this year's Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition, which took place Jan. 18-20 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.


The 2017 Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition took place from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The event, which featured more than 400 exhibitors and tours tailored for growers, retailers and garden writers, is the industry’s biggest tropical plant showcase. Below are 13 takeaways from TPIE.

1. “2017 is your year.” Jane Lockhart, a Toronto-based interior designer, TV personality and trend spotter, kicked off the show’s keynote with this message for the horticulture industry. She says she’s seeing signs everywhere, from conversations with people indicating their sales have gone up to the fact the Pantone color of the year is “Greenery.” Plants and design go hand-in-hand, and Lockhart says people are taking that concept one step further, looking at plants as sculptures and as part of the overall architecture of their space. Linda Adams, COO of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) echoed this sentiment later in a podcast with the GIE Media Horticulture group, which you can listen to here. Indoor, tropical plants are hot, and consumers are looking for containers and foliage that match their personal style.

2. Word of-mouth referrals are essential. Lockhart explained that 82 percent of Millennials (compared to 52 percent of Baby Boomers) respond more to recommendations from friends and family, preferring this over traditional advertising. They value authenticity and simplicity, found in some of their favorite brands like TOMS, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle.

3. Consider trends for 2017 when planning for the year. People increasingly want both the convenience of a city and the homey feel and space of a suburb, Lockhart says, resulting in the “urbanization of suburbs,” where city-like amenities are within reach. Retro and nostalgic décor is in and can be found in the garden industry, especially in hard goods like containers. Black and white and Modern Gothic designs of the ’80s are also making a comeback, as is copper, rose gold and shimmery surfaces as part of a mid-century modern resurgence.

4. Consumer research studies are underway. The University of Florida and the National Horticulture Foundation are partnering on a consumer research project studying the behavior of shoppers at retail to find out what interests them and motivates them to buy plants, with the goal of helping growers and retailers be more strategic about plant selection and merchandising. Dr. Hayk Khachatryan, assistant professor with the University of Florida's Food & Resource Economics Department at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, and one of the researchers on the project, says the project was created to "investigate consumer preferences and willingness to purchase and pay price premiums for certain attributes," he says. We also would like to understand the affect of point-of-sale promotional materials on preference and purchase likelihood." At the show, attendees had an opportunity to participate in a special show version of the study. Sitting at a computer, images from show booths appeared on the screen with questions below about what appealed to subjects and what their opinion was on the companies based on booth presentation. While this was happening, a sensor tracked their actual eye movement, helping to determine subconsciously what they were drawn to. Some attendees also took their participation a step further, walking around the show floor wearing special glasses (at about $30,000 a pop) that track eye movement, and video of what the person observes is fed in real-time on a tablet. Khachatryan followed subjects, monitoring their visuals with a tablet.

Mark Foertmeyer, owner and founder of Foertmeyer & Sons Greenhouse Co. in Delaware, Ohio, participates in the University of Florida consumer research study. Michelle Simakis

Insights from a different consumer study conducted by Delray Plants were displayed right on the company’s award-winning booth built with mostly reclaimed wood. Messages like “plants as décor,” “plants add personality and atmosphere” and “add color to your living space with plants” were presented around the home-like structure to both reveal insights from the study about why consumers like and buy plants and to inspire attendees. Delray also asked consumers what plants they were familiar with, and those they called out were also displayed at the booth. Look for videos about the University of Florida research and the Delray Plants booth on our multimedia page soon.

Delray Plants' booth at TPIE was inspired by their own consumer research about why people like and buy plants. Michelle Simakis

5. Think about new ways to display plants. Plants hung from ceilings, walls and even people’s necks at the show. Roses in light-bulb-shaped vases were suspended at Koen Pack’s display. Attendees could pick up an “Air Plant Necklace” from LiveTrends, which is exactly what it sounds like -- a tiny Tillandsia perched in a ceramic vase and attached to a cord. Interior design vignettes showcased at TPIE included a kitchen scene with magenta orchids wrapped by their roots on a fixture above the counter. A serene bathroom (photo above) featured a green wall with a beautiful tapestry of plants behind the tub.

TPIE displayed three interior design vignettes, including this kitchen scene. Michelle Simakis

LiveTrends featured its "Air Plant Necklace" at TPIE. Michelle Simakis

6. Booths are incredibly creative at TPIE, and can serve as retail inspiration. People went all out brainstorming and executing their booth designs at the show, and many were rewarded for their efforts. Costa Farms built a tiny house, complete with a bed, a glass coffee table with succulents encased below, stairs, a bathtub filled with plants, a mailbox and more, and took home the “best of show” booth award. The paparazzi flooded J. Berry Nursery’s glamorous set-up, inspired by its Hollywood Hibiscus series and complete with a red carpet and film reels. They may not have walked away with an Oscar, but they did take home first in the 10x10 booth award category. United Nursery looked to the East Coast for its “Plants in the City” booth, which included a floor-to-ceiling tapestry with a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline, brick apartments with stoops and plants for all the star characters of “Sex in the City,” and even a real New York Post newspaper stand. They scored that on Craigslist.

J. Berry Nursery's Hollywood Hibiscus-inspired booth at TPIE. Michelle Simakis

Costa Farms' "tiny house" booth at TPIE. Michelle Simakis

United Nursery's "Plants in the City" booth, inspired by the "Sex in the City" HBO series. Michelle Simakis

7. Growers are seeking lighting alternatives. On the TPIE production tour, lighting was a popular topic. While some growers have embraced LEDs, others are skeptical. As a result, a number of operations are currently looking and exploring alternatives as they look to improve the lighting in their greenhouses. Aside from using light to improve growing efficiency and plant quality, cost was the most talked about aspect of improving lighting.

8. Succulents and cacti are pathways to reaching younger consumers. At Costa Farms, a Miami-based plant grower and the final stop of TPIE’s production tour, a variety of plants were on display, including a few that were taller than some of the attendees. But it was the two smallest crops on display - succulents and cacti - that may have left the largest impression. According to Costa, succulents and cacti are two categories that enable them to better reach younger consumers, as their size and the ease of taking care of them makes them more accessible than other offerings. Painted cacti, in particular, stood out as a possible option for growers who sell their own product.

9. Florida can be a hotbed for pests. During the pest management workshop on the first day of the show, UF/IFAS professor Catharine Mannion gave a detailed presentation on landscape pests. Along with several lessons about identifying insect stages and why damage can hard to identify, Mannion explained why Florida can be a hotbed for new pests. Its vulnerability is due in part to the Sunshine State’s mild climate and high plant diversity. In fact, one to two new pests arrive in Florida each month on average, according to Mannion.

10. Growers are being affected by warmer temperatures.
While many growers at TPIE hailed from the surrounding areas, there was also a strong Canadian presence on the show floor. Interestingly, some growers from Canada have been dealing with unusually warm temperatures this winter and it has impacted their growing strategies. For example, Sunrise Greenhouses in Ontario, Canada, was forced to move a few of the  pine products they would normally grow outdoors into a protected environment where they could better control the temperatures and keep the crops cool enough.

11. Zika isn’t as much of a concern for greenhouse growers
. Zika has been in the headlines for the better part of a year, and it’s a concern for the horticulture industry. In Florida, it’s a particularly important issue. But for operations growing exclusively under cover, don’t fret: It’s highly unlikely to affect you or your employees. Zika-carrying mosquitoes could still be found in warmer areas, but they probably won’t be found in greenhouses. And unless they are shipped with tropicals heading north, it’s unlikely Zika will spread to colder states because the two mosquito species that carry Zika cannot breed in colder climates.

12. Florida is full of interesting, inspiring gardens. The TPIE Garden Writers tour was a more than 12-hour garden gawking marathon that included visits to The Kampong, a garden on the Biscayne Bay that is one of six that comprise the National Tropic Botanic Garden (the others are in Hawaii,) Patch of Heaven Gardens, a 20-acre private estate that includes a cocoa growing operation and a large diversity of plants, Costa Farms trial gardens, R.F. Orchids and the Montgomery Botanical Center, which has a particularly large selection of cycads and palm trees. One great takeaway we saw for retailers during the tour was at the Costa Farms trial gardens, which featured a set up to help spark merchandising, marketing and educational ideas. They featured new ways to use pallets and cinder blocks, plus they had a dozen “Pin-worthy Projects,” an idea per month that retailers can share with consumers or use to create workshops. One incredibly simple project was April’s “Front Porch Address Marker,” which uses a little bit of paint and a terra cotta pot to beautifully display numbers of an address. Look for more highlights from the tour on gardencentermag.com soon.

One of a dozen "Pinworthy Projects" featured at Costa Farms' trial garden included this idea to paint a pretty planter and create a "living" address plaque. Michelle Simakis

13. TPIE’s production tour was informative and insightful.  Each grower visit offered visitors something different. At the first stop, Bullis Bromeliads in Princeton, Florida, attendees saw custom-grown bromeliad Christmas Trees and benching that served dual growing and retailing purposes. The next stop, Island Tropical Foliage near Miami, focused on how to approach the duality of growing under cover and in the field. And at Costa Farms, the tour’s final stop in Miami, attendees were able to learn how Costa combines growing with retail and why that gives them an advantage over the competition. Specifically, the multifaceted nature of Costa’s business means that they take consumer trends into consideration when they are planning a production schedule, which allows them to make educated, thoughtful decisions about what to produce, and when.

Related: 2017 TPIE Cool Product Awards roundup
Judges honored plants, products and even a new delivery option at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition Jan. 19.