Trade shows – can’t live with ’em; can’t live without ’em. Or can we?

Another winter trade show season has come and gone. The overall consensus was optimistic. And it’s not just the same hopeful-yet-cautious enthusiasm we’ve experienced the last couple years. Not only was there a positive vibe, it was a feeling backed up by real, honest-to-goodness orders!

Across the board, many companies were writing orders. Not mammoth ones, mind you, but small orders and add-ons, plus orders from new customers and from customers who had not bought in several years.

Crop shortages are actually becoming a reality. If you’re assuming everything will be plentiful this spring, you could be in for a rude awakening. Smaller caliper tress and select container items are dwindling in numbers.

These are all definite steps in the right direction. Now all we need is everyone to pray really hard that Mother Nature follows this relatively mild winter with a spectacular spring. A wonderful summer would also be great, but beggars can’t be choosers – and I’m not going to be greedy at this point.

So, in my last column I spoke about social media. In a nutshell I stated it was another tool we could utilize in our marketing arsenal. I spoke of the vast number of business connections it can bring in a relatively short time period. But, what I feel I didn’t say clearly enough is that although social media opens the door of opportunity, it is the eventual face-to-face meeting, like those that can occur at trade shows, which can cement a new or existing relationship. Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, call me what you will, but I firmly believe that trade shows are a viable and necessary sales mechanism. Wake up people – young and old – and smell the roses! Don’t keep missing out on this opportunity to grow yourself and your business.

However, having made those statements, I will repeat there are too many trade shows. Yeah, I know, some of you think I’m beating a dead horse here. But I’ll repeat something often attributed to Albert Einstein: the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Without a doubt, one of the best-attended shows is MANTS. It’s not just a numbers game, either. It is full of what exhibitors want and need: qualified buyers. To me it is more of a regional show being sponsored by multiple industry organizations. Being the first or one of the first shows out the gate was a smart move on their part, too. A vibrant city, affordable accommodations and airline fares, and decent winter weather all contributed to it being a winner for all parties involved: vendors, attendees, sponsors and show organizers.

So, is there room for other regional shows? Can some single-state run shows combine to create more “super” shows? Heck yeah! Do all of them need to do so? Heck no. But there are definitely state shows whose time has come to call it a day, or to see if at this stage in the game someone is willing to take them on as a partner. Pooling your resources does not have to automatically mean it’s an even split of the risk and reward. There can be strength in numbers, and I firmly believe that where there’s a will, there is a way. And if all we’re going to hear is, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” or “We tried that before,” then you’re right – don’t try, because you’re doomed to fail before you even begin.

This is one reason why I like working with Sarah Woody Bibens and the board of the Western Nursery & Landscape Association on the National Green Centre Show. Is it the best trade show out there? No, and I think they know that. Can it be improved? Sure, and the board realizes that. Do they have some educational sessions that rate right up there with the quality level of the ANLA Management Clinic? Yes. Perhaps best of all, it is refreshing to work with individuals who aren’t afraid to go out on a limb.

Besides, it is also a joy to see what they’re accomplishing with the Sweet Melissa Fashion Show. They have a line-up of 50 of the hottest new plants presented in a live fashion show with unprecedented exposure for the minimal entry fee. This year plants were not only featured in a four-color exhibitor guide, they appeared in both consumer and trade publications – including American Nurseryman – as well as Horticulture and – Better Homes & Gardens online. Also, they reached out to the Garden Writers Association and hosted a garden writers breakfast meeting. Many of the 25 media present went on to write about these plants and their experiences at the show. To my knowledge, this is the only time a complete channel of distribution has been provided, from the breeder and grower to retailer to homeowner, all with one event. Kudos!

January also brought about the announcement of a new partnership between OFA and the ANLA. In my book, if you do not view this as the win-win situation it can and will be, then you are shortsighted. I suspect that both sides have scrutinized the pros and cons of this joint venture up, down, backwards and sideways. I have faith that both leaderships are knowingly parking their egos at the door for the betterment of both groups’ memberships. They realize that alone they’re good in respective areas and not so good in others. But put the two together and, well, now you’re talking great. And who doesn’t want to be a part of greatness?

All in all, there were multiple rays of sunshine this winter – and you didn’t even have to travel to a warmer climate to experience the warmth.

Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, call me what you will, but I firmly believe that trade shows are a viable and necessary sales mechanism.

Maria Zampini is the president of UpShoot LLC. Her company’s focus is “living, sharing and supporting horticulture” through new plant introduction representation including LCN Selections. She can be reached at, and her website is