I sat down with OTF Executive Director Brian Laurent at this year’s show to pick his brain about the state of the industry, tradeshows and what green industry professionals in the Midwest can expect from the association in the coming years.
L&L: OTF has seen some ups and downs in the last few years. What made this year's show stand out to you?
Laurent: We have certainly seen our fair share of obstacles over the last several years. Fortunately, we're moving in the right direction as indicated by a great turnout at this year's conference and show. There were many highlights, including another exceptional series of educational presentations, a show floor occupied by 124 companies representing all areas of the turfgrass industry and a packed house for our keynote speaker, Jim Tressel.
What will stay with me when it's all over are the comments received from our exhibitors, especially first time participants and those returning after taking many years off. These companies were very pleased with the foot-traffic and number of qualified leads they received, even some from markets that may not be their primary target. Our show is unique in that our attendees come from all sections of the industry…lawn care, golf, sports and more. This opens the door for new opportunities in many cases. It's always nice when they tell you that they're looking forward to returning again next year.
L&L: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing your members right now?
Laurent: One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is a lack of qualified and dedicated labor. At nearly every meeting that I attend, this topic is always discussed. It seems as though many organizations are having a hard time finding enough quality people willing to show up on time and perform the tasks necessary to get the job done. Communicating the fact that there are several options for long, successful careers in our industry is crucial to opening the door to future leaders of our industry.
Regarding opportunities, it seems as though we're in a period of recovery and people have more room in their budget to attend events and spend more time investing in their own personal growth. There are several opportunities for individuals to network and interact with their peers through social media, webinars and other online mediums and of course at some of the many events held throughout the year. Taking advantage of these resources is a major benefit to our members and is crucial to the immediate and long-term success of their programs.
L&L: What was the most interesting thing you saw or heard on the floor this year?
Laurent: Trying to pinpoint just one thing from the floor would be very difficult! There were several new and innovative products and services on display this year. One popular attraction on the show floor was the hover-craft golf cart made famous by the Bubba Watson YouTube video! Windy Knoll Golf Club in nearby Springfield, Ohio has two of them and they were kind enough to bring one over for display. It's not every day that you get to see a hover-craft golf cart! Also, it was rewarding to have nearly 1,000 people in attendance as we recognized several students and industry professionals for their achievements over the past year during our awards and scholarships ceremony on the show floor.
L&L: What can attendees look forward to at future conferences?
Laurent: We're excited to be moving the 2014 conference and show to Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Sandusky, Ohio. Having our conference, tradeshow, hotel rooms, hospitality options and more all under one roof will provide our attendees and exhibitors an experience unlike anything we've been able to offer before. Additionally, the move will make it more affordable for many of these individuals and companies to attend. The Foundation will benefit from reduced expenses as well, allowing us to utilize revenue generated from the event to further support our mission instead of going towards overhead costs. We will begin the planning process immediately to secure the top speakers and communicate with potential exhibitors about the sense of community and other opportunities afforded to us at the new location.