Veteran attendees of GIE+EXPO and Hardscape North America say their experiences at the industry tradeshow have made them more innovative, efficient and successful.
Whether they are landscapers, hardscape contractors, grounds managers or dealers, they say their secret to success at the collocated shows in Louisville, Ky., comes down to one thing: networking, networking, networking.
Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management in Hillsboro, Ore., says he is a big fan of PLANET’s education program. “But we also learn so much when we get to talk to our peers from other parts of the country,” he says. “You’re not talking to competitors, so it’s great to share and problem solve.”
Gary Stowe, president of Stowe Contracting in Marina, Calif., says there are topics in this year’s Hardscape Contractor Executive Workshops that sound especially intriguing to him. “Sometimes, the most valuable part of the class is the interchange between the instructors and the class members. That’s where the reality perspective comes in,” he says.
John Van Etten, Hoffman Landscape & Design in Scotia, N.Y., brings his lead supervisors to the show. They stay Wednesday through Saturday to take full advantage of the education program and exhibits. He says he values the opportunity for his team to work toward certification through PGMS’ School of Grounds Management and get updates on new products.
He also expects them to participate in the social activities offered by the show and the exhibitors. “Networking is so important for getting immersed in the industry,” he says. “My staff loves to go to the free concerts and get to know other people. Throughout the year they are Facebook-ing each other and showing projects. It’s a great exchange of ideas.”
Prepare now. Van Etten says he advocates having a good game plan going into the show. “We’ll decide who will go to which classes so we can share information later,” he says. “And we make a list of what we want to look at – even if the purchase is not for the near future.” Stowe includes equipment parts and supplies in his must-see list. As a long-time attendee of Hardscape North America, he says the availability of interrelated products at GIE+EXPO was the biggest surprise for him when the two shows collocated.
“A lot of the items there are ancillary – including parts, irrigation and companies that offer different methods of doing similar work. It helps me understand the broader spectrum of the hardscape business,” he says.
On site. The Hoffman Landscape team spreads out for education, and they regroup to critique equipment together. “The supervisors’ opportunity to do hands-on comparisons in the outdoor demo area is invaluable when we are making significant investments,” Van Etten says. “They are the ones who use the equipment day in and day out so they need to be part of the selection process.”
Stowe also has a strategy for tackling the show. To get an overview, he walks the aisles first without talking with the exhibitors. “During that walk, I’ll look for unique, interesting products to add to my list,” he says. “Later I’ll go back around and spend time at the individual booths.”
Grover says the resources available at GIE+EXPO have helped him transition into more environmentally friendly systems and procedures. “The show is the venue that starts the process for procedural changes. It gives us an opportunity to step back and look at how we can be innovative,” he says.
Follow up. Grover, Stowe and Van Etten all pointed out that the show’s exhibitors are helpful by following up with information and connecting them with dealers in their areas.
Van Etten and his team get together soon after they return home to share what they learned at the show and discuss how they can apply new ideas and products to their business model. During his monthly store meetings, they also share what they have learned.
“If we have picked up best practices, we’ll try to implement them right away,” he says. “The show and the roundtable discussions energize and motivate us to make some changes.”
The author is a freelancer based in Louisville, Ky.