Trade Show – The Next Best Thing to Being There
By Dan Gerace, Welby Gardens
Cultivate is the largest conference for the horticultural industry in the U.S., brought to us by AmericanHort, the national association for the nursery and greenhouse industry. This event consists of a trade show, industry tours and educational seminars. It is housed at the convention center in Columbus, Ohio and takes place in July every year. During the four-day conference, typically more than 10,000 people attend from all over the world, with 700 exhibitors and more than eight acres of exhibit space.
My first visit to this trade show occurred nearly 20 years ago and it is hard to describe how awestruck I was. I had never been in a room that big, packed with everything associated with the greenhouse business. There were sections of constructed greenhouses, large soil mixing lines, transplant systems, irrigation booms, spray equipment, pesticides, pots, and enormous booths filled with flowering plants spread throughout. It never ceases to amaze me. The exhibitors are constantly pushing the envelope, competing with each other to wow you, their customer.
As a greenhouse producer, this conference has all of my suppliers in one place, similar to how the ProGreen Expo has all of the vendors for our Colorado landscape customers. My company has been coming to Cultivate (the Ohio trade show) for as long as I can remember. This year, I was looking forward to sharing my experiences of being at the trade show with the CNGA membership through this article. As with so many events in 2020, social distancing and travel restrictions could have caused a cancelation. Instead, the staff of AmericanHort created a whole new experience, Cultivate‘20 Virtual.
The virtual version of Cultivate had more than 250 exhibitors and every “booth” used multiple ways to share their products and services. The website opened with a lobby page, which easily directed you to different zones. Within the tradeshow zone, you could search by exhibitor name or product category. With just one click on the logo or company name, you were transported straight to their booth, where you found live chat boxes and a list of sales representatives ready to interact with you directly from their offices.
I usually spend three days at the trade show, but I found it difficult to concentrate fully on the conference while still working. I missed many live events and chats because I was exploring in my off hours. In retrospect, I wish I would have scheduled enough time during the conference days to fully experience all that Cultivate‘20 Virtual had to offer. Fortunately for me and other attendees, I can watch the sessions on the Cultivate’20 Virtual website until Sept. 1. Even without direct live chat with members from the booths it would be handy to have access to all that great information. My company views the trade show to be the start of the next season: from new plants to new products, it’s all in Ohio. We also go with an eye to the future; their ability to gather all the new tech in one place is unmatched.
I am looking forward to returning to Ohio next year; however, this virtual event really was the next best thing. I don’t believe it is necessary to attend this event every year, but if you are looking for ideas and especially when planning future changes, I urge you to give Cultivate a try, whether in person or through a virtual experience. It has been well worth the time and expense every time I attend.
Educational Sessions – The Best of Both Worlds
By Nora Lozada, Michell’s
We are beginning to live in a new world. Although I do not believe there is a direct substitute for in-person meetings and trade shows, Cultivate‘20 Virtual accomplished the next best thing, offering education in a virtual setting with two different formats.
The first option was “On Demand” sessions: pre-recorded, short sessions. These classes were roughly 30 minutes long and contained information on one larger subject broken down into three parts, each part showcasing a smaller subject within that larger topic. For example, I attended a session on root zone management, taught by Dr. Brian Jackson from North Carolina State University. He covered the topics of growing mediums such as peat moss and wood and projections for the future, a very impactful topic for the entire industry as everyone requires a growing medium. Another session that I attended was given by Dr. Will Healy from Ball Horticulture. It covered another subject we all can learn more about: watering habits and how to train your employees in understanding the differences between overwatering and underwatering. The on-demand nature of these classes made them simple to watch at your own leisure, plus they were concise, informative and easy to follow.
The second option was “Live” sessions: scheduled, real-time zoom meetings with a presenter, slides and information. This format was interactive. The attendee could ask questions within the Q&A chat feature that was only viewable to the host of the session at first, in case you were shy about asking questions, but once answered, would appear for everyone to see in the chat box for reference. This portion was very useful. Being able to ask questions during a conference is significantly helpful. Though sometimes a normal class setting can make it difficult for all questions to be answered, this live presentation made it easy and quick to get your questions answered and even provide feedback or examples from your own experience for all to take away. These live sessions also had breaks in between each presenter and were being recorded in case any registrant was not able to attend or needed to review the material again later.
Both educational mediums were informative and useful. It is hard to tell how many people attended each presentation as they could come and go so easily, but at one point, at least 500 attendees were signed into the live sessions. While keeping social distancing a top priority and still offering the opportunity to take classes and learn, Cultivate’20 Virtual provided the best of both worlds.