Spring Trials 2012 — A View From The Other Side

Spring Trials 2012 — A View From The Other Side

Florist tapped into the power of flowers by incorporating a Volkswagen bus into  its display.

Since our company, Goldsmith Seeds, started the original Pack Trials in 1967, the Spring Trials have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. My involvement has always been as an exhibitor and host as the industry came to see what we had to show, and I rarely got to any of the other trial locations.

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With my recent retirement and a generous offer from Express Seed, however, this year I was fortunate enough to be able to view this tremendous event from the other side, that of a customer and not a competitor.

While I knew the trip would be interesting, I had no idea that I would have so much fun. That is saying a lot when you are talking about a five-day, 500-mile bus trip with stops at 13 locations and visits to 28 displays of plant
material. Express did a great job of organizing our visits and managing the time spent at each stop. Our group was respectful of our hosts and each other, which made it very enjoyable.

Spring Trials Will Make You A Better Grower

The knowledge and experience within the plant industry are truly  astounding. The thirst for additional knowledge is even more remarkable. Spending five days with more than 50 salespeople and growers in the confines of a bus confirmed both of those. Hearing from the representatives of the 28 companies we saw confirmed it as well. The questions and comments were constant, as was the free flow of conversations. Nobody slept on the bus, although there may have been the threat of punishment that helped keep everyone awake. If our industry could collect and share a fraction of that knowledge we would be unstoppable.

After riding that bus for a week, it was easy to see that careful scheduling is essential in order to get the most out of visiting these trials. Having the right amount of time at each stop is critical. And, with all the stops and so much to look at, it all tends to become a blur if you’re not careful. The best thing I did was take lots of pictures (around 500) and pick up lots of printed material (five bags of the stuff). The pictures are somewhat organized. The material isn’t yet, but I have it if I want to re-look at something.

The biggest development over the last five to 10 years is the technical information that is now available on how to get the most out of the varieties being offered. Crop planning, growth regulators, fertilization and watering, as well as trouble-shooting, are all being addressed to varying degrees. If you have questions about a crop or specific variety, there is a good chance you can get it answered. Asking questions also spurs discussions that really enhance the benefit of the visit.

Plants, Presentation Impress Growers At Trials

Some of the things I saw confirmed what I already knew about hosting a trial: have good plant material, know the points you want to discuss and make sure your guides are knowledgeable. I had some surprises, most notably some companies that I wasn’t familiar with, even though I had spent my career in this business; Athena Brazil, Florist, Westoff and Greenex are all examples of that. I was able to see some marketing programs that I had heard of but didn’t know a lot about, like HGTV Branded Plants and Hort Couture.

Rain causes problems. If you have outdoor displays and it rains, have lots of umbrellas. Ball bought the entire umbrella inventory of the local Walmart and it made our visit better, but you also need to know when it’s ok to say “Let’s go inside,” which they also did. If it rains, it is bad when your bathrooms are far away. It’s also not good when you don’t have a solid surface leading to your display areas.

The size of a particular trial didn’t make it good or bad, but the presentation in relation to the size had a huge impact on what we thought when we walked away. Focus was the key. Not having much to show was a problem at some stops. Having too much to look at was an issue at other locations. No matter the size, it helped to have a limited number of takeaways for the viewers. The idea is either, “We concentrate our efforts, and look how good these are,” or “Look at all these products, but this is what I want you to remember.” Both were effective.

I thought Dümmen hit it just right with a limited but strong product range, great plant material that was displayed to its advantage and a clear message for those who visited. The beautiful setting certainly didn’t hurt. My main regret is that we were there in the morning and didn’t get to do the wine tasting. Oh well.

Trials Serve The Industry

Spring Trials are alive and well. I have been unwavering in my belief that this event serves a need in the horticultural industry, and I finished my trip with that belief reinforced. There is a great deal of activity in plant breeding, marketing, production and product support. There is a real interest in finding out about those activities on the part of the distributors, growers and retailers. Everyone is looking for what is new, different or can be
done better.

We really are a fragmented supply chain, with the large number of breeder/producers, distribution companies, a tremendous number of growers, the interesting mix of many independent retailers and a concentrated amount of plant material that is sold at the big boxes. This event is a great way to come together, and I hope it continues for many more years.

As always, my favorite part is the people. A special thanks to all who made me feel so welcome.  It was great to see so many friends, and I can’t wait until next year!