Bart Hayes, annual trials manager at The Ohio State University, says you need to attend the world’s largest floriculture trade show in Essen, Germany. He knows times are tough, money is short and you think your operation is not big enough to worry about what happens overseas. But the reasons for attending are endless, Hayes says, and he shared a few of the trip’s benefits with us.
Commitment To Promotion
Just walking the trade show floor is an education. The booths are elaborate and customer friendly. The social aspect of sales is not overlooked at IPM Essen and is, in fact, central to the booth construction. Less space is spent on racks for publications and information and more space for tables, chairs and amenities. Food and drinks are served during business talks. It is a different experience than I was used to.
Some of the companies have employees just to work the booth and serve food and drinks so the sales folks can do their jobs.
Ample amounts of time and money are invested not only in the manning of the booth and the space, but planning and design. The aesthetic appearances of the displays are nearly as important as the content. In an aesthetic business, like floriculture, this approach seems appropriate, but is not widely accepted in the United States–at least not to the same degree.
See The Trends Take Off
This seems to be the main force behind most trips to Essen. It is generally accepted that Europe’s markets are a few years ahead of ours, as far as trends, and in order to be at the head of the pack, you need to see them first. This is accurate, but a gross oversimplification.
European growers and retailers are very different than those in the United States. I would state this analogy: European floriculture is to fashion as American floriculture is to home improvement.
The approach the retailer has to the consumer in Europe is “buy this, it is pretty and you like pretty things.” In the United States, it is “buy this and it will make your home pretty.” This is not universal, but the use of flowers is still far more utilitarian in the United States than it is in Europe. So to say the trends in Europe are going to greatly affect the overall production in your greenhouse is an oversimplification.
If you visit and find that white and chartreuse are going to be the next big color scheme, you will not go home and change your production schedule to mostly white and chartreuse. Nor will a more naturalist theme cause you to renovate your retail space to a deep forest setting.
The benefit of seeing the trends in Europe is to see what works and how it can be modified to work in the United States. They don’t all translate or work in practice in the United States because our markets are very different.
Still, new greenhouse technologies and techniques are developed and implemented faster in Europe than the United States, so sticking three cuttings in a liner at once for a prepackaged combination, which is becoming popular in Europe now, should start becoming popular here, as well.
Energy savings and production seem to also be on the minds of companies designing equipment in Germany and the Netherlands. Small plants, or plants produced in small pots, have been a staple of Danish greenhouse production. They’re also so darned cute that I hope the trend catches on in the United States.
It is easy to look at your neighbor’s lawn, admire how green it is, and then sulk at how yours is not so green. But actually going next door, seeing that your neighbor doesn’t do anything special (just good lawn care like everyone is supposed to do) helps dissolve some myths and misconceptions you have held on to for too long.
I was fortunate enough to take several professional tours while I was in Germany: one to Westflowers’ operation in Södlohn and another to Dömmen’s operation in Rhineberg. Both operations were impressive and really made poignant contrasts and comparisons with similar operations I have visited in the U.S.
Westflowers ‘operation is big, by my standards, but the operation was perfectly suited to its needs and its level of automation was not as grandiose as I was expecting. Innovative and quality oriented, some novel solutions and simple, good growing practices along with superior genetics, allow Westflowers to command a high position in European production. Despite being “big” by my standards, its operation layout and practices were simple, effective and minimized the inputs necessary without removing the important hands-on growing that is the hallmark of quality plants.
Dömmen’s operation was as massive as I was expecting, but again, it did not have the gratuitous use of machines and automation I thought would be required to operate an operation so large. The operation did have a very unique growing and shipping system for young plants due to constraints on what they could ship (no trays, only plants). So a machine was used to streamline the consolidating and shipping process, but there were still people feeding flats into the machine. Labor was minimized, but not removed entirely, even on this massive scale because the cost didn’t justify it.
As an additional lesson, the special flats used by Dömmen are double spaced. Even though they are growing millions of young plants, the attention to quality is important enough to grow half as many plants as could be produced on a tighter spacing in order to achieve the level of quality that is their standard.
I suppose I was thinking the European production systems would be like stepping into the future and seeing the equivalent of flying cars and talking robots, or there was a missing cultural component they had mastered. However, my visit only made clearer that the difference between their greenhouses and ours are the languages spoken inside.
Good growing techniques and attention to detail is valuable no matter where you sell your product. There is no secret ingredient, trend you are missing or unrealized technology that explains the success and scale of the European market. The same basic principles that guide good production over there guide good production over here.
If anything, the trip the IPM Essen is less about what you can learn and more about what you already knew. Sometimes, it just takes a great trip to a great event to help you realize it.
Trends From Essen
Hayes also shared thoughts on trends he saw in plants, promotions and industry movements at Essen. Read about those trends.