This past week the 5th Annual Independent Garden Center Show was held at Navy Pier in Chicago, IL. Manufacturers of every type of gardening product imaginable were there and buyers for independently owned garden centers wandered the show buying many of the products you’ll see at a garden center near you. I’ve upload a few mobile phone snaps I took of products that I liked on my Facebook page.
Now in its 5th year the show seems to have matured in a couple of respects. The show itself seemed larger than I when I first attended three years ago, with exhibitors spread out beyond the main exhibition halls at Navy Pier into hallways and rooms. The first year I attended the show I thought it seemed heavily focused on pots, but this year the range of products was exceptional. From fairy garden products, potting soils, tools, gloves, trellises, plants and more. It was enough to make you wish you were a buyer for a garden center. The display booths themselves looked more organized and focused on featuring products rather than showcasing large stacks of items. It had a bit of a garden show feel and I walked away wishing that the marketplace at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show looked more like the Independent Garden Center Show.
Another sign of changes at the show was the inclusion of garden bloggers who were in attendance and the use of Twitter, complete with a custom hashtag, to promote the vendors and products at the show. Although, I think the recruitment of garden bloggers may need some fine-tuning.
I did not attend the session so I can’t comment on what happened at the Twitter briefing, but I can tell you that on the floor vendors were A LOT more welcoming of garden bloggers than they were three years ago. I’m not sure if that is of a result of the show embracing Twitter, the economic collapse necessitating new venues for promotion, but the vendors were very eager to talk to you about their products. Where before you could come across vendors who asked you not to photograph their booth or products, last week people were eager to talk about their wares. One garden blogger joked about how aggressive a vendor was to get bloggers into a booth and there was a bit of truth in that. I had a couple of vendors notice the blue “press” ribbon hanging from my name tag and pull me into a booth an strike up conversations. Some vendors even named blogs and bloggers during my talks with them of blog they read or learned about from their customers. No surprise really.
Whenever I’ve attended the IGCS I’ve never openly asked a vendor to provide me with a product to use or review while I was at the show. I prefer to build those kinds of relationships organically and hope that a vendor of a product I’m interested may come across my garden blog after meeting and get the idea themselves. During several conversations with vendors I got the distinct impression that some people were using their time at the show to market their garden blogs as places for giveaways and product reviews. Everyone has their own moral compass and I don’t mean to tell anyone how to comport themselves, but I will point out that on the last day some vendors will put product in your hands so they don’t have to ship it back home or toss it into a dumpster. This is a less gauche way of getting freebies if the purpose of attending the show for you is to get free stuff.
I overheard a person involved with the IGCS say that Jeff Morey, the show’s owner, wasn’t sold on the benefit of garden bloggers attending the show. Let’s not develop a bad reputation as moochers just as garden bloggers are getting their foot in the door, mkay?
Overall it was a good show and I got to see some of my favorite garden bloggers and brands. Part 2 coming up later this week.