Aug 21, 2011

Independent Garden Center Show 2011

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

The Show
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. 

Garden Bloggers
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. 


  1. Great show for the indie market

  2. It was a great show, it had a party feel to it this year. If the IGCS were a garden center I'd love to shop there.

  3. I enjoyed reading your post...
    This was my company products 1st year at IGC thanks to BBBSeed Co. Although I was not there personally due to responsibilities at my ranch and with the business. I did have the pleasure of tweeting with many of the companies on the trade show floor. Sharing information about each others products and creating a bit of a buzz and having a great time. Some wonderful connections were made between vendors and in the world of business to business that is always a positive thing to accomplish. Via Twitter I also was able to answer questions in real time, first hand, with many Independent Garden Center Owners and that would not have been possible without the assistance of Social Media. Having to use both IGC2011 and an IGC11 hashtag to make sure all were receiving communication was a bit time consuming and that may be the only issue that need be addressed for the next show. I think having the garden bloggers attend is wonderful way to keep fresh ideas of the garden products exhibited in front of the consumers long after the trade show floor doors have closed and that to any business is a plus! There are always bugs to work out whenever something new is implemented and you can't do that until you've done it at least once. I am sure that those that bring this fabulous trade show to us will work those kinks out... I am truly looking forward to being a part of the IGC trade show again next year Annie <|;-)

  4. Interesting post. There's also a distinct sign that garden bloggers over on this side of the pond are being taken more seriously this year too. Over here, bloggers aren't distinguished from members of the press e.g. by a different badge at these events.

    I've attended these things as an opportunity to learn, exchange ideas and to give feedback to vendors from a customer's viewpoint. If a vendor decides to give me something or to discuss my blog, then I see that as a bonus not as the whole point of attending.

    Was the person you overheard who was questioning the value of bloggers attending specifically concerned about bloggers selling themselves or pushing for freebies? It would be interesting to know exactly why they said that.

    As for freebies, I overheard members of the press complaining about the lack of freebies after the Chelsea Flower Show press day this year. So it's not just bloggers who attend just for the free stuff ;)

  5. VP,

    Bloggers at the show had the same badges as everyone else, except they had a "Press" ribbon attached to them. The first time I went to the show I thought the ribbon was a good way to differentiate between exhibitors and buyers. When vendors asked me why I had a ribbon I would say that it was because I was a show pony. :)

    Attending something like this that's not open to the general public is a good way to interact with companies on a different level. Some may know you from blogging about their product or a competitor's so it is a good opportunity to talk in real time about different things. Like you, I see the offer of items to be a bonus, not something that's expected. When talking to some vendors it seemed like a couple were put off by being asked for things at the show by some people. Which is understandable because they're there to SELL not give stuff away.

    No, the asking for freebies and the overheard convo were not related, that I'm aware of. Here's what I overheard: "We [meaning garden bloggers] really need to do a good job because Jeff (show owner) doesn't really see the value of garden bloggers being here." Which is understandable because this is all relatively new. To the show's credit, Clint Albin, media relations for the show, let me in years ago when only a pair of garden bloggers attended this show.

    I hope garden bloggers don't start getting the greedy reputation that mom blogs got after some people didn't know how to behave at BlogHer once the freebies ran out.

    A while back I attended a media preview and was surprised by the number of people there. I asked one of the reporters there (someone I've seen on TV) why so much press showed up for such a small event. The response was that everyone showed up because the press invite said there would be a free lunch. HA!

  6. I agree with VP, interesting that bloggers are sought after to attend shows and provide them with 'press' credentials. Good (garden) bloggers have loyal followers, so the attraction to the commercial trade is certainly no surprise. On this side of the pond, that has yet to be discovered. Though, I can see the danger, in that bloggers get a bad rep, if just attending these shows to get freebies. Though, having attended many a show, across the globe, in various capacities and various trades, particularly in the corporate banking, remittances, wine&spirits and retail trade, I can tell you that freebies, are always a big part of the show, particularly in the US (where US freebies, are referred to as 'chatskies'). At US trades, it also seems customary to provide 'spouse passes', where the spouse makes their day, by collecting freebies. Just as delegates, the press are too often keen to accept and have accepted gifts (usually far better ones than gifts presented to the general public), so not sure why bloggers in particular should be singled out. As per always, good bloggers, just as good journalists, know where to tow the line, and keep their integrity by only writing about products when relevant to the blog/story and provide objective points of view. Readers are no fools, anything where coverage ventures into over commercialised advertorial, is immediately picked up by readers, and their (negative) feedback will be an expensive pay off.

  7. @Annie, Thanks for the feedback. I'll address your comment in Part 2 later this week.

    @Petra, Thanks for the comment. Here we call the freebie stuff "schwag" or "swag." I think there's a difference between going to a trade show and networking with vendors/manufacturers all the while picking up the ephemera set out at tables, and going to a trade show and doing the "Oh, send me this to use in my garden/review on my blog/host a giveaway!" while talking to vendors. That's not to say that you shouldn't make these kinds of arrangements with companies after you get home or when meeting outside for lunch/drinks/dinner after the show. I've had companies send me stuff to use after we've done the business card exchange dance at the show. There should be some semblance of courtship between both sides.

    I personally feel like I'm there to discover new items or trends to report back to visitors and my personal gain is second. Asking the vendor for something at the show just seems redundant to me especially because on the last day many will give out stuff so they don't have to deal with taking it home. If a garden blogger is looking for free stuff there's the GWA convention and the Bloggers Fling where free stuff is readily given out.

    A lot of time we (garden bloggers) like to point the finger at professional journalist and say "they do it" to justify one thing or another. I write a garden blog for a website owned by the Chicago Tribune. During the early meetings about the blog I flat-out asked them about the freebies and "samples" that get thrown at bloggers and if that would be allowed on the blog. They told me that they don't accept gifts-if they're sent a basket of cookies they have to send it back to the sender and pay for the shipping back-but that they would trust me that my moral compass wouldn't lead me astray and make them look bad. So far I think I've done a pretty good job of it.

    I hope we're not heading towards a point where the free stuff overrides the content and message. Or even worse, situations like we've seen at BlogHer where brands complain about aggressive bloggers looking for freebies.

    Thanks for the comment it gave me some stuff to think about. I'm off to look for a spouse and conventions where spouses are allowed to roam around collecting free stuff. :)

  8. I really enjoyed reading your post... Sharing information about each others products and creating a bit of a buzz and having a great time.Thanks for sharing this information...

  9. Interesting what you say about free stuff and content. This year I've decided to do 3 blog posts a week. If I do a review of something then that's an extra post for that week.

    I've also hosted a couple competitions but feel v uneasy about them. For instance what constitutes a good prize? And if it goes pear shaped like it did for me one time (the prizes were from a catalogue company who didn't think to reserve the prizes at the point when we agreed what they'd be and then they went out of stock) then it's a hell of a job to sort out.

    Ironically the best response I've had wasn't exactly for a competition, but when I had been given 50 packets of seeds to give away worth about a dollar a packet! I suppose that's because everyone requesting one was a 'winner'.

  10. I was an exhibitor at the IGC 2011,
    If someone showed up for freebies, this is not the show for that. If you blog about my company, I'll be glad to get you some freebies.LOL .
    We are The Site Gardener. Stop by next year.


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