The decline of the county fair

The El Dorado County Fair has come, and gone. It's turning into the amazing shrinking county fair, and if the trend continues it may just disappear. Why do we have the fair in June? School is out, and they need kids spending money on the rides to make it work. If they wait till late summer, when fairs would normally be held, the kids have already headed back to school.

According the the fairs website, "The purpose of today’s fairs is to promote agricultural and animal husbandry, local resource and industrial promotion, education, entertainment, competition, youth development, and community outreach. Several trends over the years have allowed the fairgrounds to become revenue generating entertainment and exhibition venue that operates on a year round basis." How can you have a "biggest tomato" or " best tasting apple pie" or "plumpest chicken" contest, when the first tomato hasn't even ripened on the vine?

I wish the fair would go back to being what county fairs once where. A place to show off local agricultural wonders, and have some fun.  The fair has turned into a carnival, with a smattering of agricultural displays. Let's hold the fair in the late summer, and emphasize the agricultural side of the show. Since the fair is already struggling, let's have a make over where the interest in growing your own, and competing with others is the main focus. Sure, the kids will have gone back to school. So what? Hold the fair on the weekend. Give us a place to share and compete with others with real agricultural products. The time is "ripe" to re-emphasize the importance of fresh food, agriculture, and seasonality in our lives by bringing back the county fairs of the past.

The new IGC Marketplace

Want to join others who are changing the way business is done in horticulture? The new IGC Marketplace on Facebook is a closed group for vendors to share what they have, and IGC owners & staffers to ask for what they need. It's not mean to take away from the various trade shows available, but rather to enhance the possibilities for members. The rules are simple at The IGC Marketplace.

1. Products posted must be garden related (no iPods, shoes, etc.)

2. Don't post pricing. We don't want issues with price fixing. Haggle that part out via private message.

Well, that seems simple. It's a place to meet, see whats available, and make contacts. If your a vendor be sure to get on the vendor list so potential customers can learn more about you.

Since it's a closed group everyone taking part is identified, which makes it a brighter, friendlier place to do business. No spam, no anonymous posts, no pressure, and no travel.

To change the world, go here.

Authenticity vs. fiction in the garden

The Dig, Drop, and Done Bulb Ladies post sure hit a nerve. As a juxtaposition I want tell you about another company that

is creating buzz in a different way. Baker Seed is a company I have written about before in a post called "Closed on Saturdays". Baker seeds is a Missouri company that specializes in hard to find heirloom seed. Jere Gettle and his wife Emilee started the business in 1998 and it has grown since. They recently opened a "Seed Bank" in an old bank building in Petaluma, California. They are closed on Saturdays, which in retail is almost unheard of. Most amazing they have organized the first National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa California in September.  The list of people attending and speaking is impressive with Alice Waters, Dr. Vandana Shiva, and others. The expo has events, a trade show featuring 250 natural vendors, and demonstrations. I want to go! Let me get this straight, it took a young couple from Missouri to come to uber hip Santa Rosa in The Bay Area to put this on? Why hadn't it been done before?

While at The IGC show in Chicago last week I had a chance to meet Jere Gettle. While standing in front of their simple booth someone commented on the "old time" clothes the people in the booth we're wearing. I was told, "they dress like that all the time". In other words they are authentic, unlike the Dig, Drop, and Done Ladies. That's why I was attracted to their booth and company. These people are real, and are offering you a way to grow a lifestyle based on authenticity and self-reliance. They are even closed on Saturday's (religious reasons), yet it doesn't seem to hurt their business. They actually inspired me to close my nursery on Sunday's (not religious reasons).

So how is it that a young couple from Missouri can create this kind of buzz just being themselves, and the bulb industry feels the need to come up with a group of fictional characters to sell bulbs? What's going on here? People will respond to authenticity. We have become jaded to the constant barrage of phoniness and migrate to companies that are truthful and authentic. Perhaps if the Dig, Drop, and Done Ladies we're real people it might be more effective.  In addition The Bakers are offering a lifestyle based on the growing of pure food. The Dig, Drop, and Done Ladies are offering a quick fix so they can continue their "lifestyles" outside of gardening. The garden is a second thought with The Ladies, the garden is the main event with the Bakers.

These days people are desperate for a authentic, hopeful message. If you give people the tools and knowledge needed they will respond. We underestimate the amount of work people are willing to put into their garden IF they are inspired. Let's quit trying to make gardening "easier". Let's be truthful about the work and rewards of gardening and we might create a new "passionate gardener".

Back from The IGC Show in Chicago

The IGC show in Chicago was great fun. I had a chance to meet many of the people whom I  interact with online. Jeff and Cheryl Morey who organize the show treated myself and our Facebook Group well. A highlight for our group was the special seating at the Lou Graham concert where special signs pointed the way for us. Very cool! The mood at the show from the vendors and attendants is cautious optimism.  Well, actually that's being a bit generous. I would have to say that the mood is neutral, as if waiting for the next shoe to drop. While I was there the stock market was dropping 500 plus points and the European debt crises grew more ominous. There is no doubt that we are in a transformational time in our garden center trade. While attending this show I received word that another IGC in Sacramento will be closing it's doors. I am afraid there will be many more retail and wholesale operations closing their doors this, and next year.

Amongst this I saw signs of the future direction of the garden center world. It's hopeful, game changing, and very exciting. The future for the trade is bright, it's just many won't last or make the changes necessary to see this future. I heard a number of times from both vendors and retail people about, "when the economy recovers..." My concern is there is no time to wait. You had better start making the changes you need to make now, as I am not sure how long we will have to wait for the economy to "recover". When it does "recover" I am not sure if we will recognize it. It will not be "business as usual".

I am convinced the future for my store, and perhaps yours is in creating passionate gardeners. This is done through education, collaboration, and enthusiasm. One part of this future for us in the trade is collaboration. There are no secrets anymore, and the more we share the more we gain. This is being proven again and again in our Facebook group Independent Garden Centers and Nurseries where the most forward thinking nursery people reside.The ideas being shared in the group are actionable ideas that can be taken back to your store and used to make a difference to the bottom line. While at the show I had breakfast with a leader in the garden center world who want's to promote our group on an international level. Imagine sharing ideas with people in our trade from around the world! Who knows what, or where the ideas you can use will come from?

Exciting things are happening, and there is money to be made in our trade. It's just the old way's won't work as well and we have to work together to forge a new path. Collaboration with like minded businesses is one key for the future of the Independent Garden Center world. Come along and join us on this trip to the "new world". Who know's what we'll discover.

IGC show in Chicago, I'll be there

This summer the IGC show will be in Chicago from August 16th through the 18th. I'll be taking part in a panel discussion on social media on the 18th at 12:15 pm. According to the IGC webpage Kyle Lacy will be moderating. "Kyle Lacy is known for his in-depth understanding of the application of social and digital media for both small businesses and large corporations. He is the author of Twitter Marketing for Dummies (Wiley, 2009) and Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (Pearson, 2010)."Kyle is joined by Garden Chic magazine’s Clint Albin in moderating a lively and practical discussion about how people who communicate for a living are using social media. Panelists include: Shirley Bovshow, garden designer, TV host, product spokesperson and new media producer; Melinda Myers, garden author and radio and TV host; William Moss, garden TV host and author; Trey Pitsenberger, Owner of The Golden Gecko Garden Center and the personality behind The Blogging Nurseryman; Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, Director of the Garden Writers Association; and Jennifer Youngquest, Marketing Manager at English Gardens. These panelists have been on a discovery path during the IGC Show, finding products that retailers are going to sell in 2012. Learn how they are using social media to tell consumers about what they’ve discovered at IGC 2011.

So there you go. If you are going to be at the show be sure to stop by and say hi.

Guess who is not coming to your flower show

I wanted to post the following comment left at my blog post, "Adapt or die" It's from Chad, a self-described generation x who say's he is passionate about gardening.  His comment explains why he won't be visiting any flower shows any time soon. If you would like, substitute the terms "garden center" or "nursery" for "flower show." We keep hearing about how generation x and y are not into gardening. They must not be interested in gardening because they are not coming into our garden centers or flower shows.  New's flash! They are interested in gardening and getting dirty, they are just not coming into your garden center, or flower show.

Here is his comment:

"I don’t own a small business and I don’t work in this field. I don’t attend flower shows either. But I wanted to respond anyway.

I am a Generation X customer who is passionate about gardening and that includes growing some of my own food, composting, general landscaping, and collecting cultivars that intrigue me.

In spite of my passion, I can’t convince myself to put up with the hassle of fighting traffic and paying to park, wandering around a fluorescently-lit convention center for a few hours only to leave empty handed and disspirited because I couldn't find anything that I wanted to buy or could afford.

My flower show is the Internet. On the Internet I can learn about plants, I can stop and pause to think about how those plants might fit into my plan, and I can choose just the plants I want. And the blogging/discussion forum communities fulfill a lot of my desire to rub elbows with like-minded individuals so I don’t even feel as much need to go and physically rub elbows with other gardeners.

I’m not opposed to going to a flower show, but what’s the draw compared to what I can experience online?"

There you go, the future of gardening is talking to anyone who will listen. Chad is not necessarily buying stuff online, he is researching and being entertained online. He likely would come into your store if he knew you existed (online), and you gave him a compelling reason to check you out. It may seem as if this a generational thing yet I can totally relate to Chad, and I am not a generation X. It may seem to be a generational thing, but it's starting to look more like a lifestyle thing.


Adapt or die

Over at Garden Rant there is a post from Michelle titled, "What should a flower show be?" It addresses the declining attendance at these types of shows. At one time flower shows where the "bee's knees". If you recognize that saying you remember when flower shows we're popular.

Elizabeth has a couple of good suggestions for making the shows more exciting. I think that Duane Kelly, who founded the San Francisco and Northwest Flower shows hit it on the head when he said,  "younger people are...less interested in the aesthetics of gardening and more in the environmental benefits, like composting."

So there you have it. The answer is staring us in the face. Change the shows so there are more displays utilizing what people want to see, "how to" displays. Why not have displays showing composting, pest control, high-density fruit tree planting, etc." Give the people what they want! We talked about this very subject just a post or two ago here. People have changed along with their needs. If flower shows are going to exist in the future they, like the rest of us, had better change and adapt or face an irrelevant future.