By Karen Smith
It had been 1106 days since the Independent Garden Centres (IGC) held their last conference, said IGC’s Evan Meuller. The location was originally secured in 2020 but was cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. All in all, COVID-19 restrictions caused conference cancellations three times.
Luna Park’s heritage listed Crystal Palace was the venue for this year’s conference, held in the Crystal Ballroom. For those of you who don’t know, the Crystal Palace is situated on the Sydney Harbour foreshore at Milsons Point, almost under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and providing views of the Opera House and Circular key. The venue has been refurbished and is now one of Sydney’s prime event locations.
The committee decided the conference had outgrown the usual venue and needed a larger site to accommodate, not only the increasing number of garden centre representatives but an increasing number of displays by suppliers. According to Evan, participation increased by 25% over 2019 and this was the first year a retailer, namely Honeysuckle Garden Centre, offered sponsorship for the dinner.
So, all in all, there were more than 180 delegates and 29 exhibitors which included a few new exhibitors I have not seen at IGC conferences in the past.
The range of exhibitors could increase if the definition of a Garden Centre broadens and more companies take advantage of their locations to offer a wider range of services and products.
A pre-conference social event sponsored by Gardena (Husqvarna group) with a loose, Hawaiian theme provided a perfect chance for a catch-up before the formal conference started. The efforts people made to get to this event were greatly appreciated by the organisers and it was good to see representatives from far North Queensland, Northern Territory, Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, and many regional areas.
One of the themes of the conference included online communications. During the COVID lockdowns, many businesses embraced online sales for the first time and as a way to stay in contact with existing customers and clients. Presentations from Emily Lucas and Jordana Borensztajn provided useful tips to promote businesses in cyberspace. I might be showing my age but when I was Emily’s age, tic-toc was a noise made by a clock but now TikTok is a powerful marketing tool aimed at young consumers, and Instagram is a part of normal business networking. Marketing a business online is easy to get wrong but also very effective when done correctly and Emily and Jordana made light work of what some people may find bewildering topics.
Promoting horticulture is in everyone’s interest. Tony Collins from Ball Australia described the journey of a plant variety from an interesting species in the wild to a marketable plant variety that is successful in the consumer’s garden. It could take six or seven years for this journey but without this investment our gardens would be much less interesting. Promoting gardening and plants in collaboration with other organisations is a very effective way to create interest. Tony used examples of a collaboration with the Macular Society to promote Impatiens sales by pledging donations as a percentage of sales. The plight of garden pollinators such as bees and moths is also an emotive issue that could motivate gardeners and others to consider planting pollinator-friendly gardens. He urged us to promote Australian Pollinator Week 12-20 November 2022 to garden centre visitors.
Being part of community projects is a certain way to boost the profile of garden centres. Tony described the Heart Gardening Project which aims to construct an eight-kilometre wildlife corridor between Westgate Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens called the Melbourne Pollinator Corridor. The focus of this crowd- funded project will be on native pollinators and use 18,000 indigenous plants in 200 gardens. More information at https://www.theheartgardeningproject.org.au
Chris Sargent from Plants Management Australia also described the difficulties faced by plant breeders when bringing plants to market. Plants Management Australia (PMA) offers an agency service to plant breeders to help them bring their products to market, be it domestically or internationally. He outlined the various steps necessary to obtain plant breeder rights and plant patents. (See separate article by PMA in this issue).
Organisers were pleased with the feedback from the delegates at the conference and are confident they had provided real value for the attendees. The program and the location proved to be a winner. Conferences provide an efficient method of networking with similar industry sectors. These gatherings facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information with like-minded retailers. Who knows what new marketing strategies could be synthesised when more than a hundred creative minds are together in the same room. Our industry needs to support organisations such as the Independent Garden Centres so that our voice is heard at the highest levels.
Main photo: The ballroom with the view of Sydney Harbour in the background (Image: Karen Smith)