Yesterday, Cultivate'20 Virtual closed its doors of the live event. After organizing a physical exhibition in the USA for nearly 100 years, the organization, AmericanHort, had to adapt quickly to the situation that turned everything upside down. In just three months, they created an online platform; the only option to bring everyone together in this COVID-19 time. But how is it to experience such a 100% online and live event? In short: "A lot of credit to the organization, better a trade show than no trade show and it underlines the importance of face-to-face contact."
In a short period, the organization set up a platform in which an exhibition is combined with seminars and educative sessions. Despite the number of exhibitors being almost half compared to the physical edition, which is usually around 700 exhibitors, the number of registered participants (before the show started) was more or less similar to previous years, namely 8,000. Whether all these participants, and even more, actually visited the platform is not disclosed yet. And if they haven't checked out the platform this week, they are still able to do so till September 1, as it will be available until that time.
But how is it to experience such a 100% online event? After hearing out some exhibitors, positive notes are being mentioned, as well as some points of improvement.
First of all, they all give their praise to the organization on how they created this platform, that is being considered as very user friendly, in such a short time-frame with all these interesting educational sessions and virtual events. Besides, many attendees visited the platform and all checked out the 'exhibition floor'. A lot of exhibitors received many visits, but there was often a lack of interaction. "You really need to be proactive and direct sales is challenging", many say. Another positive point raised, and maybe a bit obvious, but nice to mention, is that many for the first time experienced no sore feet or throat.
Of course, there are points of improvement to mention. The lack of face-to-face contact was missed by many. The chat function alone wasn't sufficient for many. "In person, it is easier and better to make the connection" and "not everyone types that fast" are some comments. Therefore, if there will be a next virtual edition, exhibitors would like to see a Zoom or other option which enables face-to-face interaction easily. All in all, for many exhibitors, it wasn't as successful as a physical show, but the motto here goes "better a trade show than no trade show."
During the trade show, besides the educational sessions, one session per day was held at the 'main stage' in which they reflected back to the COVID-19 peak and looked forward. Yesterday, three US growers; Bob Dickman, Dickman Farms, NY, Cole Mangum, Bell Nursery, MD, and Jon Reelhorn, Belmont Nursery, CA shared their experiences. The complete session can be watched on the platform, but below a small summary.
Since April, the weeks were tough and uncertain, which also was created by the different measures that were taken by the different states. Are we considered as essential or non-essential? This was one of the main questions. Quick (re)action, adaptability and flexibility was required, not only at the nursery to create a safe place to work, also at the production and to enable the product to reach the market. Communication throughout the entire chain has become more important then ever. All in all, the last months, they have learned a lot, like the value of digital communication, but also the value of their products. In the darkest days, a lot of growers decided to reduce their production (and therefore threw away young plants) and ended up with less final products. However, when the market recovered and became strong, they discovered that they were as profitable and in some cases even more profitable with fewer products. This experience made them think about their production planning of next year. Do we really need a 10-15% buffer or can we sell our products for a higher price? Also, this year, they welcomed 'new' consumers, who got interested in gardening during and due to this "stay at home" situation. Also on these consumers, growers will anticipate more and bring more easy-to-use and more hardy plants to the market that guarantee consumers 'growing success'. They all have had a strong spring and summer and even though the market is strong now, how do we maintain this momentum in the future? That's still the question, but they have good hopes for the autumn and next year as they expect the consumers, who had good experiences with plants this year, to come back next year.
Next year, Cultivate'21 is planned to be held from July 10-13, 2021.
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