GIE+EXPO was a tremendous success this year. The show has been steadily improving over the past few years, but this year felt different. It felt "fat and sassy' again.
The most obvious reason why is because there simply were more people there. Every important statistical category saw an increase: overall attendance up 11%, landscape contractor attendance up 11%, equipment dealer attendance up 7%, Hardscape North America attendance up 4%, number of exhibitors up 4%.
So why did more people come? You have to credit the hard work of all those good folks charged with promoting and operating the show: the OPEI, NALP, PGMS, HNA and Sellers Expositions. But when you get down to it, more people came because it's simply a good time for the industry.
It was especially encouraging to see that landscape contractor educational conference attendance was up a whopping 20%. I say that because our industry is approaching its next crossroads—and now is not the time to rest on one's laurels assuming that everything is just hunky dory because sales are good.
As you'll read in my interview with OPEI president Kris Kiser, the landscaping industry is under a lot of pressure right now. More people are questioning whether resources like water should be utilized on things like turfgrass. Additionally, the anti-pesticide lobby continues to press its agenda, and local governments are starting to listen and act. Then there are the discussions about things like illegal immigration/workers, minimum wage, overtime pay, and so on.
Quite frankly, the simple fact that business is good right now presents another challenge, odd as that might seem. I remember when the recession set in several years ago. The industry's mental giants talked about how the "fat and sassy" days were over and it was time to go "lean and mean" and start acting more like businesspeople and less like contractors and mechanics. I believe significant progress has been made in this regard.
Now, as we return to more "fat and sassy" days, I hope we don't also return to more "fat and sassy" business practices. Let's not forget about the commitment to frugality, customer service and professionalism that helped get us to this point. That commitment will help our industry emerge stronger as it navigates this next set of crossroads it is now facing.
Clearly more contractors are committed, i.e. the big jump in educational conference attendance at GIE+EXPO. I'll tell you what, though. Some of the buffoonery I'd witnessed in the outdoor demo area leads me to question the professionalism of at least a portion of this industry. That leads me to question whether the industry can overcome the challenges it faces. If it plans to, the real pros are going to have to get engaged and make sure the un-silent minority isn't what comes to mind when people hear the words "landscape contractor".