Doing a home show in March. Need your thoughts.

ebeth(z8 FL)January 1, 2010

Hi everyone:

I've done my local home show for 4 years and it's the best marketing I do all year. This year, I'm thinking of renting more space (a 10 by 30 instead of 10 by 20) and trying to come up with something really creative. There are a few other landscape designer/contractors who do the show and everyones' booths seem the same. They all have some hardscape, some plants, some watery something and a pergola or two. Some of the displays are really quite nice, but they do get a little boring.

What I've done in the past is a before and after booth. The before is an awful collection of all the junk I've pulled out of my clients' yards, and the after looks just like all the other contractors. I get good traffic and people enjoy the joke, but hey, I'm tired of it!

I thought about trying to do "the garden at night", but I'm not sure how that would work out. I could bring in one of those big shipping containers and put the garden inside it, so logistically, I think it could work. I'm afraid people would be unwilling to step inside, though.

There are two things I want from this booth; I want business, and I want to win the award for the best booth.

Can anyone share ideas that they've seen/used that are really different?

I appreciate any input you can give me.

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Ebeth, my answer to your question will be voted down quickly by the 'practical' members of our Forum. Yet, you are asking a question that every business owner is wrangling with in the present economic situation...what can I do to attract attention to and hold the interest in my business by the buying public? These are tough times for the independent business person.

In my area I find that many people are taking up projects that will allow them to escape from the constant barrage of ugly politics, TV talking heads, etc. They are reaching inside themselves taking creative classes, volunteering more to the community, reading more, developing an interest in gardening and vegetable growing.

So, what type of show garden could you do that would attract attention, display your talents and meet the public's need to escape from the real world for a few minutes? Perhaps a clever fairy garden? Vines, foliage, orchids, tree stumps as houses, mushrooms, fairy imps, etc. Make this so real that the viewer has to stop and study each aspect. I leave the rest to your imagination. These are unreal times and call for unusual solutions that will be photographed, capture the eye of newspapers and magazines and all that good stuff you need to attract customers.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 8:42AM
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ebeth(z8 FL)

Thank you so much, Nandina!
Your observation about escape is an angle I hadn't thought of pursuing. In my area, a fairy garden would attract only those who had already blown their life savings on dream catchers and birkenstocks, BUT how about a cubicle (dreary, soul sucking, typical) and then a wonderful garden.
Would you make the cubicle realistic or would you do a cartoonish mock-up?
I think it's a great idea.
Any other brilliant posters with killer ideas out there?

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 10:26AM
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The shipping container is definetly thinking outside the box, but I personally would be reluctant to go into the box. A moon garden maybe too specialized for a broad appeal to garner business, and I think you would be better served with a display that had more curb appeal than a box to bring in the visitors.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 10:35AM
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I'm not sure if this is the time that you would want to play it safe with a display garden. Showing that you can do the same thing as everyone else can do isn't the most efficient use of a display garden. This may be my naivety, but if you can do something strange, unusual, and bold, I would encourage you to do so. The more memorable, then better.

From what I can find, it seems that shipping containers come in a 8' wide by 8.5' tall format, for 5', 10', 20', and 40' lengths. No matter how long the shipping container, that's a pretty narrow and low (i.e. claustrophobic) space that you have to manipulate. Drawing people in would also be a major challenge.

There was an exhibit in the Royal Library in Copenhagen called "Everything you can think of is true," staged by Robert Wilson. It featured sketches and preliminary works by illustrious artists, contained within receptacles only visible through glowing, orb-like windows. The room itself was completely darkened, illuminated only through red spotlights focused on a grid of swings hung from the ceiling. Furthermore, the floor was covered with a thick layer of black pellets, giving the impression of walking on gravel.

The entrance to this exhibit was closed off by black curtains, with no visual cues to draw you in. Instead, there was a strange music being looped, interrupted - very abruptly - with a buzzer going off and a disjointed voice reminding you that "Everything you can think of... is true" at (seemingly) random intervals.

Similarly, you may want to consider using the other sensations - in this case, sound - to pull people in when visual cues may not be enough. That partial hint at what is going on inside may be sufficient to spark enough curiosity for people to go in and investigate. That is my suggestion. As for what you do inside, I think that is mostly up to you.

- Audric

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 11:51AM
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ebeth(z8 FL)

Thanks! I kind of figured that it would be difficult to get people to go into a box. Although, the idea of playing off the container garden idea is kind of funny. Can you imagine a shipping container (thanks for the research, Audric) with huge plants on top of it? Now THAT'S a container garden!
All the other contractors in my area have lots more employees to help with setup than I have. It will be just me and one or two men doing all the setup. With a trailer or a container, I could do some intricate work way ahead of time and out shine the other landscapers. For example, they're still big on those ugly stacked concrete block retaining walls. I only put in real stone walls, and I could get my stone mason to do a nice one on the trailer if he had a few days to do it. Ditto for my carpenters and a nice trellis or something.
I get what you're saying about being different and bold. Do you think bold graphics would help? Like huge blow ups of some of my projects, hanging from the ceiling (which is like 30' above the show floor) The graphics might be only 10' tall.....

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 12:46PM
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Just like any other business venture you have to know who your target is, if the visitors to this show won't understand or appreciate esoterica you would be better off keeping it simple. You already make reference to what you call the "dream catchers and birkenstocks" crowd so if these are not your target who is? If you are thinking that they are cash strapped but looking for imaginative but inexpensive answers this might be the clue. A garden of found objects, flotsam and jetsam found on the beach, a supermarket trolley cut up and welded back together as a planter or seat, raised beds from logs.........

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 1:30PM
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ebeth(z8 FL)

My target market is over 40, professional, well heeled. It costs too much to reach the people who only want to spend a few hundred bucks. Not that I would turn down any work right now, but I've found I can connect with the 5 figure clients in about the same length of time that it takes to find the low end clients. Most of my clients are doctors....
Maybe I should just do a mail out to the hospitals in town!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2010 at 3:17PM
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I am one of the cubicle dreary, soul-sucking typicals :o) & think the fairy garden is a wonderful idea! We need our escape too! LoL My point, you might have a wider range of audience than you may think; My gardening is my escape & if I came across a few home shows & saw a fairy tale coming to life, I'd want to see more.
by-the-way, I would not go into a box; might be a little creepy.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 8:02PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

There is a big difference between the design and presentation of a show garden in regards to its location : indoors or outdoors.
Each requires a completely different way of presentation .

If the show is inside then you definitely need to understand lighting design and how it works so that your exhibit is eye catching and mezmerizing.

If the show is outdoors and open only during daylight hours then it is a entirely different ball game to design.

You must understand the difference between the two to do effective design.

A grand focal point with a building up of surrounding smaller detailed focal vignettes is winning recipe.

Originality and innovation combined with stellar design trumps all.

Your comment; " I could do some intricate work way ahead of time and out shine the other landscapers concerns me.
You SHOULD be doing intricate detailed design work that will set you apart form the crowd, otherwise you are simply part of the crowd .
And the crowd is usually mediocre. There is nothing more horrible then being mediocre in regards to exhibiting at a garden show.

It is a place to showcase your talent.
Why invest the time if you are not going to do what the show was meant to do. Show off your talent .

No disrespect to the fairy gardeners out there, but .... it's been done and its old. There is nothing innovative about it. Unless you can turn it on its head and come up with something stunning, don't bother.

Be original, stand out, do exceptional finely detailed craftsmanship and make their mouths drop with the words "WoW" coming out.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 9:01PM
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If the display is inside and if you have enough head room, perhaps you could create the "night" for your garden by rigging up some kind of black fabric ceiling (blocking the overhead lights). I think you would need a minimum of 15 ft. You also might be able to create "stars" with fiber optics above the fabric and shining through although "pin holes" might work if there is a lot of direct over-head lighting. You could probably enclose the rear and sides with planting or structure to block out neighboring displays and some light.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 11:49PM
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I like the idea of blocking out the cieling lights. You could make the area a meandering kind of walk. People like to take a stroll, perhaps with low sitting walls and slow moving water features. Light foliage that will reflect some of what the moonlight would cast off. Think in calming terms. Also light sented floral specs. People are also into garden lighting low voltage types. Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 12:17AM
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I'm one of those Birks types who like to DIY and therefor won't spring for the big bucks for a professional landscaper but I wonder how many Doctors actually attend home shows. I've known a lot of Doctors and don't think this is how most would find you. More likely to hear about your outstanding work from a fellow golfer or at a social function. Perhaps thinking outside the box includes finding ways to attract your chosen customers other than the home show.

I do have retail experience as a business owner and know many wholesalers no longer do the big trade fairs due to the exorbitant costs. More effective ways to find clients.

I occasionally go to home shows but I'd only look at a landscaper's display for ideas. Anyone interested in a fairy garden IMO is likely not a potential customer. I've done one myself and it's more a creative/DIY/T2T effort than something one would pay a professional for.

As a home show attendee, I would not step inside a big container. I think you might be able to make 3 rooms in a 10'x30' space using fabric. Make them like tents with fairly high ceilings and showcase 3 different types of gardens. Put scented flowers in one, a water feature in another, and perhaps a night garden in the 3rd. Or whatever you think your customers might be interested in. The night garden would use dark fabric inside with tiny lights to simulate stars with either white plants or perhaps architectural plants to appeal to those who like contemporary style. Depends on who you are trying to appeal to. Make the tents fairly shallow so people can still walk in and talk to you in front of them. If you have slideshows of different styles of gardens you could show those on large TVs in the tents. Three different styles of gardens should be enough to prove you are effective at your job if you make them as different as possible.

Good luck with the show, whatever you do, and I hope you post pics of your booth. I occasionally come here hoping for inspiration.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 4:36PM
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ebeth(z8 FL)

Thanks, everyone for your thoughts! So far, I've decided to rent three booths for a total of 30 feet, and to scrap the container idea. Logistically, in that venue it just wouldn't work. The show is inside. and lighting would be very difficult to control with fabric. Well, the fabric wouldn't be bad, but the free standing structure to support it might be.
Just yesterday I saw a guy with a hay ring in his truck and I thought what a marvelous portal that would make if it were completely covered with flowers (think rose bowl parade). (A hay ring is a circular metal structure that goes around the big round hay bales to keep livestock from trampling the hay.) So then the question is; portal to what? Perhaps a garden party?
I ALWAYS put a lot of thought into my designs. I was referring to the brief window of time we have to install the design. It would be nice to have a couple of weeks to put a booth together instead of 6 hours.
I like the slide show idea....
What about a single color booth? That's different, but maybe not in a good way.
This is a fairly noisy venue, so sound won't work.
Anyway, thanks again, and keep it coming!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 6:54PM
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Keep it simple with a few of your favorite elements that appeal to your friends and family. You don't need alot of show. In this time of economic uncertainty people are looking for a place that they can come home to and entertain freinds and family. Easy to take care of they may spend money on all or if they can just take one thing from what you offer they will use with sucsess they will come back for more. And if I may say so the out door living room is quite appealling. We just want to relax when we can.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 1:20AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

A link to a timely article that may assist you.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2010 at 3:41PM
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I've always liked the idea of the secret garden or the escape spot. At most garden shows, the displays are designed to walk through and are open. Flagstones, masses of tulips, maybe a tree. Blah blah blah.

Thinking about the box, but not a box, I would be intrigued by somehow coming up to a booth and having to go around or into an "area" that was a delightful sitting spot, cozy, contained, surrounded by the perfect vignettes of plantings of...something ( ferns, arching tree overhead). If you could actually make 2 or 3 different zones like that--I'm not original enough to get beyond, say, the Adirondack chair and table in one place, the bistro set in another-- and a person had the sense of "entering" a private space (but not in a boxcar)by going around a gate, or a wall, or a hedge, and was maybe then shielded from the rest of the traffic in the garden show, that might both trigger the DIY's and trigger someone to say, come do one of these at my house.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 10:27AM
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I just saw a post on the Philadelphia Flower show, and it seems like others were thinking the same thing.

Garden in a shipping container?

- Audric

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 8:26PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Audric sighting! WAY COOL! How is school? Are you finished yet?

Seriously...the pics you linked are really cool.

Mama Mel

    Bookmark   March 9, 2010 at 8:38PM
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