The FlowerTrials is an event you’ll have no doubt heard of, if you work anywhere along the plant sales chain. However, if you’re a home gardener, then you may not know what it is! The FlowerTrials is basically a 4 day event, spread across locations in The Netherlands and West Germany, with 59 plant companies ‘putting on a show’ to tempt industry buyers with new plants and the latest retail and mail order concepts.
This is the moment where the plants that end up in home gardens are chosen!
Each company goes to great efforts to enact real-life retail scenes, so that buyers can visualise how they can formulate their own sales area for certain plants, all to tempt those green-fingered customers!
In many cases, plant companies prepare storytelling for each plant, and coupled with the marketing materials, many concepts are offered in ‘takeout’ form! Displays show how plants arrive at the garden centre on the trolley, and also show the wraps that can be supplied with the plants.
In my previous incarnation of New Product Developer at Thompson & Morgan, the FlowerTrials was a must-do date in my year, as it helped me gain an understanding of the marketplace, build connections and networks, and to choose the new plants I would introduce to the public via the mail order route. I was always inspired by the concepts shown and could easily translate them to my mail order situation.
Visitors to the FlowerTrials include retail buyers, growers, mail order product developers, breeder, plant companies and industry writers and journalists. It’s probably the most useful few days of networking during the horticultural year, ‘where plants meet people’. Of course, the plant companies know this, and always make sure plentiful snacks and meeting areas are to hand! During a FlowerTrials trip, you’ll hear many accents from around Europe, the USA, Asia AND Australia, as buyers flock to spend time with their sales representative. All to often with the lubrication of copious amounts of coffee too!
June is actually a low season for the garden trade, as spring sales are then out of the way, so companies and customers find they then have time to take things a little slower, and drink just one more coffee… Locations can interesting too, and it’s fun to see how a glasshouse can be completely repurposed with green carpets and suspended raised beds, how a fairytale Schloss can be transformed into a trial ground, or how you can install sports showers into part of your warehouse..
One of the questions on people’s lips in the marketplace right now is ‘how do we appeal to millennials?’
Well, around the show, I could see a few interesting ways companies were doing this. Mostly through storytelling. Having a story to a plant means there’s something to get your attention, and millennials have many things vying for their attention these day, so it’s super important. With a story, a plant without that immediate ‘wow factor’ can be enhanced… Some of the initiatives seen played to the new tech generation too; with a selfie corner, a snazzy phone appendage freebie, and the new flatlay, Instagram-style catalogues.
Sales representatives tend to have very different approaches when you visit. I tend to prefer to build relationships with the breeders, so I can express what I feel the market needs, and indeed these breeders are often present at each company. I have also never quite decided whether I like sales reps to be attentive or hands off. Indeed, at some locations, not one sales rep made themselves known, whereas at others, they were on my tail as soon as I’d signed in! I guess knowing your customer well is the key to this!
Whilst at the show, I took a little bit of time to talk to exhibitors and visitors about their experience of the Flower Trials and what it means to them! I also chatted to them about the route to consumer, and the role of social media and that millennial appetite (Click on the first photo to fire up the gallery!):
So, what’s it like to visit the Flower Trials?
Firstly, you’ll need a car! Locations are huddled into 2 or 3 areas, but train travel is not an option! Locations are, generally, easy to find, however a couple of them evaded me. As I searched for one particular site, I ended up in a McDonalds… hmmm. I am hoping the Flower Trials organization can do something to help navigation next year though, as there have been some new roads built around the Westland/Oranjesluisweg area, which really aren’t on satellite navigation yet… I can imagine many visitors getting into a muddle!
The FlowerTrials website does have a very handy route finder though, where you can plot the time it takes to go between each location. I would, however, find a big traditional map, annotated with companies, useful next time, though! Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned, but I need to know where I’m going when the sat nav doesn’t!
You’re advised to pre-register too, not just to make your check in smoother, but also so that companies can gauge the number of visitors through their doors, so they can stock up on enough stroopwafel! Driving over Germany for some of the companies can feel like a chore, but choose the right time of day and you’ll find it’s well worth the effort. As a plant hunter, I knew many people wouldn’t make this journey, so it made it even more important for me to go, and discover the new plants on offer!
To see my article on interesting new varieties, exciting concepts, the best snacks from the show and more- click here!
I caught up with a range of visitors during the show too, and wanted to find out why they feel the Flower Trials is worth 4 days out of their hectic horticultural calendar: (Click on the first photo to fire up the gallery!)
So, as you can see, this event really is ‘where plants meet people’!