May and we are nearly at the end of autumn. Our Herb and Chilli Festival (HACF) has been run, Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (MIFGS) is over and the series of autumn garden shows have been held. Some performed above expectations and some below. We attend a few of them and find most are well run and attract a good audience.
This year there are a few new ones planned for spring. Since the ABC show closed a few years ago this space has been empty. There have been several attempts to get a new one going but all have failed. The period is dominated by smaller shows in the suburbs and regional centres. These are often well attended, well run and have a good selection of plant vendors. The shows are normally run at a small surplus going to a local not for profit organisation.
Spring in Melbourne is a busy time with footy finals, racing carnival and Melbourne Show. There is also the very successful Tulip Festival so fitting in a couple of new ones may be tight. They will need to have a hook or a target audience that is different from what is currently on offer. The organisers need to understand why people attend festivals and the demographics of the target market.
The smaller shows are often working better as they are not trying to drag huge profits from the vendors and attendees. They are also a little less worried about the rubbish the legal/risk community are insistent on. They make it easy for vendors to attend and set up. Most are flexible on arrival and setup times and are relaxed on pack up procedures. Again they make it easy for the stall holders. It is getting over the top with rules. Some of which include: Safety vests (even in venue with no vehicles), steel capped boots, hazard lights on vehicles, no children, no pets, public liability, workers insurance, vehicle insurance, food handling license, RSA permits, liquor license, organiser listing on insurance policies, risk assessment reports, qualifications, reversing beepers and many others. Personally I have not heard of any injuries of stall holders or staff that would have been avoided by any of these requirements. Why don’t we all wear full motorcycle leathers, crash helmet and safety glasses?
Most of the people who attend garden shows want to see unusual, rare or new plants that are not easily to get at local nurseries, chain stores or local markets. They also want to meet the grower and talk about their passion. The good vendors are usually running their business because they love what they do and have found a way of making an income from it. However they are not charity workers. Good show managers are understanding of why the stallholders are there – sell product and make some money. It seems the concept of making money is bad and we shouldn’t talk about it but it is what drives us.
With the larger shows the costs of attending are getting large with some in excess of $3000 for a 5x5m site. For some plants this is a large enough stall to sell enough plants to cover the site costs whereas other varieties a double site is needed which adds to costs. To attend a show takes at least a day of collating and loading plants and a day to unload and return the ones that don’t sell. There is the time of travelling to the show and running the stand then returning home. This is time away from work or the family or paid staff at penalty rates.
There is a direct ratio (and obvious one) of people attending to dollars spent at each stand. This is pretty simple but many organisers end up with far too many stall holders for the number of expected attendees. As they come to see what is different the stall holder mix is very important. For the HACF we are very conscious of how many stalls we have, how many in each product category, not duplicating them and how they are arranged. We understand that if the stall holders aren’t happy they won’t come back and the quality of stalls will decrease and we will end up just a farmers market.
The organisers need to make a surplus but this should be from the attendees and not the vendors. Vendors’ fees should be there to cover set up and site costs. Product range should be as wide as possible with minimal duplication and a balance of food, product and plant stalls. They need to have presentations and talks by the experts and understand that these people have built up huge knowledge in their field and should be respected and rewarded.
Our industry needs these shows to excite the community. The shows need the plant specialists. It is time that the ‘show industry’ starts to really look at what they are doing, how they are treating the plant people and how much they are charging.
As winter approaches it is time to make sure we all have plenty of stock on the ground to benefit from a good spring. As a traditional nurseryman I know we will have a good spring.
Have a happy Mother’s Day and don’t forget to give her a big hug.