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Industry Insights

Congress: an Inspiring Start to 2015

Think a “career in landscaping” is an oxymoron? Think again!

Anyone that works with the landscape industry knows how much landscape professionals love their jobs – they love to be outdoors! So you’d better put on one really good show if you want to lure 13,000+ landscapers indoors and have them stay inside for 3-4 days. This is what Landscape Ontario manages to do each year in Toronto at its annual Congress. This year was no exception.

One of the most memorable moments for me this year happened when I first walked into the tradeshow hall. I hadn’t taken more than a couple steps when one particular booth jumped out at me. Hortico!

Hortico, a nursery from Waterdown, Ontario, gave me my introduction into this industry with my very first job at the age of 12. Early on Saturday mornings my mom would get me up and drive me to the Vanderkruk’s Farm on Robson Road where for most of the day I would sit on a metal stool in a dingy barn with a group of co-workers stripping cuttings and dipping them in rooting powder. On more fortunate occasions, I was permitted to plant. That all seems like a lifetime ago now.

About a year ago, Phil Vanderkruk called me and asked for our help rebranding the business his father founded. I was honoured. So when I walked in the tradeshow at Congress this year and sat down in the booth our team had designed for my first employer, it was like coming full circle. And the stool that I was sitting on in the booth? The SAME STOOL I sat on 30 years ago! Phil had them sandblasted and recoated just for the show. I’ll admit that I enjoyed the nostalgic perch much more last week at Congress than I did when I was a kid learning how to work. But looking back, I’m grateful for that first opportunity I was given to contribute and earn my keep.

Landscape professionals know how to work. What became clear though, in numerous conversations, is the need for this industry to improve its storytelling. The industry still struggles to enjoy the respect of the general public and to attract young talent to its workforce. Perhaps this is perpetuated by well-meaning parents who would rather see their kids become doctors and lawyers. Many of the speakers at the conference spoke to the need for better stories.

Mike Pennington from Lakeridge, a first-time speaker at Congress, pointed his audience to storytelling on social media. I was also pleased to hear Mark Bradley, the owner of the Beach Gardener and LMN, speak again. Mark, emphasized the importance of developing a solid brand and compelling website, particularly for companies wishing to attract a higher paying clientele. Both comedienne Meg Soper and Grounds Guys CEO Peter VanStralen had us all thinking more about the environment – not the landscapes we design and build, but the cultural environment we create for our employees. Meg encouraged humour while Peter pointed us to principles. Creating a professional caring culture will be essential to attracting the next generation to a career in horticulture.

But I was most inspired by the youth who spoke on the panel at the “Cultivate & Connect” event as well as the highschool and college students who presented their designs in the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge. They were passionate, knowledgeable and hardworking. Jeremy from Nicola Landscapes, a recent graduate from Fanshawe College (one of my old schools), was emphatic about working hard. “Realize that life is work and work is hard. Once you get that you can move forward, get busy and make things happen.”

If anyone still looks down on the landscape industry I’d encourage them (as I did) to have a conversation with Alan White of Turf Systems, a guy whose deep knowledge of plants is only surpassed by his big, hairy, audacious ideas for change and his intense passion to be on the leading edge of that change. I am positive that there are more good things on the horizon for the landscape industry. These people are smart, resolved and poised to lead. Coming out of Congress and heading into the rest of 2015 (Compass Creative’s 10th year) I was inspired by the following thoughts:

Impacting the world is not done primarily through the work you produce but by impacting the people around you in the process. We must remain humble enough to serve others, disciplined enough to push through the challenges and gracious enough to accept that people and circumstances will not always be as we wish.

But if we…
Seek the truth,
Remain teachable,
Care for people,
Think deeply,
Work hard,
Share our story,
Laugh lots, and
Give thanks!

…then we WILL make an impact in the coming year and 2015, like every year that came before it, has the potential to be a year of growth!

Written by Jason Bouwman, RGD

January 20, 2015