Reflections on LO Congress 2019

What does the largest gathering of landscape professionals look like to someone who’s never attended?

Last week, Compass had the pleasure of attending the 2019 edition of LO Congress. It was a great show, full of inspiring booths, people, product demonstrations and talks. Over 15,000 people attended (a new record) to browse over 600 booths! It’s no wonder Congress is one of the largest trade shows in Canada.

As a new Compass employee, attending Congress was pretty much mandatory for my orientation. And honestly? It was a fantastic way to get out of the office and explore the landscaping profession. I learned a lot. Here are some highlights.

Seeing hard work "in the flesh."

The coolest part of Congress, for me, was seeing Compass’s work in the flesh. To everyone working in either the landscaping, horticultural or construction industry — I envy your ability to see the final, finished product of your work. For someone like me, who spends the majority of his days in an office setting, sitting behind a computer screen, tapping away at a keyboard and clicking a mouse — it’s not always possible. Much of my work is digital. I might be able to hold a finished catalogue, brochure or direct mail piece in my hands, but I rarely get to see the tangible result of my hard work in action.

And that’s what I got to see at Congress. Brochures being handed out. T-shirts, baseball caps and uniforms worn with pride. Brand identities and logos proudly displayed on massive backdrops. I distinctly remember walking down the aisle where Braun was situated and being blown away by how amazing the booths looked. For a company of that size, with four different subbrands, it spoke volumes. At Compass, we were privileged to work on three of Braun’s brands — the Tree Nursery, Wire Baskets and Garden Products brands — and I sincerely believe that the consistency Braun is showing with their new brands really blew a lot of the other booths out of the water.

The green industry is inspiring!

Landscape professionals are inspiring people. Walking among the hardscape displays at the far end of the show, I was reminded again of my days working at the greenhouse. I recall, with some nostalgia, sunny days working outdoors with my hands. I miss that sometimes. And in many ways, I’m in awe of the people who do it for a living or who run their own businesses. In addition to being useful, most of the things they build are incredibly beautiful. A lot of landscaping is artistic, creative work that’s admired and used for years upon years after its completion. It’s a lifetime product! That’s intimidating to someone like me. But it sure as heck is inspiring.

I think it’s wonderful to have these (often underacknowledged) professionals formally recognized at the LO Awards of Excellence. Last week, while browsing through the submissions of the 2019 award winners, I felt encouraged. The work being done by many of our clients (both old and new) is impressive work that requires skill and hard-won craftsmanship. At the end of the day, landscaping improves our quality of life. I’m thankful and encouraged by that. And I’m happy to champion these professionals and promote their craft on a daily basis.

I remember chatting with Nick (our Art Director) just outside of the Select Stone booth. We couldn’t help but appreciate how good the booth looked. A bold, appropriate brand identity etched onto a glass sign, a variety of wooden and stone textures and a “living wall” of mosses and lichen combined to create a dramatic, attention-grabbing kiosk. Nick wryly said to me: “I could try to build a patio or a pergola like this in my backyard, but I’d inevitably mess something up.” We both agreed that neither of us really have the engineering knowledge to complete the work well. And that’s where contractors become a good investment. I was reminded why we turn to these people for their help.

Select Stone's booth.

We NEED landscape professionals... but they also need us.

Another thing I noticed: There are a LOT of landscapers and contractors who are seriously in need of marketing help. There are a LOT of poorly articulated and inconsistent brands out there. I’m reminded especially of one of Congress’s major sponsors. I visited their booth to enter my name in a draw and was handed a product sheet. While it was printed on card stock and felt good in my hands, the content and branding didn’t match. The front side had their logo and typeface, but the back side had two other typefaces for the very same brand — as well as another company’s name. The lack of clarity left me shaking my head in confusion.

On the flip side, a lot of landscapers aren’t at all interested in writing about their work — or spending any amount of time in front of a screen, for that matter. (Hmm… how many of you are actually reading this post?) They’re not interested in reading books or honing their writing skills. And — while it can feel like my work isn’t always useful in its virtual, intangible forms — it’s actually really valued by the people we work for.

Oh, and one more thing: once again, we heard many rumblings about recruiting problems. While this was never explicitly called out, we consistently heard showgoers talking about how difficult it is to attract people to the landscaping profession. This is yet another reason why a consistent, clear brand is a must in today’s crowded marketplace. (Check out our latest post with three quick tips to attract talent to your team.)

While some might consider landscapers to be “rough around the edges” types — there were many long beards, calloused hands, well-worn baseball caps and flannel shirts at the show — I think they’re good, down to earth people (pun intended). They’re call-it-like-it-is, straight-up folks. And I love that about them.

The consensus over here at the Compass office is that LO Congress 2019 was a success. There was a lot of positive energy surrounding the event. Positivity is infectious and it has encouraged us as we get to work again in 2019. The landscaping industry is poised to keep growing, and we’re excited to help drive that growth!

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