October 5, 2023
Taking part in trade shows is good for business — and for employee morale

Brent Vanderkruk is the customer service manager of NVK Nurseries, a fourth generation wholesale nursery based in Dundas, Ont. With over 100 years in business, NVK is one of Canada’s largest wholesale nurseries, serving customers across the country and in several U.S. states. One of the many reasons for the company’s success is their dedication to staying on top of the latest trends and innovations — and building a strong network and relationships within the industry. 

With this in mind, Brent and his team have never missed a year exhibiting at Congress, a trade show for landscape professionals that takes place in Toronto, Ont., every January. His family has been attending since the first show in 1970. Congress, which was taken over by Landscape Ontario in 1974, is now considered one of the top trade shows for landscape and horticultural professionals in North America, attracting more than 15,000 visitors each year. 

Landscape Trades asked Brent for his best advice on making the most of trade shows to grow your business and motivate your team. 

What is the benefit of attending and exhibiting at an industry trade show? 

Learning is a big part for us — and connecting with our customers. It’s great to get to know customers better and see them face to face outside of the busy season, as well as see the work they have done over the year. We are very intentional about creating time and space to make these connections and I think it’s beneficial for both sides. We also take part in the Designers Conference that happens the day before to connect with those people.

How does Congress make an impact on your team? 

I think it energizes us as a company. We’re always looking ahead and seeing what new things are out there, the things being done, the new trends. It’s uplifting. It’s also just really great bonding time. The energy at Congress is contagious. We bring all of our employees with us and they go to the conference to learn [from the professional development seminars] and walk the Congress floor, as well as working in our booth. 

You mentioned attending trade shows helps your company be even better at what it does. How so? 

Well, Congress is an opportunity to showcase what we’re doing for our customers, of course. It’s our chance to spotlight the new products we’re carrying and really display the diversity of what we have to offer. Mainly it’s the connections — the conversations we get to have with our customers face to face, outside of the busy season. This lets us get to know them better and that makes us better. 

As a longtime exhibitor, what would you say is the secret to making a great booth? 

A lot of hard work! We build some of the structures for our booth throughout the season, but we really get focused on it in the last three months before the show — for Congress that’s October. We give it a lot of thought. After each Congress, we sit down as a team and go over what we liked and what we didn’t like. We talk about what kind of things we can improve on, or showcase a little bit differently. So, we’ll glean some of those ideas and go back to them when we start planning our booth. By early fall, we are keeping in mind some of the plants that we’d like to use at the booth and we’ll bring some inside to delay their dormancy so they can show their colours. Taking part in building a booth together makes our people see our plants in a whole new way. 

How do you attract people to your booth? 

We always create an interactive experience.One thing that might set us apart is that we do a mulch floor. You get the smell of the mulch, and it works really well with the plants, it’s like you’re really in the garden.  It’s also really comfortable to stand on — especially when you’re on concrete all day at a convention centre! Overall we want to create flow, make it easy for traffic to meander, but also create spaces where you can have conversations and you can just talk amongst the plants really and look at them. We also think about signage — so where we’re placing the signage because there’s traffic coming from different angles. 

How do you keep the conversation going after the event? 

We often do a draw at our booth — we ask people to answer a few questions for a chance to win a nursery stock voucher or something. It helps us get a pulse on where people see our quality, service and pricing and we hone in on those things. We would also do a ‘drip’ campaign with potential new customers, sending them information about who we are and following up a few months later. 

What practical tips can you share on making the most of a trade show?  

Comfortable footwear for sure, lots of water and lots of candy. Okay that last one is a joke. I do try to get a lot of sleep before the show though. And definitely lots after. My biggest advice is to smile. Your customers want to see you happy and energized — and that can’t be manufactured.            


Want to check out NVK’s booth in person, or learn more about Congress? Visit LOcongress.com for more information.