By Anthony Pioppi
While the GCSAA’s annual conference and show remains a crucial link in building business relations, a number of regional turfgrass shows around the country have distinguished themselves as opportunities for selling products directly to superintendents.
Those running the shows say educational programs remain the most important aspect, but a new trend is setting the regionals apart from the national convention. More and more regional businesses, such as distributors, have started writing orders on the floor with encouraging results.
Century Equipment Inc., based in Toledo, Ohio, has been a Toro distributor since the early 1950s and covers Ohio as well as parts of Kentucky and West Virginia. Since the 1980s, the company also has been a Club Car distributor for most of Ohio.
In 2001, at the suggestion of sales managers, Century decided to allow its sales staff to write orders at the Ohio Turfgrass Conference and Show.
“Rather than just talking about it, they said, ‘Why not write it up right now?’ ” said Bob O’Brien, Century’s chairman of the board and one of the founding members of the show, which dates to the 1950s. “It saves us a lot of time on the road. We’re seeing a lot more ‘call for appointment’ signs.”
According to Kevin Thompson, executive director for the Ohio show, Century is just one company that does business during the two-day event. And, he added, the chance to sell products has helped draw exhibitors.
The executive director of the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show offered a similar observation.
“There is business going on,” said Gary Sykes. “The distributors say, ‘We feel the need to support the show. It helps our business,’ ” Sykes said.
When Offinger Management Co. of Zanesville, Ohio, took over running the Ohio show in 1999, paid attendance was 3,161, with 213 exhibitors renting the equivalent of 529 10 foot-by-10 foot booth spaces. In 2001, there were 3,306 attendees and 246 exhibitors renting the equivalent of 540 booths.
Part of the draw is that turf professionals are able to get certified for pesticide applicator licenses through educational programs offered at the show.
The Carolinas GCSA Conference and Trade show held annually in Myrtle Beach, S.C., also has seen a steady increase in participation.
In 1991, there were 119 booth spaces occupied by 68 companies with 650 paid attendees. Ten years later, those numbers had grown to 347 booths, 201 companies and 1,138 in paid attendance.
According to Trent Batts, communications director for the Carolinas GCSA, the show strives to stay up with the needs of superintendents. A cyber cafe will be introduced at the November event, Batts said.
In addition to business and educational opportunities, the regional shows fill a void left by the GCSAA, Sykes said.
Sykes said roughly half of the superintendents in the country are GCSAA members, and only about half of those can afford or have the time to attend the national show. That means roughly 75 percent of superintendents in an area would benefit from a regional show that is within driving distance for most, including superintendents from Long Island and Westchester County, N.Y. In 2001, the New England show offered discount fares on Amtrak from New York to Providence, R.I., where the event is held.
Sykes said many superintendents bring assistants, equipment technicians and crew members to the regional show, something only a few clubs in the country can afford to do for the national event.
In 1998, the New England show attracted 1,789 paid attendees and 117 exhibitors utilizing 355 10-by-10 booths. In 2002, there were 2,543 paid attendees, with 209 exhibitors and 465 booths.
At the North Central Turfgrass Exposition, sponsored by the Illinois Turfgrass Foundation, the house is full. Executive director Jack Lagershausen said the show cannot accommodate any more exhibitors, and last year turned away more than 10 companies looking to get in at the last minute.
The North Central show draws attendees from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin Missouri and Iowa.
“A lot of superintendents don’t have the budget to go to the national, but they will want to see what’s new and what’s available for next year,” Lagershausen said.