Friday, May 10, 2013

The Chelsea Flower Show - A view from the industry

Forget the visitors and the celebrities, for people in the gardening industry Chelsea is all about ego. Everyone in the gardening industry wants to say they have exhibited, built a garden and/or won a prize at Chelsea regardless of whether or not this has any bearing on their actual daily job. I’d bet that every gardener’s CV has at least one mention of Chelsea, even if it is the smallest of roles.

I’ve seen first-hand how involvement in the design, preparation and building of stands for Chelsea can almost destroy a small business when the owner gets distracted by the bright lights and neglects the day-to-day running of the business. It is easy to be seduced by the media attention and forget that most visitors have no interest in actually purchasing anything (which is usually the key driver for suppliers attending any industry show). Chelsea is a long way from your usual trade show.

The only businesses that profit from involvement at Chelsea are those that bring products to sell in the various outlets found in the retail areas. Everyone else invests large amounts of effort, time and money just to have a presence at the premier gardening event of the year. Admittedly some of the more capable designers can add value to their brand with a widely acclaimed and handsomely decorated show garden, but let’s face-it they aren’t paying for their gardens, one of the major corporate sponsors has their expenses fully covered.

Chelsea is a social event first and foremost. There are plenty of other shows where the cost of entry is far lower and returns more rewarding, but these just don’t tick the ‘sexy’ box. If you are in the industry, who cares that you were at the National Garden Show or even HamptonCourt?

Well, in actual fact your clients do. The reality is that most clients of gardening businesses care about the usual things, service, quality and value. They really don’t care if you were at Chelsea, in any capacity. There would rather you were able to deliver their garden requirements at a reasonable price. This remains true for even the high-value customers.

Chelsea is about posturing to your peers. It is about pretending you are bigger, more successful and more desirable that your competitors. It is about proving you have made it as a premier gardening business. Unfortunately for the large majority of smaller participants it ends up being a rather expense ego-trip that fails to generate any additional business. But at least your competitors know you mean business...

Me... I’m giving the Flower Show a miss this year for the first time since I switched careers (unless someone can get me a free ticket of course). I am however helping out with the Chelsea Fringe, which requires much less effort and cost but delivers benefit to far wider audience, i.e. my local community.