Diego Martinez, Dave Van Belle, and I started our journey to Baltimore at 1:30am on Monday January 9th and although we typically get excited for the MANTS show, we were unaware as to how special this show was going to be. Thinking about the opportunity to have a full week of connection with our partners who have truly helped build our YoungPlants Operations made the 1:30am departure not seem so bad after all.
In December, we decided to include Diego Martinez as a part of our Team Van Belle in Baltimore for his connection with our growers is possibly even greater than our sales team’s connection. Diego has brought a lot of key ideas in growing to the table, and new aspects of improving growing that only he could be able to describe to our customers, and his passion to continue to get better through feedback from our partners is deep enough to keep him awake at night trying to improve what we are currently doing. It was also great for Diego to live a week in our Sales Team’s shoes…it is not all fun and game, its early mornings, and late evenings, especially when traveling to the East Coast.
After a great day of set up, Dave, Diego, and I enjoyed a special evening of connection with our teammates at Lancaster Farms. Many great experiences were shared between Art Parkerson, Chris Brown, Sarah Jordan and Jay Mears. One thing that was apparent was the distinct connection between Art and Dave with the synergy that they have with the transformation of succession of the Nursery from Father to Son, as well as their abilities to propagate pretty well themselves with having similarities of having 5 Children (Dave and his wife expecting their 5th this Spring). Many years ago, Bill Van Belle (Founder) and Charlie Parkerson were on the IPPS Board together, back in a time where shipping liners to Virginia were just dreams. We truly have appreciated the way that Lancaster Farms continues to operate with humility, honor, and great respect for the industry. We were thankful for our time spent with them, and special appreciation to Chris Brown for helping pull our teams together for a great evening of connection.
Wednesday morning we prepared for the three days of our show, and we were grateful that our missing link, DeVonne Friesen, had traveled safely to Baltimore to join us from his family get a way. The first day of the show was a blur, as all of our pre-show preparation announcing Diego’s being in the booth truly paid off. Thanks to Rebecca, our creative genius who took some of the thoughts from my head and put into action, many of our customers visited our booth just to meet Diego, and were able to go through the slideshow he prepared showing some of his new advances in propagation. Having Diego there brought a little extra to our existence at the show, and brought to reality that we are truly about creating profitable solutions in production, and not just selling a liner. At the end of the day DeVonne, Dave, and I discussed some of the great connections with our partners, and the diversity of customers that we have. It is truly special to see what we have built over the last few years, and the importance of the relationships that have been formed over the years.
Thursday evening we had a great dinner with other partners where we went to the ever so famous Fogo de Chao, an all you can eat Brazilian Steakhouse where along with some great bonding with our teammates at Ball, there was also an eating competition between Dave, DeVonne and myself, in which I can say Dave won handily. Did we do any work? Dinner like this with our great partners at Ball is something that has been lacking in the Nursery industry for a few years. I know many years ago, trade shows were a great way to go out as teams (sometimes in tables of 20) and leave the Nursery at the show, and bond on a personal level, building up trust. I believe that this is starting to come back in the industry and we will continue to strive and be able to branch out with our partners to build long term relationships, not just sales transactions. This is one of the things that we at Van Belle truly aim for — meaningful, long term partnerships.
On the flight home, as physically exhausted as we were, we were mentally inspired, and we all felt an energy that was amazing from the show. We did not write hundreds of thousands in orders (we did write some!), but we were able to make some great connections, and spend some personal time with our customers. If I can take one of my favorite interactions I would say my conversation with Donnie Johnson and the way he talked about his son, the way his eyes lit up (and also the excitement of proud grandpa Don Johnson when talking about Donnie’s son). Talking with Don, and Donnie Johnson about how this thing that we call our business, the Nursery, is only one aspect of our lives, and that it is our families that truly make us who we are. This is music to our ears after being away from our families for a week.
At the end of the MANTS Show, I can say that it was to date, our most successful show in about 5 years. Our measurement of success can be calculated through:
- Great customer connection and relationship building
- Positive response and interaction between Diego Martinez and our growing partners
- Team Building between Dave, Diego, DeVonne, and myself
- New steps to building relationships with some great prospects
We set a page of goals to be met at the show, and in review of these goals, they were all achieved, and when we look back at MANTS at the end of 2012 we will have positive images of the impact that this show had on us.