First Time Exhibitors

by By Russ Klettke

First-time participants in the ASLA EXPO went to San Diego to show their wares. But they also went to observe, learn, network – and form collaborative partnerships.

Executive summary:

  • The ASLA EXPO is different from most shows. The very specific needs and interests of landscape architects make vendors’ tasks clearer.
  • Networking – on the EXPO floor and off – with other vendors yields many and varied benefits.
  • Designers and vendors in this industry are equally earnest about environmental sustainability and the nurturing of emerging professionals.

First-time exhibitors at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture and EXPO offer a lot to conference attendees. That includes new, innovative and often first-in-category products. What they get in exchange are new customers, of course, but they also get to know the industry in ways that yield long-term results.

We spoke with a handful of companies that were new to the annual gathering in 2019 in San Diego. In some cases, these industry vendors were meeting with landscape architects en masse for the first time. Here are these first-time exhibitors’ first impressions and experiences:

Terry Campbell, sales and marketing director, Sustainable Northwest Wood says: “This was an opportunity to educate an important market on new products. We showcased western juniper, a material with outside performance characteristics that are unfamiliar to many designers (natural rot resistance in ground-contact applications). This lumber is sourced from an invasive species, western juniper, which has harmed the high desert region of Eastern Oregon; commercial harvesting of western juniper helps restore native grasslands.

Karim Pirani of iBBQ nabbed a booth in what he describes as a less-than-optimal location to introduce the company’s Angara™ outdoor grill. The product combines a dining table with a gas grill, the use of which fosters “social grilling.” Fortunately, that booth location didn’t prohibit the California-based company from meeting residential landscape architects doing work in the US, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Belgium, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Pirani plans to return for the Miami Beach EXPO in October 2020.

“All landscape architects can be specifiers in one way or another,” says Sandi Walsh, general manager for Flexground, a manufacturer of safety surfacing used in playgrounds, “The more they know about my products, the more they can share with their clients – who are the ultimate decision makers on product specification.”

Farrell Gerber, managing partner at Tree Hugger Solutions, makers of Tree Brace™ Kits, says he always had a vague sense of how specifications are made. But from conversations with landscape architects, he now has a more detailed and nuanced understanding of how they are written into projects. He also learned a little more about how trees are staked in particular ways.

Glenn Goodfellow, the vice president of business development for Poitras Industries, a metal fabricator that makes urban fixtures (bus shelters, benches, bike racks, etc.) as well as architectural and building decorative elements, has previously worked on large urban projects with site developers. But the EXPO brought him closer to understanding the role landscape architects play in such programs and how direct contact with them can be advantageous.

Henri B. Hillmann, COO for Romex Northeast, USA, a supplier of permeable hardscapes, notes that the ASLA EXPO differs from other shows in an important way: “It has the highest percentage of designers and specifiers. Most other shows are split between designers, contractors and suppliers/distributors.”

Lindsay Raleigh, director of marketing with LandscapeHub, a digital network of buyers and suppliers in the landscape industry, was impressed with the amount of product innovation she saw on the EXPO floor. Consistent with the nature of the firm’s work, she says, “We were able to connect to a number of suppliers and manufacturers that are making an impact.”

Other exhibitors echoed Raleigh’s remarks: “I look at trade shows for finding other businesses that are related to what we do,” said Poitras’ Goodfellow. Tree Hugger’s Gerber says he sees many opportunities to cross pollinate with other landscape supply firms, while Flexground’s Walsh said, “It’s beneficial to walk the entire exhibit floor to keep abreast of new and interesting suppliers.” She adds she met several exhibitors with complementary products and systems.

Romex’s Hillmann mentions a supplier they will likely use in the future: “We met for some time with CAD Details. The provide a great service that we play on utilizing.”

“You can’t just wait inside your booth,” says Goodfellow, who makes it a practice to work the room and to attend social events where possible. That’s how he made a connection with another company that might soon turn into a co-manufacturing relationship for Poitras.

Sustainable Northwest Wood’s Campbell says he explored the floor and met some furniture manufacturers who otherwise import raw materials from Europe but now can consider the company’s wood, harvested closer to home, as an option. He also made his way into some educational sessions to broaden his own understanding of the industry. Flexground’s Walsh found evening events to be productive for sharing ideas and general networking, while LandscapeHub’s Raleigh hopes to co-sponsor their own after-hours event in the future.

Several exhibitors noticed the attention ASLA provides to members at the outset of their careers. Observing the Alumni Tailgate event, with dozens of participating schools, and the student portfolio reviews, it was clear to them that this industry fosters development of future landscape architects. “The ASLA is very focused on students,” notes iBBQ’s Pirani.

While other trade shows might have an occupationally heterogeneous mix of attendees, these new exhibitors noticed that by far the people they spoke with were landscape architects. “Landscape architects have a different view,” says Poitras’ Goodfellow. “They are more pragmatic in how products are deployed in an environment.” Other words used by exhibitors to describe attendees: “Knowing this audience we were able to approach them with just the right materials,” “They are passionate about what they do…there is definitely a higher level of professionalism,” and perhaps the ultimate compliment: “Their work is so beautiful.”

New Exhibitors “Get” Sustainability

Each vendor’s primary objectives in San Diego were networking and selling. But matters of climate change, carbon footprints and related topics are also very much a part of their vernacular.

  • Lindsay Raleigh, LandscapeHub: “I was very impressed with the resounding theme of stewardship of the environment that was on display.”
  • Terry Campbell, Sustainable Northwest Wood: “I enjoy reading the magazine (LAM) for articles on the impact of what landscape architects do, from greenways to storing water to playing a major role in SITES. I personally enjoy the outdoors, particularly spaces created in urban areas.
  • Sandi Walsh, Flexground: “Landscape architects are passionate about what they do and cognizant about how it impacts end-users, local communities and surrounding areas.”