Attendees listen to Robert O’Neill share his stories during a keynote address at the 2017 IGC Show.

Wayne Messmer, a well-known Chicago-based National Anthem singer with a baritone voice, kicked off the 11th annual IGC Show in Chicago’s Navy Pier on Aug. 15, 2017, with his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” IGC Show founder Jeff Morey welcomed attendees and shared a few points of interest on the show floor, including the “Shop Talk” Retail Conversation area, an informal space for garden center representatives to discuss a variety of topics, such as minimum wage increases, rising health care costs and social media marketing.

He also announced the return of the New Vendor Zone, which featured 40 companies new to the IGC Show this year, and an area where attendees could vote for their favorite new products and plants.

Before the trade show floor, which had more than 500 exhibitors, officially opened, Tuesday’s keynote speaker, IGC retail expert John Stanley, gave the audience an overview of findings from “The Gathering.” The meeting of IGC representatives from around the world took place in Paris in January, and IGC Show attendees got a first look at discoveries from the conference. Here are some key takeaways from his talk and more from the IGC Show.

Key trends

The Gathering noted a few key trends for retail in 2017, including the importance of promoting product quality and sustainability, providing unique in-store experiences and personalizing services and interactions with customers.

Why, not how

Quoting James Wong, a botanist, science writer and broadcaster, Stanley urged the audience to not focus on how they communicate with their customers, but why, and “to focus on inspiration and communication of what gardening can give to well-being and health.”

Focus on families

Most marketing conversations are dominated by what garden centers can do to attract Millennials to their stores, and IGCs could potentially be forgetting other important customer bases, Stanley says. Although “The Gathering” did address Millennials and the importance of understanding how they shop, marketing to families could be more effective. A generational approach caters to all ages and to Millennials who may not like gardening themselves, but want to engage their kids in the garden, Stanley says.

IKEA inspiration

If you’ve ever visited an IKEA store, you’re well aware of the model — customers walk through showrooms with products displayed as they’d look in a home, and products are selected at the end. Stanley says it’s important that IGCs develop more space for garden room settings, but also as important, showing the spaces before and after so that customers can see the transformation. There is already too much choice at garden centers, which can be overwhelming for consumers, and that space would be better allocated to inspirational settings.

IGC Show attendees vote for their favorite new products.

“Fad or future?”

Stanley wonders whether the interest in urban agriculture, especially among young consumers, is a fad or the future of gardening. IGCs can engage those consumers by offering relevant products, such as raised beds and vertical gardening products.

Promote health and nature

Marketing should focus on the health benefits of plants and not the gardens, but the “outdoor retreats” garden centers can help consumers create, Stanley says. Messages can center around bringing nature indoors, promoting plants as air purifiers and the mental health benefits plants provide.

The future is not retail, it’s spaces

Although it was not planned this way, attendees of “The Gathering” realized that their name hit on an important focus for retail in the future — garden centers need to create spaces for people to gather, Stanley says. “It’s not us that need to have the space for gathering, it’s the consumer that needs to have a space for gathering,” he says. Instead of traditional make-and-take workshops, Stanley urged retailers to think about workshops differently. For example, why not consider 12-minute workshops in three to five locations in the store, instead of hour-long workshops in a private room? Garden centers must rethink the traditional model and provide other opportunities for people to spend time in their stores.

We’ve entered the era of active retailing

It’s important for retailers to do the following in an “era of active retailing,” Stanley says: Engage customers before, during and after the visit; inspire with room setting ideas; provide a seamless experience online and in-store; give team members mobile devices to make shopping more convenient and efficient for customers; offer post-sales advice to ensure customer success; and hire day makers, not salespeople, who are more likely to grow your business.

O’Neill keynote — “Never quit”

While Stanley’s keynote offered practical, applicable advice for retailers, Robert O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six Leader, shared inspirational stories from his time as a Navy SEAL. O’Neill, author of the memoir “The Operator: Firing the Shots that killed Osama bin Laden and my years as a SEAL team warrior,” delivered the day two keynote, and urged retailers to never quit, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He also offered leadership and decision-making advice learned from his time serving in the military. A few lessons he shared included: “The less we talked, the better we worked. Just because you’re talking doesn’t mean you’re communicating,” O’Neill says. Effective communication also means that you stop talking when you are finished with your thought. Too much noise does not improve the message, the team or the work.

  • Don’t take short cuts.
  • Stay prepared for uncertain situations
  • Success means not resting on your laurels — complacency kills businesses.
  • Separate decisions from emotions.
  • Your enemy is your fears and doubts, and you must keep moving forward.

Though discussing serious situations, his recollections of his time in the military were often peppered with humor. He shared a story about one of his colleagues who didn’t give up his dream of being a SEAL, nearly drowning while trying to tie a knot in a rope underwater, one of many skills they were required to master. He also talked about a moment his team chose not to move forward with a mission for the right reasons –there was the possibility of bombs being detonated on a bridge they were trying to cross – and how separating his decisions from emotions helped him make the right choice in the end.

Shop Talk Retail Conversations

There were several opportunities for attendees to gather informally on the show floor to discuss everything from “getting Millennials into your garden center” to “inventory management.” We dropped in on a group talking about minimum wage increases and rising health care costs, and how they could adjust and reduce their budgets in other areas to be able to afford the new minimum wage increases.

New product highlights

In addition to learning and networking opportunities, about 500 exhibitors shared their new products and ideas on the show floor. We observed attendees visiting booths and scanned the aisles, and here are the products that caught our attention and received second glances from visitors during the trade show:


You don’t see artificial grass lining the foot bed of a flip flop every day, and this product garnered a lot of attention from attendees at the show. Owner Vickie Canepa said her son came up with the idea for a school project. The packaging for the sandals can be customized and carry any business name and information.

Grass Flip Flops

The company Root Cup showcased a product that inspired its name, a planter you can hold in the palm of your hand that is fast draining, self-watering and makes it easy for consumers to propagate plants from cuttings. (They also have a larger version.) Another product the company featured was a tillandsia holder that is bendable, can be attached using magnets, Velcro or an adhesive and showcases air plants. One attendee noted that she liked how the interesting structure of the airplant was the focus, not the container itself.

Root Cup

The ethereal lighting products from Eangee made from real cocoa, banyan, jackfruit and alibangbang leaves are made for outdoor as well as indoor environments. The outdoor lamps are equipped with LED lights.

Eangee Leaf Lamps

Georgetown Home & Garden showcased “Blobhouse,” a series of whimsical dog and cat figurines and planters with names like Bongo, Giblet, Prissy and T-Bone, created in collaboration with artist Gesine Krätzner. We overheard garden centers discussing what they’d like to order from the line, and how they are perfect vessels for succulents and airplants.


Garden Center contributor Leslie F. Halleck noted in a recent column how difficult it has been for her to acquire one of these plants, which are incredibly popular in Europe and Australia, but tough to find in the U.S. One garden center owner gave us a tip that they spotted one — and we found it in the Optimara booth. The price tag seems steep — the wholesale price is what some houseplants of its size retail for — but Pilea peperomioides is not your typical houseplant. One Etsy seller was offering her 3-month old plant she propagated from a cutting with 16 leaves for $100. Many other smaller varieties were going for between $50 and $60.

Pilea Peperomioides

SallyeAnder, which produces handmade hypoallergenic soaps, made of olive oil, soy and true essential oils, displayed one of its best-sellers at the IGC Show called Gardener’s Hand. The bar is made from scraps of other soaps plus cornmeal, and can remove stains from everything from grass to grease to printer ink.

Gardener’s Hand

Crescent Garden showcased a variety of container designs equipped with its TruDrop self-watering system, including the tall, narrow Cup Planter. The TruDrop System has an indicator letting gardeners know when it’s time to water, and a protected water reservoir that provides plants with the water they need more efficiently than hand-watering. The reservoir also provides the plant with water and nutrients from the root up, helping produce healthier plants and prevent disease and pest issues.

Cup Planter

Sandia Seed Company sells some 100 seed varieties, but the Albuquerque-based business specializes in hot and mild peppers. The edible is popular among gardeners, and Sandia tries to capture these consumers with displays that highlight its “Peppers of the World” packets.

Sandia Seed Company

Water Blossom, a decorative root watering system, was also one of the featured exhibitors in the New Vendor Zone, and they demonstrated how the decorative garden stake helps deliver water to roots faster than traditional watering.


DaVinci, a division of Airlite Plastics, showcased 20 designs of its in-mold labeling plastic pots, which included Christmas Dogs, Bamboo and Woven Twine graphics. Photos of the wall displaying the containers were spotted on social media feeds, and they were honored with a Retailer’s Choice Award at Cultivate’17.


The company that promotes its lawn seed as low maintenance, drought tolerant and weed resistant is not new to the industry, but it was Pearl’s Premium’s first time at IGC Show. The grass has deeper roots than most lawn grass on the market, providing better coverage and water retention than other varieties, according to the company.


Several raised garden and bed manufacturers exhibited at IGC Show this year, selling a variety of products, from embellishments for the corners of wood-framed raised beds to waist-high gardens that feature protective covers and wheels. Many of the companies were in the New Vendor Zone. Here are a few we found:

vegepod presented its Vegetable Garden Kits that are self-watering, have protective canopies, come in three sizes and can be placed either on the ground or on a variety of stands and trolleys.


Altifarm is a three- or four-tiered system of growing containers developed specifically for small spaces that includes a self-watering system that can handle routine watering for up to a week. Grow lights and greenhouse packs are also available as add-on products.


Uneak Gardens allows consumers to create raised beds, sandboxes or landscape edges using steel brackets. Gardeners can use their own wood frames or the wood-like, American-made material that Uneak Gardens offers made of plastic and rice husks, which prevents swelling and moisture issues that occur with some raised beds.

Uneak Gardens

Gardinnovations showcased its GardenFrame products, accessories for the corners of raised beds that help secure the wood pieces and also improve the aesthetics of these popular growing containers. The designs, Abbey or Belvedere, come in organic black or garden steel and allow consumers to customize the design of their garden beds.

City Farmer USA produces an array of raised planters designed to have optimal ventilation and water retention. There are several size options for balconies, patios, rooftops or backyards, and they are customized for regular or climbing vegetables.

City Farmer USA

 Delta Park also offers raised garden bed assembly kits, with panels made out of galvanized steel, and small consumer greenhouses. Gardeners can create hexagon or triangle-shaped beds with the kits.


About a year ago, SBM Développement finalized its acquisition of the consumer segment of Bayer’s Environmental Science business unit, which includes Bayer Advanced. Since that time, SBM Life Science, the division that encompasses what was known as Bayer Advanced, has been working on rebranding the line of “Blue Bottle” products, which have the same formulations. After months of consumer and brand research, they introduced attendees the new name, Bio Advanced, at the IGC Show. The logo looks very similar to Bayer Advanced, and even has the same red shield. They wanted consumers to recognize the brand even though it has a new name. Many garden centers can relate to the process Bayer went through, as many have refreshed their name and logos as they try to maintain their history while marketing effectively to modern consumers. In addition to the new name, Bio Advanced introduced new products, including All-In-One Weed & Feed, which kills broadleaf lawn weeds like dandelion, clover and crabgrass while feeding the lawn.

Bio Advanced