MANTS representatives ‘proud’ of virtual event
BALTIMORE — The Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show was held virtually this year from Jan. 6-8, and the content will remain open online through April 8. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tradeshow was not in-person this year, but a Business Hub was created to make interaction and show commerce still possible.
It is a bit like comparing apples to oranges when looking at the attendee statistics for a virtual versus in-person events. Past MANTS events had more than 11,600 total registrants, including exhibitors.
This year, there were more than 3,000 total registrants, including exhibitors, who signed in to the online business hub for the three days of focused connection and commerce. Attendees were from 42 states and 12 countries who engaged with 550 exhibiting companies.
“I’m extremely proud of what MANTS was able to accomplish in convening our green industry suppliers and buyers and thankful to all who supported the MANTS Business Hub this year,” said MANTS Executive Vice President Vanessa A. Finney. “Despite not being able to meet in person due to the pandemic, we continued the tradition of MANTS meaning business in January, and we look forward to when we can all gather together in person once again.”
The attendee experience for the virtual event was somewhat different this year. “I did not place orders, when normally I would try to fill holes,” said Tom Bowman, category manager buyer with Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Md. “I watched a few seminars and invited my staff to watch. It was very well done. I wish I had taken time to watch more.”
Bowman added that “the advantages of this format was not so much time wasted chit-chatting, catching-up, etc. The drawback is not having the time to chit-chat, catching up, etc. Most likely, MANTS is the one time of year to see a friend/vendor. Also, a drawback was not being able to ask vendors in person about inventory. The other disadvantage was getting an email from vendors just from clicking on their link. I get enough emails as it is. Although it was just a courteous ‘thanks for stopping by,’ it was not needed.”
Lorraine Ballato, a member of the garden media, said she liked that she could get to all the presentations without the travel time and expense and “didn’t get stuck in any one booth.” What she missed was “the obvious lack of personal contact and ability to meet new people and nurture established relationships. I missed being with ‘my tribe’ and really missed seeing greenery in January.”
“This year, as MANTS went virtual, most of my workmates missed out on the experience altogether,” said Carrie Engel, retail greenhouse manager of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, Md.
“Our management team goes to MANTS for the networking it allows with many of our current vendors,” Engel added. “Without the networking opportunities, most of our buyers sadly passed on the show this year. Our orders have already been placed, though we might look for new vendors, new plants, or new merchandising ideas. And, to be honest, we are undergoing a major software upgrade at the store; several of our managers were involved in that launch.
“The virtual format worked well … considering,” said Engel. “The excitement of this flagship trade show was missing. It has always been about the connections within the industry. As most of the green industry did exceptionally well last year, we also missed the ‘How did your year end up?’ questions. The price was right for the experience, offering good value as it gave us one place to find many of our growers. Depending on what the future has in store, a hybrid MANTS may be the way to go for some attendees, combining some of the virtual components with a live event.”
“As with any ‘new’ event, we knew interactions would be greatly reduced,” said Wendy Brister, marketing director of Cavano’s Perennials, Inc. in Kingsville, Md. “In addition to general Cavano’s promotions/Zoom meetings, we offered two webinars to both MANTS attendees and our overall customer base. The response to these educational offerings was very positive.”
Brister said “the greatest drawback was the lack of conversation and personal interactions, which was expected. However, we made the best of the situation and used it as a learning experience for future virtual events.”
From the exhibitor point of view, “this year was tough,” said Rick Watson, president of The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, Md. “MANTS is such a people-driven show so it’s difficult to replicate that experience virtually; however, the virtual show provided us with a new outlet to showcase our products, new plants, brands, and more to a larger audience.”
Watson said despite the show’s changes, business was still good.
“I think the orders placed were about the same as from previous shows,” he said. “The big advantage for us was being able to reach some of our customers who aren’t usually able to attend the show in Baltimore.
“With our options so limited right now, I would consider this year of MANTS a success,” Watson said. “We had a great response to the content we posted and had a lot of fun hosting Dr. Allan Armitage on The Perennial Farm page for a live Q&A. Like everyone, we look forward to doing this in-person again soon, but I’m glad we were able to participate in this year’s virtual MANTS and certainly want to thank everyone at the show for doing such a great job and allowing us to continue to be a part of it.”
MANTS 2022 is scheduled to be back at the Baltimore Convention Center on Jan. 5-7, 2022.