Unique varieties with distinct coloring were on display on TPIE's tours and on the show floor.
Photo: Chris Manning

The 2017 edition of the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) took place from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The event, which featured a large trade show floor and tours, is the industry’s biggest tropical plant showcase. Here are 13 takeaways from TPIE.

1. “2017 is your year.”

Jane Lockhart, a Toronto-based interior designer, TV personality and trend spotter, kicked off the show’s keynote with this message for the horticulture industry. She said she’s seeing signs and has had conversations with people indicating their sales have gone up due to the fact that the Pantone color of the year is “Greenery.” Plants and design go hand-in-hand, and Lockhart says people are taking that concept one step further, looking at plants as sculptures and as part of the overall architecture of their space. Linda Adams, COO of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) echoed this sentiment later in a podcast with the GIE Media Horticulture group. Indoor, tropical plants are hot, and consumers are looking for containers and foliage that match their personal style.

2. Word of-mouth referrals are essential.

Lockhart explained that 82 percent of Millennials (compared to 52 percent of Baby Boomers) respond more to recommendations from friends and family then traditional advertising. They value authenticity and simplicity, found in some of their favorite brands like TOMS, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle.

Costa Farms' booth featured a fully furnished tiny home to draw in attendees and was ultimately recognized as "best of show."
Photo: Michelle Simakis

3. Consider trends for 2017 when planning for the year.

People increasingly want both the convenience of a city and the homey feel and space of a suburb, Lockhart said, resulting in the “urbanization of suburbs,” where city-like amenities are within reach. Retro and nostalgic décor is in and can be found in the garden industry, especially in hard goods like containers. Black and white and modern gothic designs of the ’80s are also making a comeback, as are copper, rose gold and shimmery surfaces as part of a mid-century modern resurgence.

4. Consumer research studies are underway.

The University of Florida and the National Horticulture Foundation are partnering on a consumer research project studying the eye movement of shoppers in a retail situation to gauge their interests, with the goal of helping growers and retailers be more strategic about plant selection and merchandising. At the show, attendees had an opportunity to participate in the study. Sitting at a computer, images from show booths appeared on the screen with questions below about what appealed to subjects. While this was happening, a sensor tracked their actual eye movement, helping to determine subconsciously what they liked. Some attendees also took their participation a step further, walking around the show floor wearing special glasses (at $30,000 a pop) that track eye movement and also feed video of their real time viewpoints to a screen showing what they were drawn to. Dr. Hayk Khachatryan, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor and one of the lead researchers on the project, followed the subjects, monitoring their visuals with an iPad. Insights from a different consumer study conducted by Delray Plants were displayed right on the company’s award-winning booth built with mostly reclaimed wood. Messages like “plants as décor,” “plants add personality and atmosphere” and “add color to your living space with plants” were presented around the home-like structure to both reveal results and inspire attendees.

5. Think about new ways to display plants.

Plants hung from ceilings, walls and even people’s necks at the show. Roses in light bulb-shaped vases were suspended at Koen Pack’s display. Attendees could pick up an “Air Necklace” from LiveTrends, which is exactly what it sounds like — a tiny tillandsia, or air plant, perched in a ceramic vase and attached to a cord. Interior design vignettes showcased at TPIE included a kitchen scene with magenta orchids wrapped by their roots on a fixture above the counter. A serene bathroom featured a green wall with a beautiful tapestry of plants behind the tub.

6. Booths are incredibly creative at TPIE, and can serve as retail inspiration.

People went all out brainstorming and executing their booth designs at the show, and many were rewarded for their efforts. Costa Farms built a tiny house, complete with a bed, a glass coffee table with succulents encased below, stairs, a bathtub filled with plants, a mailbox and more, and took home the “best of show” booth award. The paparazzi flooded J. Berry Nursery’s glamorous set-up, inspired by its Hollywood Hibiscus series and complete with a red carpet and film reels. They may not have walked away with an Oscar, but they did take home first in the 10x10 booth award category. United Nursery looked to the East Coast for its “Plants in the City” booth, which included a floor-to-ceiling tapestry with a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline, brick apartments with stoops and plants for all the star characters of “Sex in the City,” and even a real New York Post newspaper stand. They scored that on Craigslist.

7. Growers are seeking lighting alternatives.

On the TPIE production tour, lighting was a popular topic. While some growers have embraced LEDs, others are skeptical. As a result, a number of operations are currently looking and exploring alternatives as they look to improve the lighting in their greenhouses. Aside from using light to improve growing efficiency and plant quality, cost was the most talked about aspect of improving lighting.

Booth designs from United Nursery and plant designs at Bullis Bromeliads and Costa Farms were made in hopes of grabbing people's attenton with one look.
Photos: Chris Manning

8. Succulents and cacti are pathways to reaching younger consumers.

At Costa Farms, a Miami-based plant grower and the final stop of TPIE’s production tour, a variety of plants were on display, including a few that were even taller than some of the attendees. But it was the two smallest crops on display — succulents and cacti — that may have left the biggest impression. According to Costa, succulents and are two categories that enable them to better reach younger consumers, as their size and the ease of taking care of them makes them more accessible than other offerings. Painted cacti, as seen on this month's cover, stood out as a possible option for growers who sell their own product.

9. Florida can be a hotbed for pests.

During the pest management workshop on the first day of the show, UF-IFAS professor Catharine Mannion gave a detailed presentation on landscape pests. Along with several lessons about identifying insect stages and why damage can be hard to identify, Mannion explained why Florida can be a hotbed for new pests. Its vulnerability is due in part to the Sunshine State’s mild climate and high plant diversity. In fact, one to two new pests arrive in Florida each month on average, according to Mannion.

10. Growers are being affected by warmer temperatures.

While many growers at TPIE hailed from the surrounding areas, there was also a strong Canadian presence on the show floor. Interestingly, some growers from Canada have been dealing with unusually warm temperatures this winter and it has impacted their growing strategies. For example, Sunrise Greenhouses in Ontario, Canada, was forced to move a few of the pine products they would normally grow outdoors into a protected environment where they could better control the temperatures and keep the crops cool enough.

Booths at TPIE, like J. Berry's as shown above, were creatively and distinctly designed with consumers in mind.
Photo: Michelle Simakis

11. Zika isn’t as much of a concern for greenhouse growers.

Zika has been in the headlines for the better part of a year, and it’s a concern for the horticulture industry. In Florida, it’s a particularly important issue. But for operations growing exclusively under cover, don’t fret: It’s highly unlikely to affect you or your employees. Zika-carrying mosquitos could still be found in warmer areas, but they probably won’t be found in greenhouses. And unless they are shipped with tropicals heading north, it’s unlikely Zika will spread to colder states because the two mosquito species that carry Zika cannot breed in colder climates.

12. Florida is full of interesting, inspiring gardens.

The TPIE Garden Writers tour was a more than 12-hour garden gawking marathon that included visits to The Kampong, a garden on the Biscayne Bay that is one of six that comprise the National Tropical Botanic Garden (the others are in Hawaii) Patch of Heaven Gardens, a 20-acre private estate, which includes a cocoa growing operation, Costa Farms trial gardens, R.F. Orchids and the Montgomery Botanical Center, which is primarily an arboretum of cycads and palm trees. One great takeaway we saw for grower-retailers during the tour was at the Costa Farms trial gardens, which was set up especially to spark merchandising, marketing and educational ideas. They featured new ways to use pallets and cinder blocks, plus they had a row of 12 “Pinworthy Projects,” an idea per month that grower-retailers could share with consumers or use to build workshops. One incredibly simple project was April’s “Front Porch Address Marker,” which uses a little bit of paint and a terra cotta pot to beautifully display the numbers of an address.

13. TPIE’s production tour was informative and insightful.

Each grower visit offered visitors something different. At the first stop, Bullis Bromeliads in Princeton, Florida, attendees saw custom-grown bromeliad Christmas trees and benching that served dual growing and retailing purposes. The next stop, Island Tropical Foliage near Miami, focused on how to approach the duality of growing under cover and in the field. And at Costa Farms, the tour’s final stop in Miami, attendees were able to learn how Costa combines growing with retail and why that gives them an advantage over the competition. Specifically, the multifaceted nature of Costa’s business means that they take consumer trends into consideration when they are planning a production schedule, which allows them to make educated, thoughtful decisions about what to produce, and when.

For more TPIE coverage, visit greenhousemag.com