March 8, 2021
tony digiovanniOn Jan. 28,  2021, the landscape profession lost Ed Bryant, the founder of Unilock. Ed was a visionary who pioneered the paving stone industry in North America. I find it remarkable that vision and visionaries can have such a great impact. How many thousands of people have been positively affected by the gardens and landscapes that were built with elements Ed first brought to North America? How many businesses and careers were propelled forward? How many other companies were elevated? How many people were inspired by his dreams, attitudes, energy and actions?    

I had the pleasure of meeting Ed in 1990. I had recently started my new job at Landscape Ontario when I received a call from Ed who asked me to come visit him. A few days later we met at his office near the airport. After the usual niceties he handed me a cheque for $10,000 made out to Landscape Ontario. I was surprised and puzzled. “What is this for?” I asked. He then pointed out the window to a long line of airplanes and said, “Every time I see an airplane land, I know there are approximately 300 people who won’t get their driveways and landscapes built this year. Find me nine other companies that will contribute $10,000 and we will run a television campaign to encourage people to stay home for their holidays and build paradise in their own backyards.” Ed also commented that Unilock was not a paving stone company, but a marketing company that happened to sell paving stones.

Ed was one of the first visionaries I had the pleasure of meeting. He understood that in order to sell paving stones it was necessary to promote the garden experience as a whole. It was not about the individual elements of the garden. It was not even about promoting the Unilock brand. It was about collaborating with others to understand the bigger picture, the larger opportunity and the broader message. It was also about understanding what the public needed and how to provide value and benefit. As another member once put it: “We are in the business of enhancing lives through what we do and who we are.”

Based on Ed’s ideas, we mounted a campaign called Operation Nurture. Within a few months we raised $278,000 and took out prime-time television commercials encouraging the public: “stay home for your holidays and build paradise in your own backyard.” We even had spots on Hockey Night in Canada.

We were inundated with calls from members who loved the fact we were actively promoting the profession on TV. Everyone felt good about the campaign. The problem was, we spent the entire budget in three weeks. Television was way too expensive, even though the cost per hundred was very low.

This experience taught us that in order to sustain the message we needed to have a reliable source of funding. This led to the idea of creating a marketing agency similar to the Milk Marketing Board. The Farm Products Marketing Act allows the formation of marketing agencies funded directly by producers. If 66 per cent of growers agree, then the government gives the agency authority to collect funds from all growers to be used for generic promotion. The concept is based on the idea that if everyone contributes, everyone benefits.   

The concept of generic promotion seeded by Ed Bryant evolved and we pursued the formation of a marketing agency. The agency idea did not work. Although growers seemed to be in agreement, when it came time for a vote, we did not achieve the required 66 per cent majority.   

However, the Operation Nurture experience proved how effective a generic and collective marketing message could be. This idea evolved into creating a world-class flower and garden show that would inspire and wow the public with a garden and landscape experience. We even recorded the goal in LO’s strategic plan. Years later, when Kathy Dembroski from the Garden Club of Toronto dropped into the office with an idea to organize a world class garden event, it was easy to say yes because the concept was already in our strategic plan. Canada Blooms was born.  

There is a direct connection from Ed’s original idea of generic promotion to the formation of Canada Blooms. Canada Blooms went on to inspire millions of visitors to “create paradise in your backyard.”

One of the last times I saw Ed was at a Unilock banquet held at Canada Blooms. He had a gleam in his eye as he talked about the importance of providing garden experiences. Ed’s vision and his legacy lives on.
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director