February 15, 2017
The best Congress ever
A new exhibitor-led digital marketing campaign resulted in stronger attendance at Congress this year.
By Robert Ellidge

Many email threads, social media and blog posts and delegates in attendance at Congress ’17 described the 44th edition of Canada’s Green Industry Show and Conference as “The best Congress ever.”

Held Jan. 10-12 at the Toronto Congress Centre in Toronto, Ont., Congress is produced by Landscape Ontario, whose mandate includes gathering green industry professionals together under one roof each year.

Show organizers made many changes this year; from an extensive digital marketing campaign, to utilizing new technology to adding more live demonstrations on the show floor. Show manager Heather MacRae says many exhibitors and attendees noticed the changes and described the show as a “refreshed and renewed Congress.”

Scott Duff, owner of Aura Landscaping, says Congress was one of the best shows he has been to in a number of years. Duff says the great networking, new plants and products and many learning opportunities are just a few things he gets out of his time spent at the show. “It’s so nice that we can gather together at one event to share ideas and not have to worry about being competitors; we kind of leave that at the door and we can actually be friends and colleagues,” says Duff.

A great way to start the year

Visitors to the show this year also commented on using Congress as a way to get energized and excited for the upcoming busy landscape season.

Dave Belton, now a salesperson from Ford Commercial Trucks, had previously been attending Congress for many years as an arborist. Belton says, “Congress is kind of the beginning of the season for landscapers who are making their buying decisions; everybody comes to Congress to see what’s new.” Belton is one of those who did notice a lot of changes to the show, adding “if it was the same show each year, I don’t think you would have strong attendance. But it’s pretty clear walking around the show floor that the attendance must be amazing this year.”

Belton’s observations about show attendance were correct. MacRae says well over 13,000 people attended the show this year, over 1,000 more than the previous year.

Digital marketing

MacRae strongly believes the increase in show attendance is partly due to a huge effort to modernize the exhibitor VIP passes and online registration system. Traditionally distributed as paper copies, VIP passes this year were also available to each exhibitor as a custom digital marketing piece they could then send to clients or suppliers, or post on social media. Registrations were tracked and exhibitors could then find out how many people registered. “It actually became a competition among some exhibitors to see how many people registered using this new tool,” MacRae says.

This new digital marketing tool involved a lot of behind-the-scenes work by LO staff and the show registration company, Conexsys, who, despite working on shows across Canada, had never seen the likes of such a campaign before. The online registration system was also updated to pre-populate information from Landscape Ontario’s extensive database, something that was just not possible in the past.

New entrance

“The biggest change we made this year involved moving the main entrance to the show,” says MacRae. For years, the main entrance was located toward the north end of the building and moving it to the mid-point of the building this year also took advantage of a new, permanent and well-decorated entrance built by the facility. Featuring a fireplace, built-in registration counters and a Starbucks, MacRae says the entrance “made a major difference to the Congress experience because it also helped to set the mood of the show.”

MacRae says moving the entrance also created a whole new traffic pattern on the show floor. In the past, the north end entrance resulted in one half of the building being very congested in the morning and not in the afternoon. The centrally located entrance helped disperse crowds more evenly throughout the show, creating a buzz in all three exhibit halls that was hard to ignore.

New technology

The show’s new entrance also got a technology update to include self-serve kiosks. “Anyone who already had a bar code could scan and print off their entry badge in less than a minute,” MacRae says, adding that despite almost running out of parking spaces on one day, long line ups were minimized in part by the kiosks and the new entrance layout, but also thanks to the help of many dedicated volunteers working helping arrivals at the entrance.

New technology on the show floor came in the form of five large, touch-screen kiosks that replaced the old back-light floor plan and exhibitor list signs. Each kiosk resembled a giant smartphone and users could view the floorplan, search or view a list of exhibitors or look up events, all via the new Congress app that was launched a week prior. When not in use, the screens fed social media posts containing live Tweets and images from around the show. MacRae says a lot of the new technology is a direct result of the show team visiting other shows to get ideas, but also from getting great feedback as well.

Visitor survey

In addition to constant feedback from visitors and attendees, MacRae says a more detailed survey is conducted about every five years. 2017 is one of those years and survey kiosks appeared in many areas around the show. Post-show, all attendees were reminded about the survey via an email campaign and a $1000 prize will be randomly awarded to one survey participant.
person leading a conference session in a full roomConference sessions featured experts from across North America.

Conference program

The Conference program, the educational program that runs concurrently with Congress, actually kicks off the day before the show. The Warm-Up Monday events held Jan. 9 included the IPM Symposium, Landscape Designer Conference and Peer to Peer Workshop.

IPM Symposium

The Cohen Ballroom had close to 400 people in attendance for the IPM Symposium which talked about creating better lawn care and business practices with the tools available to lawn care practitioners. A panel of leading experts focused on common problems faced by the lawn care sector. Attendees to the symposium qualified for six IPM Council of Canada continuing education credits.

Designers Conference

Presented with recognition of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects (OALA), this initiative of the LO Designer sector group began with the group’s annual general meeting. OALA President Doris Chee and executive director Aina Budrevics made a presentation on the Name Act and explained how cooperation between OALA and LO will help to serve both parties better. LO president Paul Brydges talked about the Canadian Landscape Standard and Fusion partners presented their program and some of their goals for the future.

The designers group presented the Outstanding Service Award for 2017 to Chris Mace of Gelderman Landscape Services for his hard work and dedication over the past five years to the group. Mace, who has been involved with the group for eight years, served as the chair for the past four. “There are so many benefits I’ve received from volunteering,” Mace says, “and to be able to sit around a table with a group of your peers is like getting free mentorship,” adding the many experts around the table at meetings have now become good friends as well.

Peer to Peer Network

The group attending the Peer to Peer session on Monday spent the day in an intense workshop, learning from each others’ success, led by Jacki Hart and co-presented by Patti Hanrath.

Once Congress opened on Tuesday, the full Conference program, presented in partnership with LMN, began with the first of many great keynote speakers — cookbook author and Food Network personality Anna Olsen.

Later that day, the Life Lessons at Lunch session featured a power panel comprised of owners from very large and successful companies. Nathan Helder moderated the panel and gave valuable advice and direction to the many business owners in the audience.

On Wednesday, some conference sessions had standing room only. The Owners Only Workshops continued to be very popular, identifying gaps in business operations and identifying pressure points for business owners. Judy Croon provided a break from the serious business discussions with her talk on dealing with difficult personalities in a lighthearted way.

On Thursday, the LO education department and the Come Alive Outside program teamed up to host a special session in the conference area for students.

Keynote speakers were a huge hit at the Conference, with lots of people talking on the show floor after presentations finished from Bill Hogg, Scott Cress and Becky Kellar.

Unfortunately, Conference speaker Christina Salwitz was unable to attend due to bad weather in the U.S. and a special thank you goes out to Beth Edney, Designs By the Yard, and J.W. Washington from Ariens for filling in for Christina’s sessions.

Hardscape LIVE!

Hardscape LIVE! returned to the show floor for a second straight year, offering live demonstrations twice daily. Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) instructor and hardscape guru Pat McCrindle and his team performed a continuous build throughout the show in a more intimate setting with two side stages and the addition of the Rock Hard Café. Bleachers for the demonstrations were full and qualifying attendees earned one ICPI continuing education credit for each session attended. New topics were added based on feedback from last year’s sessions, including two guest speakers: Frank Bourque and Rob Bowers, both from ICPI. The event is an initiative of LO’s Hardscape Committee.
  large crown gathered around a presenterVehicle circle checks attracted about 60 people twice a day on the show floor.

Vehicle circle checks

A new live demonstration was added this year that also drew large crowds. Led by retired OPP sergeant turned consultant Jim Slykhuis of J. Slykhuis Consulting and OPP constable Cory Kostyra, the 30-minute sessions included a vehicle pre-trip inspection and circle check, including proper tie-down of loads and hitching. Both during and in between sessions, Slykhuis and several OPP officers answered questions from the audience and provided information on safe operation and compliance. Based on the popularity of the sessions, show organizers are planning to offer this valuable safety tool again in 2018.

New products

New products continue to be one of the main reasons why people flock to Congress each year. In 2017, new equipment was added to the New Product Showcase feature, and attendees were also able to see and feel new models of riding mowers, tractors and more.

Student gardens

The student gardens were rebranded as the Canada Blooms Campus this year with the intention of connecting the future leaders of the profession to a popular and relevant home and garden show where they can further enhance their skills. The gardens by Durham College, Fanshawe College, Humber College, Niagara Parks Commission and Niagara District Catholic School Board added a nice green component to the show and offered an area for attendees to relax and escape the busy trade show.

First-year landscape design student Ethan Preston from Fanshawe College attended his first Congress this year and says he is “impressed with both the scale of the show and the wide array of products,” which, he doesn’t think he would have seen elsewhere.

Each student garden had support from a number of organizations and companies who donated product or material, without whom the gardens would not be possible. Special thanks to Gelderman Landscape Services for sponsoring lunch for all student garden builders for two days during construction and to Brian Cocks for overseeing the student gardens.

Legacy Room

On Tuesday, the LO Legacy Room provided a meeting place for the association and had many early leaders and innovators in attendance. The room proves to be a popular meeting spot for LO members. Thanks to the following Legacy Room sponsors: Brouwer Sod Farms/Kesmac, Echo ‎Power Equipment (Canada), Kobes Nurseries, Kubota Canada, Nutrite, Oaks by Brampton Brick, Stihl, G&L Group, The Investment Guild and Unilock.
  large group of award winners on stageAll award winners gathered on stage at the conclusion of the awards ceremony.

Awards of Excellence ceremony

Changes were also made for the popular awards night held at the International Plaza Hotel on Tuesday night. In response to a lot of engaged attendees from previous awards ceremonies, the awards rose to the challenge and changed things up this year. In addition to the theme of ‘Paint the Town Green,’ the ceremony had artists painting landscapes (one painting was the winner of the Dunington-Grubb Award).

A small change in how winners received their awards got positive feedback and helped to shave 45 minutes off the run time of the show.

Host Frank Ferragine from Breakfast Television was outstanding. Extra thanks to Beth Edney, Designs By the Yard, for her amazing work on the décor and AV Canada for supplying upgrades. The event would not take place without the support of G&L Group and Connon Nurseries CBV. The G&L ice sculpture and green drinks were a big hit at the LO President’s Reception before the ceremony. G&L Group once again gave away a trip to Mont Tremblant, running a social media contest during the evening to determine the winner. Congratulations to Michael Thiessen from The Green Alternative on winning the prize.

LO events coordinator Kristen McIntyre says the change in procedure for the award winners provided a personal first for her; “I actually got to greet every single winner and give them their award.”

In addition to awards for landscape projects, the ceremony also recognized individuals who have made a significant impact on the lives of others and who have helped to better the profession. Mark Cullen’s heartfelt acceptance of an Honourary Life Membership, with his family in attendance, was a very special moment. Cullen became only the tenth person to receive the award.

mark cullen holding an award on stage next to his son, Ben CullenMark Cullen (centre) accepts an Honourary Life Membership Award with his family on stage.
Case Vanderkruk and Andrew Barbour of NVK Holdings accepted the Legacy Award for their work on the Vimy Oaks project to return native Oaks to the site of the Vimy memorial in France.

Lots of volunteers work behind the scenes at many Landscape Ontario events, and the awards ceremony provided the opportunity to publicly recognize John Moons for his contribution over many, many years to ensure the annual Growers Auction runs smoothly. Moons was awarded the Past President’s Award for his many years of service.

With attendance for the evening steadily growing over the years to surpass the 600 mark, a new layout of the room was used this year. Noise and screen visibility had also become issues and many screens were added this year to immerse the audience in the on-stage presentations.

Again this year, the judging panel was impressed by the high level of craftsmanship, quality construction and attention to detail by LO members.

A display showing all award winners appeared in the Conference area of the show, and this year extended to a large area on the show floor, providing recognition to a whole new audience of exhibitors and trade show attendees.

Meeting of members

On Wednesday morning, Landscape Ontario held its annual general meeting at the International Plaza Hotel where members got an update on all association activities and gave input on the direction and focus for the future.

Tailgate Party

By Wednesday afternoon the show floor was already buzzing with anticipation for the annual post-show Tailgate Party. Attendance to the event has also climbed steadily over the past few years and over 900 guests were fed and entertained this year. Visitors were treated to the sights and sounds of the DeeGees who played many popular songs, including a sing-a-long set that used audience members as backup singers. Games tables and a hockey game on the large screens provided a fun atmosphere for exhibitors and attendees after a busy day at the trade show.

Garden Centre Symposium

On Thursday at the Garden Centre Symposium, speaker Tom Shay drilled down with independent garden centre owners and provided them with lots of ideas to take back and try at their retail locations this spring. The event also included the presentation of LO Garden Centre Awards of Excellence and provided a great networking opportunity for those in attendance.

Irrigation Conference

This year’s gathering of the irrigation profession focused on sustainability and new opportunities for irrigation contractors in regards to sustainability combined with new technology. An update on the WSIP program was given by Jeremy Harris from the Region of Peel.

Government grant

Attendees of the conferences, symposiums and educational events can apply for reimbursement of the fees paid under the Canada-Ontario Job Grant. The Ontario government will pay up to two-thirds of the cost (up to $10,000 per employee) for all paid education at Congress ’17. For details, visit gfl.me/h3ht.
  five people standing in a booth holding an awardIn-Lite Design received the Best Promotion Award from show organizers.

Best booth and promotion awards

After five years as show manager, MacRae says she is still amazed by the amount of work exhibitors put into their displays and the number of exhibitors who have entire new displays each year.

Each year, a panel of judges looks at each of the 600 exhibits and awards are handed out on the second day of the trade show. This years winners are:
In-Lite Design, Best Promotion Award
Select Stone, 100-400 sq. ft., excluding heavy equipment
Permacon, over 400 sq. ft., excluding heavy equipment
Bobcat Company, heavy equipment
Dewalt Canada, small equipment
NVK Holdings, Paul J. Day Award for Best of Show.

Members of the Show Committee also presented special plaques to the following show supporters:
Global Arch Natural Stone Wholesale, Platinum sponsor
Banas Stone, Platinum sponsor
LMN, Platinum sponsor
G&L Group, Gold sponsor
Cub Cadet Pro, Gold sponsor
Connon Nurseries CBV, Gold sponsor
Surefoot Hardscape Products, Silver sponsor


Congress ’17 would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of many volunteers. Landscape Ontario would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance: Lee Benson, CLD; Cees Braamse; Irene Bultena; Connie Cadotte; Rachel Castellano; Barb Coote; Keith Desjardins; Harry de Vries, Paul Domingues, CIT; Beth Edney, CLD; Kim Edwards; Pat Hartman; Liz Klose, CLM; Luke Koudys; John Lamberink; Jody LaPorte; Skai Leja; Terence Liu; Brian Lofgren; Henry Markus; Teresa Matamoros; Norm Mills; Fran Moore; Cassie O’Neill; Chloe Philip; Adele Pierre, CLD; Irina Polstvin; Lisa Purves; Greg Redshaw; George Schellingerhoud; Ron Sikkema; Margaret Stinson; Ivan Stinson; Gerrit Tervrugt, Anna van Maris; Bruce Warren; Eilleen Warren, Welwyn Wong, Alex Zalewski.

Show Committee

Volunteers also make up the Show Committee, a group of Landscape Ontario members who meet throughout the year to make decisions and set the direction for the show. MacRae says, “The Show Committee, led by Michael LaPorte was amazing. They work long hours and are active on the show floor, working with members and exhibitors and they really are tremendous ambassadors for Congress. Together with the many dedicated and hard working volunteers, they are truly the silent heroes behind the scenes.”

Members of the Show Committee are: Michael LaPorte, CLT, Chair; Paul Brydges; Terry Childs; Brian Cocks; Douglas Coote; Paul DeGroot; Barry Dickson; Beth Edney, CLD; Nathan Helder; Kim Iceton; Mike Riehm; Klaas Sikkema; Peter Vanderley; and Jason Vettese.

LO members are invited to participate on the Show Committee. Anyone interested can contact Heather MacRae at heather@landscapeontario.com.

Congress will return to the Toronto Congress Centre, Jan. 9-11, 2018.

Read more about Congress 2017

Fanshawe College student garden donated to local mosque   Read more

High school students in the spotlight   Read more

2017 Landscape Ontario Awards of Excellence winners   Read more