Chicago Day 3

The problem that sometimes arises on one of these “working vacations” is that you start to see so much in such a short period of time that it all becomes somewhat of a blur. On Monday morning, we set out on the Garden Centers of America Chicagoland tour. We met the bus early, coffee cup in hand, anxious to get started. There were now four in our immediate group, as we are joined by Giselle from Dr. Earth/Kellogg’s and Julie Ruf of Greenhouse Garden Centers in Carson. The first stop on the tour was Alsip’s Home & Nursery Super Store, a very large facility that was established 39 years ago. While their location was extremely diversified, they sell everything ….plants..hardware….PETS, as in adorable little puppies and kittens, it was not applicable to the type of center that we have. I did have a great chat with a man about updating our website, and that short amount of time brainstorming with him was worth the cost of tour to me. Stop # 2, Sid’s Home & Garden Showplace was more of the same in that it felt more like a very large home & hardware center, with a plant selection added on. I did pick up some great info on signage options though, and the mascots were adorable. Back on the bus, and our tour guide, Shanan, has now delegated our bus #3, The Fun Bus! During the approximately 45 minutes in between each stop she has been walking up and down the aisle with her portable microphone, asking questions and gathering ideas from everyone on the bus and we have started networking and getting to know each other. There are 4 buses total, almost 200 people on the tour from all over the country, so the networking with peers is a big benefit to something of this sort. Stop # 3 is Henri’s Fountain facility, where we tour their artist’s rooms and learn how original pieces are created. This was one of the highlights of the tour as we watched their master artist Rong Xou create new selections for the spring of 2009. After the short tour, I took the opportunity to go back and speak to him about his creations and learned that Henri’s had assisted him 11 years ago to acquire his employment visa. He was part of a very large group of artists in China that sculpted the tribute to Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square , and was involved with creating replicas of the 2000-year-old Terra Cotta horses that were discovered in China. He was an extremely animated man and took me over to his laptop to show me his website where I could find more information about his creations. Stop #4 blew our socks off! We pulled up in the parking lot, and everyone on the bus was anxious to get out the door to the bus and hit the ground running. Now this was a garden center! Platt Hill Nursery was established 28 years ago First impressions really are critical in our business, and this location receives 5 gold stars in my book. It was lush; it was immaculate, creative and filled with knowledgeable and passionate plant people. We spent the better part of 90 minutes here trying to take it all in and visit every corner of the facility. Back on the bus, we headed from the suburb area of Chicago to the heart of the city. How four huge tour buses managed to wind themselves down the extremely narrow side streets of downtown Chicago was amazing in itself. We started to wonder how we could possibly be in the right area when we turned a corner and tucked under the elevated train tracks was an eye popping, color infused final stop of the day, City Escape Garden Center, . It is so hard to describe this stop…art filled every space where there were not plants. I have included some photos of the different locations….and will post more when I get back home.

The day ended with an amazing meal, once again. George Bowman with Laguna Ponds took us Bistro 110, a culinary explosion. Tucked into the side street that aligns the famous Water Tower building, we sat at a street side table and recapped our day for him. We finished our evening with a nightcap on the 96th Floor of the Hancock Tower, and then it was back to our wonderfully comfortable hotel for good night’s rest. The trade show opens early Tuesday morning and we want to hit the ground running. Till then, Susan