According To Seabrook ... Experience trumps economists every time

Trade conferences have been of great value to me over the years, providing good opportunities to network and learn about innovations in horticultural production and sales. But their cost in cash and time in recent years does not look good value when the programmes of speakers are studied.

When I attended my first HTA Conference in the early 1960s, and heard what the Bygraves family were doing with container plant production and retailing, it affected the rest of my working life. Almost without exception the most has been gained from those who speak from within the trade.

Speakers from banking and market research businesses leave me cold. If economists can forecast what is likely to happen, why did we have the banking crisis? If study groups and pollsters can forecast public reaction to new products, every novelty line introduced would be a success.

The highlights for me at the annual Garden Centre Association (GCA) Conference are the reports by the inspectors. Where else can you sit for a couple of hours and be taken into more than 100 garden centres nationwide with commentary from experienced eyes and minds?

I find inspirational speakers expensive, an unnecessary luxury and soon forgotten. The GCA Conference this year celebrated 50 years but nowhere on the programme was there any reference to lessons learnt and good ideas introduced over those years.

Surely there would have been value in a younger member interviewing someone with considerable experience over those 50 years - the likes of Colin Squire, Eddie Topping, Mike Cooling or Jeffrey Bernhard. They might prompt a review of national promotional activity such as the GCA flag raising, an event that attracted local and national publicity.

It is said "disasters happen when the last person who experienced a similar happening leaves". Are we wise to abandon the lessons from 50 years of trading?

Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster

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