Four Oaks Awards Preview: In it to win it

No matter the size of the product, an award from Four Oaks could help bring in customers and boost business, writes Kris Collins.

As the stature of the Four Oaks show has grown, making it the number-one trade show for horticultural produce, so too has the standing of its annual awards ceremony. Each year a host of plants, products and services are put forward to be independently judged in order to identify the best new offerings from the industry.

There are huge benefits to picking up an award at Four Oaks - the company is recognised by its peers and competitors, and it acts as a great marketing tool and entry point to making new sales and customers.

Seiont Nurseries picked up the Four Oaks Best Plant Award in 2006 for Heucherella 'Stoplight'. Nursery manager Neil Alcock says the award has helped to created interest in the firm's wider range, while confirming the nursery's opinion that it has one of the best plants on the market. He tells HW: "We are known for our Heucherella, being one of the biggest UK suppliers of US-bred stocks. Any new cultivar we get we look to place in award categories to keep the interest in our product. One plant in our range that is an award winner will hopefully draw interest to our other products.

"You can't be too opinionated about your own produce, even if it is the best around, so it's nice to have your sentiments about a plant quantified with an award."

With all the interest generated from an award, Alcock is looking forward to entering again this year and has high hopes for one plant in particular: "We'll be entering our own introduction, Phormium 'Back in Black'. We've been working on it for about four years to produce a dwarf compact plant with the blackest of purple foliage - and it's reliable, unlike some of the other dark options on the market."

Grazers of North Yorkshire picked up the best professional equipment award in 2007 for its amenity-targeted Grazers spray formula for prevention against rabbit and pigeon damage to plants. The product is a smaller, bottled version of the successful grower/farmer version.

Grazers managing director Jonathan Tebb-Roger says he has used the Four Oaks award logo on promotional and marketing material to generate interest - and it's working. He says: "The award is a useful thing to mention when promoting our product. It reassures people of the quality of the product. We work with the retail, amenity and commercial growing sectors.

"The Four Oaks awards are industry-focused - we don't sell straight to the consumer so it is a key award for us, recognised by most of our potential customer base. It goes past the one product it was handed to and draws interest to our whole range, whether it's a retail or commercial bottle."

However, winning an award is not just about product recognition. For Humax managing director Jonathan Cox, a Four Oaks award is also great for boosting morale within a company. Last year the Cumbrian company picked up the Best Retail Product Award and Best Overall Product for its organic vegetable growbag. The product was commended for its versatility. It has been designed to provide 10 uses - from potato growing to sweetcorn and salads - all without the need for fertilisers, simply by opening the bag in one of several different ways.

"There is a number of benefits to winning a Four Oaks award," says Cox. "Firstly, it's a morale booster for all the people involved in the product's development and launch. It's great for inter-company relationships - our sales team are all impressed with the design and production people (whereas often) they are at loggerheads.

"Secondly, the sales team are given an industry accolade with which they can approach new customers, giving them a toe in the door to gaining new accounts. Customers can also use it for promotion in-store, flagging it up as an award-winning product.

"An award can also generate a lot of free publicity within the garden media, which also helps to boost sales. Having won the award, we are seeing people who have turned down our products in the past returning to us to find out more about it and the rest of our range."

But Cox has a word of warning for anyone thinking of entering this year's awards and advises entrants to come prepared: "The only downside to winning a Four Oaks award is the bar bill at the end of the night."

ENTERING THE AWARDS

Horticulture Week and sister title Garden Retail will once again be sponsoring the awards at this year's Four Oaks Trade Show. All products to be entered should be detailed on the official New Products Award entry form (Form 6 of the exhibitor pack), which should be submitted to show organiser Pat Coutts before the end of August.

The products being entered for the awards need to be delivered to the designated display area by 5pm on set-up day, 3 September. Judging will take place on the morning of the first day of the show, 4 September.

Winners will be announced during a special awards ceremony at 5.15pm that day. This will be followed by a supper for exhibitors in the seminar marquee. The supper is free of charge and all exhibitors are welcome.

The following categories are open for entries in this year's Four Oaks awards:

- Bedding and pot plants
- Nursery stock
- Professional products and services
- Retail products
- Professional equipment
- Technical excellence
- Most innovative exhibit
- Best overseas exhibit


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