Organisers consider moving EastGro show location yearly after visitor numbers drop

A big fall in visitor numbers has prompted EastGro organisers to consider moving the event's location on an annual basis.

The number of visitors to the horticultural trade fair fell from 404 in 2009 to 224 this year, which the organisers partly attributed to the event being held in the same location for two consecutive years.

Organiser Sue Last said: "At the moment we go to a new place every two years and we always get more visitors in the first year that we go somewhere. The possibility of moving each year is partly about visitor numbers being down but it's also an enormous commitment for a venue. We are talking to venues - it would be as much for them as for visitors."

This was the second year that the event was held at John Woods Nurseries in Suffolk, before it moves to Howard Nurseries in Norfolk in 2011. Last disagreed that the HTA National Plant Show had forced numbers down further, arguing that the shows served different markets.

"I'm sure the fact that people have been busy had an effect too," she added. "This is what made only one person come from garden centres rather than two. That would halve numbers immediately."

John Woods marketing manager Jo Davey agreed that growers and retailers were busier this summer. "We have had a very strong July and August," she said. "Last year at EastGro we didn't dispatch at all during the week of the show, but this year we have had a very strong week."

Exhibitor and former host WD Smith & Son partner Michael Smith said organisers should consider turning the event biennial to keep interest alive. "The question to ask with moving it every year would be are there are enough nurseries to go around? I think if you moved the show every year it would end up going back to the same nurseries all the time," he said.

"There really wasn't a great turnout this year but we did some business. There weren't enough garden centres there and maybe there weren't enough nurseries exhibiting because the balance seemed more towards sundries."

He added: " I wonder whether we could have it as a biennial show instead - it might make people keener to come." But Last rejected the idea of a biennial show, saying: "I don't think it would work."

As a mark of the number of nursery exhibitors, the new plant award was merged with the new product award. It was won by Melcourt Industries for its peat-free growing-media range Sylvamix.

The range was relaunched this year by Melcourt, which now manufactures the product itself after its original contractor Vapogro went bust last autumn. Melcourt technical director Catherine Dawson said: "This is an excellent range of growing media that for once allows growers to move to peat-free growing with total confidence."

Bridge Nurseries won the best stand award. Partner David Lodge said he was pleased with the event despite the low turnout. "It was very quiet but we saw a lot of existing customers, which is always good, and we did get some potential leads," he said.

"It would have been good if there had been more visitors but its still worth doing. The timing was a factor - the new HTA show definitely affected Woking and I suspect it might have affected this too."

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