This past weekend I attended Cultivate15 in Columbus, OH for Bob's Market. Cultivate, formerly the OFA Shortcourse, is largest conference and trade show for horticultural professionals in the US. It is attended by over 10,000 people from all over the world.
Each year my goal for attending is to pick up technology and marketing ideas that I can use for the year ahead. This year I picked up a ton of great ideas, and was inspired by the technology that I saw being utilized. Having attended since 2009, I believe the horticultural industry is on the verge of a technology renaissance. Here are a couple of my observations.
Internet of Things
IoT has been in the news for a few years now, but I am finally seeing it start to spread to greenhouse technology. Argus, SBI, and other greenhouse tech companies are finally embracing mobile apps for everything from greenhouse system controls to inventory software. Previously, most of the mobile apps I use at Bob's have been the result of me hacking software and hardware designed for other uses. For example, using RDP apps to access greenhouse control servers remotely. It wasn't very user friendly, but it worked.
Now we are seeing component-level devices with internet access being utilized by greenhouses (similar to things like internet connected thermostats). This is going to give growers much more fine-grained control over their facilities when they are offsite or in other areas. This also presents a challenge for greenhouse IT staff as networking in a greenhouse presents its own series of challenges as I have learned over the years at Bob's. Lightning strikes, water, heat, and dust all need to be considered when building a network in a greenhouse.
If your company is not online, it doesn't exist. Simple as that. When I started at Bob's back in 2009, having a website was good, and being on social was considered cutting edge. That's simply not enough now. You need to be engaging your customers online by having conversations with them on social media, paying for social advertising, and producing engaging content.
Millennials i.e. folks my age and younger are more likely to search Google than the Yellow Pages (they still make those?) to find out information on your business. Before we set foot in you store, restaurant, etc., we have looked you up online, read reviews, and already formed an opinion about your business. It is imperative that you are not only aware of this, but also are actively engaging customers online. The life of your company now depends on it!