Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No is the answer.

Should I stay or should I go ?

Cue up the music.

The question refers to the upcoming San Francisco Garden Show, which by the way is not in San Francisco but in San Mateo.

The answer, after much rumination and research says , “no”.

No, I do not think that doing a small pocket garden vignette/ exhibition garden would be a smart investment in this current economy for my small design firm.

Of course this is a gamble, a calculated gamble, but a gamble no less.

The basic premise is that as a designer of a show garden, be it large or small, there is a significant outlaying of time and funds.

In my mind and pocketbook, this equates to a meaningful inve$tment .

The biggest market impact in deciding against doing the show is the timing. And as they say, timing is everything.

The economy is slightly gaining in pace, but from my extensive conversations with design professionals the residential landscape design and construction market is down, way down, and it is not going to bounce back to the days of yesteryear any time soon.

So when you take this info into consideration , along with the amount of time and money that is required to install a exhibition garden , the payback is highly likely to be small in comparison to the investment.

Other mitigating factors that come into play for my specific firm is that The Show is now held in San Mateo and not San Francisco. - (In my opinion a mistake by the producers )
My office is located north of the Golden Gate bridge and my client base is located in Marin, Sonoma, Napa Valley and The Sea Ranch . On occasion I have traveled to Carmel but those jobs were just shy of a million dollars plus or minus. I don’t see much new residential landscape design and installation work in the million dollar range in the next year, people are playing it very conservative and cautious.

Realistically, to do a high quality, exceptional calibre exhibition garden, even in a small space ( 10 x 10 ) the investment is going to be around $ 1000 to $ 3000.00 dollars or more.
The gambling question is , can you make that investment back plus a profit within a year or two , in this current economy ?

I don’t think so. In another economic climate I would say a resounding yes, but I’m not feeling confident about the next year.

Our business is down about 65 %. The budget for the jobs has dropped significantly.
Gone are the days of our average installation budget of $ 265 to $ 350 K and the occasional million dollar plus landscape install.
We’re seeing budgets in $ 10 K to $ 40 K.

So in closing, I don’t see the investment of doing the S.F./ San Mateo Garden Show a favorable investment for my small North Bay design firm.

Photo from the 2008 show, when it was still located in San Francisco at the Cow Palace.
From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

From San Francisco Garden Show 2008

San Francisco Garden Show 1990 at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco
From Water fountains in the landscape


danger garden said...

Well my first question has to be: why did they move it? I'm guessing it's a cheaper place to have it? Is this show under new ownership like the Seattle show?

Not that you need anyone to tell you but I think you made the right decision. Working in a slightly similar field (marketing for an architecture firm) I certainly agree with your statement about things not going back to the way they were anytime soon (if ever).

But (there has to be a but) I selfishly wish you were doing the show...if only to watch the process and see finished photos on your blog!

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

Loree/ Danger garden ,
Thank you for wading through all that verbiage and taking the time to make a comment.

The S.F. Garden Show was moved last year to the San Mateo Conference center because the Cow Palace was potentially going to be demolished. I'm sure that there were other reasons too.
The choice of moving south to San Mateo by Salmon Bay Corp. was probably a good one from a financial standpoint but it impacts the North Bay region in a negative stance in regards to its location.
I think the new ownership (just purchased) missed a valuable opportunity in finding a new venue that was more centrally located in The City .
Perhaps there was a pre-contract agreement when the new owners bought the show last year that they use the San Mateo Center, I don't know, but I know that they have lost some valuable attendees by relocating south of The City.

The additional travel time to San Mateo was certainly a factor when making my decision not to do the show.

I'm interested enough to the show to drive down once to see it, but I'm not dedicated enough to drive down for several days of set up, then 5 days of the show and then another day or two for break down.

I'm making a calculated gamble that next year's economy would not warrant the investment .


Susan aka Miss. R said...

As I answered in your question about my showhouse garden...it is largely about location. If I had to travel 45 mins + I probably would not do it. I also hope (unsubstantiated) that each time I do something like this that it will reach 1 client with a significant or interesting project and chalk the co$t up to advertising. So far I've been lucky.

Tara Dillard said...

Good reasons for not doing the show. Especially factoring your time.

Curious about what the show offered as direct marketing for you? Your company in a magazine with pictures/article, website article/pics? Lecture slot with extra marketing? What subsidy was the show giving you?

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Patrick Gracewood said...

Better no now than "OMG what was I thinking?" later.
Being off the hook, financially and able to ignore the designated "theme,' what would your fantasy design for a display look like?

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

I strongly feel that the decision to do or not to do an exhibition show is very specific to each designers' situation.
It's about a 45 minute to an hour long drive from my house to the San Mateo venue.
I think you do build up a reputation and a client referral list by repeatedly doing the show. Though I do think there is a point of being 'over done'.
Knowing when to step aside is key, just as it is to step into the limelight.

Your questions are excellent.
When I first did the S.F. Garden show back in 1989 I was a lowly maintenance gardener working up on the Mendocino Coast.
My exhibition garden was small but highly detailed.
I did exceptionally well in regards to awards recognition and establishing a whole new client base.
My first job out of the gates was a $ 425,000.00 job in Palo Alto.
I had to leave the relaxing remote Pacific Coast and open an office in Marin. I suddenly had a business.

From that first show I registered on the magazine circuit. Small projects were published at first then larger ones followed.

Lectures - Absolutely NEVER.- Ever ! - I have a very disturbing fear of public speaking.

When the show was run by the non profit organization for the first 15 years or so there was never any subsidy.
When the show was purchased by a for profit company, Salmon Bay Productions, then there were subsidies based on your square footage of space.
In 2008 I was given about $ 3000.00 for a 600 square foot space. ( give or take a few feet ) .

In 2008 the total out of pocket investment was about $6000.00 .
We got only 3 jobs from that show and they were all less than 40 K.
It was the beginning of the economic decline.
We took Best of Show as well as a two other awards, so it wasn't like it was a ill received exhibit.

Hello Patrick,
I'm not really sure what my theme would be. Probably a sanctuary garden of sorts. That is what is true to my heart and I love to craft warm emotional intimate gardens that give meaning to life.

Christine said...

Sounds like a good move to me. (and I'm in the selfishly wishing otherwise category, too). I have the feeling it would be way more than your $1-3k estimates with time & marketing materials but it sounds like it was worth it in different economic times. Encouraging to hear about your beginnings as a maintenance gardener- it gives the rest of us hope! There's always next time!

Delphine said...

You have saved a lot of money by taking this (hard) decision). You can now come and spend it for your holiday in France ! :-)

GardenDance said...

Interesting to see my thought process put into words. Having been accepted to the show this year to do a display garden, I opted to wait out this year as well.

Laura Livengood Schaub said...

Having done a show garden myself I agree that the investment in time and energy is considerable. But it was a great experience nonetheless.

I sure hope your misgivings about the new location won't prevent you from coming down to see us anyway! The new team is excited about the 25th anniversary show, and is working hard to make it a great experience for everyone involved.

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

You're probably correct, it no doubt would cost a lot more.

I'd love to travel back to France. It is one of my favorite places on earth.

I think a lot of designers must have gone through this same thought process. It is a big investment, one that should really be investigated thoroughly.

I haven't missed a show since its inception.
For this milestone year I hope the show owners acknowledge the women who originally conceived and worked tirelessly to create and maintain the show. Kay Forester, Nancy Conners and Barbara Stevenson deserve an elegant night or a show garden dedicated to them for their vision and dedication.
When considering doing an exhibition garden for the show in 2010 I wanted my garden to be dedicated to them. They were instrumental in helping so many young designers launch their careers .
But it was their dedication to the quality of the show gardens that really made the show what it used to be.
The created a climate of excellence and high quality.
Design submissions were carefully vetted and reviewed before being accepted.
This kept the quality of the design exhibits high and attracted blue chip designers from around the country to apply to be in the show.

I enjoy the show and look forward to it each year, but it is unfortunate that it has lost its power to attract top shelf design talent.
Because of this I think the attendance has dwindled over the past 10 years.
I had hoped with the new management and design steering committee that the design calibre would sift upward and they would bring in some designers with name recognition and bring the quality of the show back up.
But it appears that it is the same status quo.

Carla said...

Sounds like you have been to France several times.

An environmental travesty.
What a grotesque way to treat the air quality.
What’s the phrase ? – oh yeah, ” Got Pollution ? ”

Does that statement sound fimilar? No? Those are your words to someone else about a bon fire. Yet you're still flying. So your business is down 65%. Bad economy...maybe. I'm thinking more like bad karma. I know you won't share this with all those who read your blog, I just hope it pisses you off and ruins your day.

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

Hello Carla, or should I say Steve Silk?


Sorry that you still have a chip on your shoulder about my position on trying to promote breathing clean air for our planet.

Here's some educational information that might inform you about the environmental travesties of polluting the air :



Breath easy.

Anonymous said...

I am NOT Steve Silk. I am someone who while looking for some ideas for an outdoor Thanksgiving ran across his story. I don't need to go to the links you provided to educate myself. I'm sure you are still flying, driving a car and doing any other number of things that we humans do to pollute the environment. I was so upset that you took the oportunity to ruin a wonderful story with your nasty remarks. Not the time or the place.

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

Dear Anonymous ,
Thank you for your continued interest in trying to understand the horrible and dire pollution effects of burning wood in large bonfires like the one that was featured on Steve Silk's blog.

I hope that you were able to come to an understanding that by having huge outdoor bonfires creates a tremendous amount of toxic air pollution :
Burning solid fuel yields particulate pollution - solid particles smaller than a red blood cell which have been implicated in 30,000 deaths in the US and 2.1 million deaths world wide per year. . "Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air. ...we know that when particle levels go up, people die1. " Indeed, wood smoke is chemically active in the body 40 times longer than tobacco2.

You mention that you don't need to educate yourself but I think most people would agree that education never hurt anybody and that life is all about discovery.
A simple click over to Burning Issues or the EPA or the American Cancer Society isn't that hard and may actually save your life and or the life of someone that your love.

I hope that you will continue to find this topic interesting and informative.

Breath easy.

Me said...

I don't know if you'll even see my comment (since this is an older post- I'm catching up on your blog). Anyway, I DID all the design work for a local landscaper but am now a victim of the economy too. Luckily, my design money was our 'extra' so the fact that it has all but dried up has only curtailed our fun and progress around here rather than jeopardized our livelihood.

I'm located in Utah- we don't have great garden shows here but we do have ONE decent spring show. My question for you is why is it all or nothing? Can't you just do a simple booth without a big display? We have a very basic booth and pick up a bunch of clients because they can TALK to someone. It always surprises me how many other 'landscapers' don't get the psychology of a show.

I am now going to go out on my own chasing a niche' market that isn't going to net me the $5 million estate type job I did 2 years ago but will hopefully make some money. It's a scary, scary time for this industry. And I agree that things are unlikely to come back strong for many, many years- if ever.

Deviant Deziner, aka Michelle said...

Hello poster 'me'.
To address your question :
"My question for you is why is it all or nothing? Can't you just do a simple booth without a big display"

The simple answer is Quality and Originality .
To do a 'simple booth' in San Francisco that stands out from the crowd and reinforces my philosophy of extremely high quality means a substantial amount of investment of both time and money.

I am not one to do anything half way, especially if it is publicly representing my firm.

Even to do a very small 10 x10 high quality and original cutting edge exhibition design would equate to more funds than I think I would receive back in the form of business.

Last year we won Best of Show. It cost a lot of time and money. The return was not equal to the effort due to a faltering economy.

I'm into hedging my bets on a well researched level, and that research says the investment is not worth it for 2010.