At Mobjack Nurseries, you'll find a wide array of unique and traditional plant materials — from Boxwood to Camellias, the wholesale nursery anticipates selling the newest wave of market trends to reliable favorites. Located in the Mobjack Bay of Virginia, the nursery serves garden centers, re-wholesalers and landscapers in the eastern U.S. since its foundation 85 years ago. And after being in business for close to a century, the one event the nursery never misses is the MANTS trade show.
Lisa Sutton, president of sales, data and logistics at Mobjack, shares how much the show means to the business. “We love seeing the customers and showcasing the materials that we're offering. It's a great show. It just pulls people in from basically all over the world,” she says.
Since they have attended every single year, 2020 marks the 50th year Mobjack will be in attendance. Lisa has attended 23 shows herself. Located just three hours away from MANTS’ host city of Baltimore, Mobjack makes the show a top priority every January. She shares some of the changes she’s seen since the first time she ever walked foot into that first show.
She notes how the show has evolved over the years to adapt to the inventions of new technologies, but without ever losing its charm of the show’s early days. Lisa explains how much easier their travel and unloading processes have become since vendors made the switch to electronic devices. She’s especially thankful for televisions and portable laptops.
“You used to show up with cases and cases — and I mean heavy cases — of printed catalogs. Now you show up and everything's digitized,” Lisa says. “Now you see people showing up with these huge flat screen TVs that have the constant roll of pictures, and before we didn't have that.”
While the addition of new technology has made setup easier, there’s still a lot of behind-the-scenes setup.
“It's six booths total. And we fill it up. We try to showcase everything,” she says.
Lisa praises the MANTS staff when it comes to unloading heavy materials from the nursery’s tractor-trailer.
“These guys, I mean they understand exactly what we want to do. We call it ‘well-orchestrated chaos,’” she says.
Lisa also points out MANTS’ attention to detail when it comes to each vendor’s booth design.
“Kelly does a great job with the show, I mean he is just fantastic to work with. People look forward to the show. It's not a chore, it doesn't feel like work.” She pauses. “Well, setup day does feel like work,” she says with a laugh.
On the floor, she notes how nice it is to see customers face-to-face when they spend the majority of their time communicating through email or text. The same customers come back year after year, and she says these relationships are considered family.
MANTS is the perfect time to network and reconnect with colleagues and consumers, and that’s what the show is all about. Lisa has fond memories of the show. One particular instance she remembers happened in 2001 or 2002, when the nursery sold water plants. Lisa recalls that Mobjack set up an actual pond in the booth to showcase their water plans, which took a great deal of work. Mobjack transported rubber, cinder blocks and all the materials needed for a “pop-up” pond. (“You know, we always have to do the heaviest things,” she interjects.) Chaos ensued when Lisa and her colleague, John Lee, set to work on filling up the pond. The pair had one more task to complete before wrapping up a long day of work. Unfortunately, the hose flung out of John’s grip with an agenda all its own, and Lisa was soaked from head to toe. She laughs at the ridiculousness of the memory.
“I looked at him and I said, 'I was planning on a shower when I got back to the room, but thanks a lot.'”
Along with memories, vendors create and nurture valuable relationships with each other across the industry. Competition doesn’t exist; rather MANTS offers the chance for nursery owners to pick each other’s brains about anything and everything. Whether it’s about specific crop challenges or the type of lining other nurseries have found to be useful, the hub of information flows freely.
“One thing that I really like is that everybody wants to help everybody else. There are no secrets,” she says. “If you asked Tankard Nurseries, 'How did you get that to grow like that?' Well, instantly they're going to answer you.”
Mobjack is gearing up for another year of MANTS, and soon their 2020 showcase will be finalized.
“We try to do some really unique things that other people are not doing, and we try to have the staples that everyone needs,” Lisa says.
She plans on ringing in MANTS’ 50th year the same way she always does: “Every year I take a picture of just our little plaque that says ‘Mobjack’ and the empty booth and then as we progress, I take a few pictures. I really like the end display.”