Ed, John and Richard Tankard in 2004.

When Ed Tankard III, son of John Ed Jr. was asked if he always thought MANTS would be the success it is today, his response was, “I believed in my father. My father was always an optimist. Generally, whatever he committed himself to turned out well. So yes, I believed in it. I never had any doubts because I believed in him.”

The belief Ed is referring to is his father’s motion to move MANTS from its original location in Virginia, to its current site in Baltimore. “Despite many saying it was a bad idea, he believed in Baltimore from the very beginning.”

Now, 50 years later, MANTS — “the masterpiece of trade shows” — is just that.

For three generations, the Tankards have run their nursery in Exmore, Virginia, where Ed is now president. Initially, Ed attended law school until he realized it didn’t suit him. Though he never wanted to enter the family business because he “knew it was hard work,” he officially joined in 1992. However, that wasn’t the first time he stepped foot on to the family land.

“I was born here on the farm and I’m now 56 years old,” he says. “Oftentimes, my dad would put me out with the whole crew when I was about 5 or 6 years old instead of with a sitter.”

Ed’s first time attending MANTS was in 1981, courtesy of his father who pushed for his attendance during college. Since then, his favorite thing about MANTS has been the customer interaction and the business it cultivates.

“If you’re going to grow your business, you have to be aware of your customer’s needs. And by being able to have dinner, visit and see a whole bunch of customers at a time, you definitely walk away with ideas and thoughts about where the industry’s heading,” he says.

For his father, Ed says that too, was his favorite thing. “My father very much loved plants, but he loved people perhaps more, and I’d say I’m somewhat similar.”

John Ed Tankard, Jr. in 2007.

To Ed, the business focus is what makes MANTS so successful, compared to other trade shows that focus on educational sessions and speakers.

“I would say [MANTS] is a nice checkup; sort of like visiting the doctor once a year. You get a chance to see how well you’re doing, how well the industry’s doing and what’s going on out there.”

In fact, Ed says this is especially important for nursery owners like him who live on farms away from the marketplace.

“Being able to visit with markets that might be in the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Midwest is a great thing. You get to take in a whole bunch of customer ideas and experiences during the past year.”

With that said, he agrees with his father’s motion to locate MANTS in Baltimore, not because it’s his father, but because of geography. “Baltimore is a good place for the whole country up and down the coast,” he says.

Ed also refers to MANTS as the “biggest and best” trade show, which, he recalls, is the opposite of one nurseryman’s prediction.

“He was serious and knew everything. He was totally committed to telling [my] dad, ‘we need to close this show, we don’t need this show, this show’s going to be a failure,’ and every time I walk in, I think about that.”

For the future, Ed hopes MANTS will maintain its status quo and position in the industry. According to him, the growth in size has been staggering. During the first years, he recollects sparse attendees, minimal exhibitors and many doubters. But now, Ed says it’s grown from “a place where you could look up and down the aisles and not see that many people, to all you do is see people now,” which he hopes will continue.