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Take an inside look as the NALP gears for inaugural Elevate conference

August 24, 2022 -  By
As National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) readies for its inaugural Elevate event, board members give an inside look at what’s planned and why the organization ended its partnership with OPEI. (Illustrations: iArt101, Lemon_tm/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

As the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) readies for its inaugural Elevate event, board members give an inside look at what’s planned and why the organization ended its partnership with OPEI. (Illustrations: iArt101, Lemon_tm/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

When National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) CEO Britt Wood took the stage at Landscapes in October 2021, those in the crowd could feel a change in the air. Wood announced that NALP would take its annual conference on the road and in a new direction, naming the new event Elevate. With this announcement, NALP would leave its partnership of 15 years with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) and GIE+Expo.

“After 15 years in Louisville, our members and attendees wanted a change. So, we’ve created an experience that will educate and inspire lawn care and landscape contractors from across the U.S.,” Wood told the crowd at Landscapes.

Next month, NALP will host its first Elevate Conference and Expo at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Conference Center in Orlando. The event will move to different locations every year.

Wood and several NALP board members gave Landscape Management an inside look at this event. Board members say attendees can expect new elements unique to Elevate, but also popular features of previous NALP events, as well as those from NALP’s predecessor associations: Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), Professional Lawn Care Network (PLCAA) and the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET).

Britt Wood, CEO of NALP, introduced the organization’s new event last year. Wood said this new event, held in different cities every year, was a response to member feedback. (Photo: Philippe Nobile Photography)

Britt Wood, CEO of NALP, introduced the organization’s new event last year. Wood said this new event, held in different cities every year, was a response to member feedback. (Photo: Philippe Nobile Photography)

Making a move

Incoming NALP president Mike Bogan, CEO of LandCare in Frederick, Md., (No. 12 on the 2022 LM150 list), says feedback from NALP members was a big part of the decision to make a change.

“What we learned from talking to our members is that they wanted a variety of destinations to attend this event,” he says. “And if you look at what we did prior to that partnership, we moved our show around the country and, when we did that, we got more of a variety of participants based on those that found the geographic location (of the event) appealing.”

Another driver, Bogan says, was ownership of the annual conference.

“We didn’t view it as something that we just wanted to be a part of,” he says. “We viewed it as something that we wanted to be our signature event — our biggest event of the year — our annual conference.”

Bob Grover, outgoing NALP president and owner of Pacific Landscape Management in Hillsboro, Ore. (No. 70 on the 2022 LM150 list), says when the latest contract renewal with OPEI came up about three years ago, the board took a long look at the partnership and the direction members wanted the event to go in.

“After long deliberations, we said we really want to be able to go around the country more, we want to be able to get a smaller show, we want to be able to have the show at the hotel and not get on a bus, and we want to get back to doing facility tours,” he says.

And while the partnership with OPEI, created in 2006, was lucrative for the organization, Grover said the board knew it was time to make a change.

“We won’t produce the same revenue with our own show, at least early on, as we would with this combined show that was highly profitable to us,” he says. “We made the decision to do the right thing, even though it was going to be a financial challenge and strain. I’m proud to be part of that decision.”

Grover said the board members looked at the departure from the OPEI partnership as a chance to build NALP’s annual conference for the future.

“We also took this opportunity to say let’s re-imagine that conference, trade show and education based on the feedback we received from our members,” he says. “Being in 100-percent control of our show allows us to listen to and react to our members, which is what we have done with our new show format.”

Industry support 

A longtime supporter of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), John Deere’s Chase Tew said it was important for his company to participate in Elevate and highlight the future of NALP and the green industry. The team at John Deere looks forward to connecting with attendees.

“All the new changes are exciting,” says Tew, product line manager of B2B mowing at John Deere. “This is now the event of the ‘where the green industry is going’ vs. ‘where it’s been in the past.’”

Stephanie Schwenke, market manager for turf with Syngenta, echoes Tew’s remarks and says the team at Syngenta looks forward to highlighting the future of the green industry.

“We’re excited that Elevate will provide opportunities for connecting with peers and connecting with new ideas and technology,” she says. “We are thankful for everything the National Association of Landscape Professionals does for its members and are proud to support this new venue that will bring the community of lawn care professionals together.”

It’s all in the name

NALP board member Claire Goldman, owner of R&R Landscaping in Auburn, Ala., says the goal for this event is in the name itself. The board wants to help new and established industry professionals not only elevate their careers but also their businesses.

“We’re elevating what was Landscapes into a new conference, we’re thinking outside the box, and we’re bringing something new and different,” she says. “The focus for NALP has been to elevate professionalism in the industry, and we are excited to get some feedback from our members about their Elevate experience.”

Bringing back the favorites

While the board intentionally wanted to build a new event with Elevate, it knew a few popular events must be a part of this iteration. The first is facility tours. Before co-locating the Landscapes event in Louisville with GIE+Expo, ALCA and PLCAA hosted tours of a landscaping business local to the conference.

This year, NALP sold out its first half-day behind-the-scenes tour of Massey Services in Orlando (No. 26 on the LM150 list, with $86 million in 2021 green industry revenue). NALP will offer two additional tours of Orlando-based landscaping operations for those who missed out on registering for the Massey tour.

NALP board members say the opportunities to meet new people and visit with friends are a major part of the Elevate experience. (Photo: Philippe Nobile Photography)

NALP board members say the opportunities to meet new people and visit with friends are a major part of the Elevate experience. (Photo: Philippe Nobile Photography)

“It’s going to be a great opportunity to get to see how another businessperson operates their facilities, as well as get an insight into how they’re running their business,” Wood says.

Breakfast with Champions, another longtime staple of the Landscapes event, also returns. Wood says as the NALP board developed the agenda for Elevate’s inaugural event, it was a no-brainer to bring back Breakfast with Champions.

“(It) is one of the most relatable events that we conducted at Landscapes that will continue at Elevate,” he says. “You come in, you have breakfast with somebody who’s a leader in the industry and you talk about a particular topic at the roundtable. Not only do you get to learn from that expert, but you get to learn from your peers.”

What’s new

First, expect a smaller trade show floor. Goldman estimates Elevate’s trade show floor to be about 25,000 square feet (for reference, the trade show floor of the GIE+Expo at the Kentucky Education Center is about 675,000 square feet).

“Our hall is going to deliberately be smaller so that you can have more conversations not only with your peers in the landscaping and lawn care profession but also with the suppliers who are bringing in new and innovative products,” Wood says. “Suppliers are bringing their top people because they understand that this is going to be an event for the leaders in the industry. You’re going to get the best and the brightest.”

Also, on the trade show floor will be areas for networking and Campfire Sessions, similar to mini-TED talks on topics including recruitment, retention, safety, leadership and technology.

“We’re going to do smaller, quicker sessions inside the exhibit hall,” says Wood. “These Campfire Sessions allow people who are interested in particular topics to have a conversation. We will have an industry expert host. We’re trying to make it so that you have all these different reasons to really gain different types of knowledge within that exhibit hall.”

Other new elements include a ticketed Family-Feud-style game show fundraiser for the National Association of Landscape Professionals Foundation and a closing party at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

“If you’ve ever been to an amusement park and you wanted to have it all to yourself, you got this chance to do it,” Wood says. “We’ll have three rides open.”

Also included are food, drinks and the opportunity to explore the shops at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Education sessions

Attendees will also choose educational sessions based on different themes: team member experience, operational excellence, business excellence, customer experience and sustainability. While some sessions will build upon one another, Goldman says that doesn’t mean an attendee needs to stick with one track.

Education sessions, organized into different tracks, will be shorter to allow attendees time to network. (Photo: Philippe Nobile Photography)

Education sessions, organized into different tracks, will be shorter to allow attendees time to network. (Photo: Philippe Nobile Photography)

“We’ve been intentional about targeting certain people that we know are really strong in the area or the topic that we’d like for them to speak on,” she says. “I think the programming, in general, is going to be something a little different from what we’ve seen at Landscapes, and that’s intentional.”

Wood says the board wanted shorter educational sessions to encourage more interaction among attendees.

“This event is designed to bring people together and allow them to learn from each other,” he says. “We’re shortening the length of the sessions so that they’re more focused and condensed, and still give people the opportunity to talk. A lot of times, if you’re at a really great event, you’ll learn more in the breaks than you might even learn at sessions. We just want to afford people the ability to meet people, to network, to talk and to learn and really to grow.”

Future of the event

NALP will host next year’s event from Sept. 10-13, 2023, at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Dallas. The organization will push the event back to November for dates starting in 2024, including Nov. 3-6, 2024, at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C.; Nov. 2-5, 2025, at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Ariz.; and Nov. 1-4, 2026, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Ind.

Grover says the board wanted to rotate locations to ensure Elevate hits members across the country.

“We’ve decided we’re going to go East, Central, West, East, Central, West,” he says of the order of host regions. “Having the right balance of having the show not drive our conference but support our conference.”

Bogan says he’s excited to see how this year’s event turns out. He’s noticed how the hard work staff at NALP puts into each of the organization’s events pays off each year.

“Our NALP staff has made a significant improvement to every event that they’ve been responsible for,” he says. “I’m extremely confident that this is going to be equally impressive as an experience for the people that are there.”

He says as attendees at NALP’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition, Leaders Forum and Renewal &
Remembrance events saw firsthand, NALP staff continues to innovate the experience for attendees.

“They’ve continually improved these events and made them better and more interesting,” he says. “And it’s really got my expectations set high for Elevate in 2022.”

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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