Last week I embarked on an ambitious tour of the UK visiting LJN members.
In six days my travels took me to Wales, Scotland and England covering 1,229 miles in over 24 hours of driving.
As you know the reason, initially, for the visit was to hold an AGM meeting to discuss LJN, what it does, what it's done and where members want it to go in the future
Birmingham was chosen, during a live Wednesday chat session, as the preferred location but it soon became clear that although Birmingham was a fairly central location it didn't appeal to all and was indeed some distance for many to travel.
I then added Stirling, Scotland and Guildford, Surrey to the schedule and then last of all, Cardiff.
I arrived at East Midlands and drove to Wrexham to stay with my dad and the following morning drove down to Cardiff for a 3pm meeting.
Below is a little on each meeting but I'll save the general summary until the end. Those who attended can follow on with their thoughts after if they wish.
The hotel was a little busy so we opted to sit outside in the sun; which was just about bearable as the chilly breeze was a little cutting. The meeting lasted for three hours and passed in a flash as we all took our turn at speaking and adding ideas to the pot.
I stayed at the ibis hotel Birmingham so I'd booked the boardroom in anticipation. Tables were arranged so we all faced in. It was still very informal though and a lively meeting getting through an awful lot of business.
All in all we talked for nearly four hours (this continued in the restaurant and the bar afterwards).
A little about the meal. Mick had researched the best eating place in town and luckily for us it was just opposite the hotel...literally a 30 second walk from door to door. It was initially a busy place but luckily, on MIck's recommendation, I'd booked a table in advance.
What a meal:) I'm sure the others will have something to add!
We met at the Premier Inn, Stirling, because it was equidistant from Edinburgh and Glasgow and seemed to suit most who attended; Brian booked us a table in advance.
Again the meeting flew by but not before we talked and ate through three hours. We didn't realise we had to order our food from the bar so we sat and talked about LJN for well over an hour: we were famished by the time food arrived.
Again another lively meeting lasting three hours and again we got through an awful lot of discussion. Thanks to Gary for standing me lunch and dinner and drinks, not expected but much appreciated.
Agenda for discussions
Prior to the meeting we'd already established a short agenda for discussion but it became clear at all of the discussions, almost immediately, that the there was no appetite for any of the proposals.
If it ain't broke....
I'm happy to be corrected by anyone who was there but I believe 100% of the attendees felt LJN was a substantial tool in itself and everyone was happy the way it is. Its organic evolution being one of its major strength.
Everyone said - despite certain aspects - that overall LJN isn't broken so there's no need to try and fix anything. Having said that there were many ideas as to what LJN could use its substantial juice to achieve going forward.
I was asked at all meetings where I wanted to see LJN go: my answer was two-fold.
First I was happy with LJN's position within our industry. I explained that LJN could be whatever it wanted to be for every single member. Whether it's just a chat room, index of information, SEO tool or personal and business support. Members can use the site in isolation or as part of a group, big or small.
I did/do, however, feel we can utilise our growing and collective power to do many good things. I was pressed on what these may be? My initially reply was easy. Just last week Jenny started a campaign to influence the water companies' decision in respect of the proposed hosepipe ban.
Quite quickly we made representations to the water companies and fairly quickly we had responses saying that the points we raised were being considered. The use of a hosepipe to water newly laid turf for a period of 28 days is one concession I feel we were able to influence.
Everyone agreed that a committee wouldn't work. There was a concern that there was the potential that a committee might actually steer the site away from its unique position.
The point was made that we potentially have over 2,500 committee members already and the site was at its most potent when breakout groups deal with current issues in their own way.
Immediate non-starter for the simple reason, if we don't need a committee we won't have need for a chairman either.
This is a tricky area to cover. Thrive didn't attend the meeting so it was difficult to ascertain what their thoughts were.
Lindsey Churchill, the Senior Perennial caseworker for the South West kindly attended and gave us all an insight into the important work the charity does supporting gardeners who've fallen on hard times.
Lindsey explained that as a charity, rather than point people in the direction of other services who may be able to help, they actually deal with each case individually, either talking through and helping with financial difficulties or someone who can't work because of ill health, for example.
Lindsey explained that Perennial didn't extend its services to landscapers - we all thought this was perhaps a good area to add?
Lindsey promised to add some information about Perennial and explain more about how they can help. I will also follow up with Lindsey too.
A point of interest: there was a consensus that the name Perennial didn't actual explain who the charity was or what they did. The Gardeners Royal Benevolent Society (Perennial's previous name) seemed more apt and accurate. Many thought Perennial sounded too much like a plant nursery.
One area we talked a lot about was training.
Many thought that training was important and LJN had a place to help training providers publicise their courses. Many were also in agreement that LJN may, in time, be a provider or facilitator of training courses (this is dependent on funding).
There was also majority feeling that we were already an education source.
This spawned two separate debates.
Many members would like to see more regional events bringing together suppliers and speakers. These would either be held in the evening if they were seminars or talks or during the day if they were demonstrations and practical in nature.
I explained that the Creating Landscapes Show was a success but it cost a lot in terms of my time and also in actual monetary cost. I am keen to continue in the events area and it might be a way of bringing in revenue to run the site, meaning members would continue to use the site for free.
Regional events are becoming much more popular and it's an area I feel we can do some good. It was agreed that an event could be either one of two companies doing an intense demonstration or their products or 10-15 companies attending a mini-exhibition/show in various places around the UK.
I explained how hard it is for me to engage with product suppliers, many who didn't even return calls or emails.
It was noted by others that Etesia were holding an a demo day at Merrist Wood College and despite there being many users of Etesia products on LJN, the event appeared an industry secret.
I didn't go to the meetings with cap in hand asking for financial support. However nearly everyone in attendance expressed that they understood that the site does have a cost to run and maintain. Some felt a subscription was needed and others felt donations could help.
I explained that I'd never intended LJN to be overtly commercial and I'd always promised, if all all possible, to keep the site free for members. A site-wide subscription would probably see quite a few people leave because they didn't wish to pay.
It was agreed that members were getting help and making connections without realising the intrinsic value.
There was a suggestion that the site should be closed to view so that it is just LJN members who'd benefit if they were paying. I explained that it's LJN's openness that was its strength and the site relied on search engines to index our content. By shutting it down behind a paywall would decrease the site's effectiveness.
I thanked Dave Jessop (Marshalls) for their support and I told members that it's only financial support from our sponsors/advertisers, Google and member donations that keep the site free for all to use.
Subscriptions is an area I will continue to monitor.
There was some concern about what would happen to LJN if I couldn't or didn't want to continue running the site.
The overwhelming consensus was that LJN should continue to explore ways of funding.
Many agreed that some kind of buying power would be useful but understood the challenges of implementing it.
I explained that if I expanded on this it would probably cost LJN money to set up and possibly need someone to run it, at least part time.
Most agreed that our product supplier members could work to promote themselves to members and it's probably more efficient for them to take the initiative and pay in advance for advertising.
March 2012 would see LJN attract circa 64,000 visitors and LJN circa 34,000 visitors). Members felt this data could be put the work to attract more income.
We did cover many other subjects and we can discuss these going forward. Please feel free to ask questions or if you attended, please feel free to fill in any gaps I may have missed.
It just leaves me to say thank you to all who came along and making me feel so welcome.
I genuinely enjoyed our meet-ups and I learned a great deal.
Hope to see more members next time:)
I'll add some photos but apologies in advance, we were so absorbed that I failed to take group photos of out meets:(
thanks for the feedback Phil, - I couldn't come along, but sounds like i'd have agreed with all that was said.
Take my hat off to you Phil that was an epic trek you undertook , unfortunately unable to attend, thanks for making the effort to gauge opinions from all areas.
Hi Phil, just wanted to say a big thank you for coming over Hadrians Wall and visiting the Jocks. A very good night and look forward to the next one.
Thanks Phil for letting us members (who could'nt go) know what was discussed. I'm glad it went well and hope i can be part of it in the future. I am happy that the committee is not going to happen and agree that LJN is'nt broke. I feel regional meetings are the way forward so people don't have to travel too far - distance is probably what put most people off.
Long live LJN.
I personally really enjoyed going to the guildford meet. It was the first LJN meet up ive been to and it was nice to meet up with like minded people who experience the same pros and cons of our industry. I will certaintly go to the next local meet.
At first i suppose i was a little sceptical about going to the meeting (After all your meeting people youve only ever a email relationship with) but i was suprised at how easy it all was. So i would DEFINATELY encourage any members who are a little sceptical to go to the next meeting!
I definately think there needs to be some sort of paid part of LJN, to help in the running costs and also to give Phil a income. Some people may not want to pay for a part of ljn but i dont think there is a single person on here who cant say they have not benefited in some sort of way. Ive benifited hugely from ljn. Ive gained work, ive also passed work on to a few people, ive obtained important documents like H&S policys which have helped me look more professional to clients, i have learnt how to run my company more tightly and responsibly. I have also learnt alot about the pros and cons of certain tools. The list is endless and without this website here, i dont think my business would be where it is now.
So Phil i am one of the ones who WANTS a paid section of this site. Maybe a section to discuss specific business matters would be good. Finances etc.
Charity. All for it if we can decide on a charity.
All in all i had a very enjoyable evening, and a nice steak too! It was nice to finally meet a couple of members and it was also nice to meet the person behind all of this. Well done Phil. Hopefully this will happen next year and more people will attend too!
Thanks for the update Phil and for mentioning Perennial, to be clear we are the charity for horticulturists and are open to all those that are involved in some way with the care & cultivation of plants, garden designers, garden maintenance, groundsmen, greenkeepers, tree surgeons, landscape gardeners are all covered it is only those who are hard landscapers that are outside of our remit. If any member is in need of help but not sure if they meet our criteria, please feel free to contact me.
I agree, great feed back Phill. Phew, what a treck you completed in a few days!! I for one have picked up some valuable information from LJN and would be more than happy to pay a subscription (I think it's more than worth it to keep this brilliant resource going) : )
Looking at Scotland's weather forecast this week I think I got my timing just about right.
5-10cm of snow on its way for some!