Lou Meyer, business developer for Davey’s mid-Atlantic region, talks about the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS), green industry trends and his favorite parts of his job.
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Doug Oster: Welcome to the Davy Tree Expert Company's Podcast, Talking Trees. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Each week, our expert arborists, share advice on seasonal tree care, how to make your trees thrive, arborists favorite trees, and much, much more. Tune in every Thursday to learn more, because here at the Talking Trees Podcast, we know trees are the answer. Well, it's another first on the Talking Trees Podcast. I'm with Lou Meyer, and we are actually in person at an event called MANTS, the Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade. What's the S?
Lou Meyer: Show.
Lou: Symposium or soiree.
Doug: Where all the latest new trees and shrubs and plants are introduced. I bumped into Lou on the floor. Longtime listeners, you've heard Lou many times. We've had a lot of fun doing the podcast together. Here we are. We've met in person, which is amazing, and been on the floor. Tell me about here in Baltimore at MANTS, some of the things that you've seen.
Lou: Douglas, this is an event that we look forward to every year in the industry. It's the largest green trade show on the East Coast at least, right?
Doug: It's definitely probably in the country, I would think.
Lou: In the country it's huge. The Baltimore Convention Center is a gigantic building. We've got it completely filled with plant nurseries, nursery support systems, all sorts of really cool products in the landscape industry. We really look forward to this. I'm excited to be here with you one of my good friends from the podcast. This is quite the event.
Doug: The funny thing is Jill Golden, who I work with Davey, she's worked together setting up this podcast we've never met, but she said, “I can't believe you're meeting Lou Meyer before you're meeting me.” Well, that's the way it goes. Jill.
Lou: That's how it goes. You got to get out here. Come out to the MANTS next year.
Doug: I wanted to start with availability. It depends on what part of the country I'm talking to arborists. Some are having trouble sourcing certain materials and others have no problem at all. When you were looking around here, did you get any feel for availability?
Lou: Yes, that's what I've been hearing, a real lack of availability. There's a back order, backlog, and a lot of products coming from all over the country. Most of the growers are in Tennessee, Oregon and a lot out here on the East Coast, but they're all having trouble keeping up with the demand. The industry trend for the past three years has just been absolutely bananas. Whether it's tree trimming removals, landscape plantings, landscape maintenance, people want to invest in their green assets.
Doug: You're stuck at home for a couple of years.
Lou: Well, and because people are working more and more from home, they're spending more time at the home office, they really want to invest in the aesthetics of it. It's not just a place to live anymore, but it's a place where they're living, working. Why not make it the best that you can to complement that? Home improvement is going nuts, and in the green industry, we're really seeing it play out.
Doug: Where do you source your trees? You're working here at Baltimore area or Maryland area, DC area where are you sourcing your plants from? Is it from Davey, but also other places?
Lou: Yes, great question. Davey does have a full nursery in Wooster, Ohio up by our headquarters in Kent, where we can get truckload delivery. It doesn't make sense to order one dogwood from there and have them drive it across the states, but if we have an entire tractor-trailer load worth of orders, it does make sense to order from Wooster. Locally here, we like to use a couple of the nurseries Patuxent Nursery, which is in Buoy, Maryland, we source a lot from them. Site one is a national partner that we do a lot of work with. They've got some great material here in the Maryland market. There's a number of other ones close by too. The trees are coming from all over the United States. They do grow here as well, but they always begin somewhere else for the most part.
Doug: Do you to order specifically for a project, or do you know that you're going to need, let's just say dogwoods for instance, do you know that during the season you're going to need 100 dogwoods or something, or how does that work?
Lou: Yes, we usually order for the project. There's two ways to look at it. One is our commercial landscape division, CLS, Commercial Landscape Services. They do commercial work. They maintain office parks and business parks, HOAs around here, a lot of government buildings. You interviewed Josh Pickett a few weeks ago, and he takes care of a lot of the federal sites. They will order per project because they have large orders. They might be ordering 100 dogwoods, and 300 hydrangeas, and 400 boxwoods or something. The residential division, the ones that work for homeowners, they also do some landscaping.
We do a lot of landscaping installations and different residential offices have different levels of landscaping that they get into. When I was with the Cincinnati residential office, for instance, we did a lot of stonework because I happened to do a pretty good job of stonework. We did a lot of that.
Doug: So you say.
Lou: Yes, we did dry stack, masonry projects. We did stone steppers, a lot of that. For the residential offices, for the tree sales, a lot of times when we come out to your house, we're removing a red oak in your backyard that's dying from hypoxylon. We'll offer a tree planting as well. , "Hey, you're removing this tree. Here's another option on your proposal for planting a red maple this fall." We save all of those so that come October, we know we're going to be planting 60 red maples or white oaks or whatever, and then we place that mass order at once.
Doug: When you come to a show like this, what specifically are you looking for?
Lou: Well, for fun, I'm looking at all the whimsical, cool varieties of cultivars and exotic species that are out there, because I find them fascinating. I'm also looking for specimen plantings that we could use on specific projects. Really what we're looking for is suppliers who can give us the 10 to 15 species that we use significantly, and who can supply us with those. Things like your white oaks, red oaks, dogwoods we plant a heck of a lot of crape myrtles in Maryland, boxwoods, those kinds of things.
Doug: Oh, I wish we could grow those in Pittsburgh. You can, but we had -25 and not that's going to be cut to the ground.
Lou: Yes. Well, we're going to see some zones changing over the next few years. Actually, I was listening to your podcast that was released yesterday with Josh Rongesh, who was a Davey Institute of Tree Sciences 2016 co-graduate of mine, and a fellow alumni. Him and you were talking about how we're starting to look at different zones for plantings. Who knows in 10, 15 years you might be ground zero for crape myrtles. It might be great.
Doug: Let's talk a little bit, I think at a show like this, I see all the time, I like to see the different trends, and I'm talking to people. Have you seen anything like that? Have you talked to people about that sort of thing?
Lou: Yes. Some things that we're popping up is a lack of materials, like we said. Trouble sourcing that, whether it's because of just the general volume, the need that's out there. I know staffing at a lot of these nurseries is tough. It doesn't take a whole lot of people to grow a tree, but it does take a staff to run a nursery. In any industry right now is hurting for that, that's affecting some of it. Some of the trends I'm seeing on the floor here at MANTS this year, a lot more natives. Native nurseries providing native cultivars, and that's been a growing trend for the past, I don't know, 15 years or so, a great trend. It's going back to what works in your zone, and how can we amplify that.
Doug: Sometimes though, when people hear native, they don't think pretty but native and pretty can work together.
Lou: They certainly can. You got to find that balance. I love planting natives. I am not a purist. I think that throwing in the occasional exotic, non-invasive put that asterisk on there, non-invasive, but you really want to draw the attention to your garden. There are plenty of just stunning natives out there for whatever region you're in. If you like walking in the forest, you like native species, that's what you're going to see a lot of.
Doug: Well, we know you like walking in the forest from seeing your social media. You take those kids out in the forest all the time, right?
Lou: We sure do. We like to live outside. We're always at the parks. We're always searching those thick-trunked trees for thick trunk Tuesday on Twitter. We love being outdoors. Some other trends that goes along with the natives, a lot of smart irrigation on the floor here today. We have a lot of irrigation options here at MANTS. Utilizing the water resources that you have, not wasting those water resources goes hand in hand with those native plantings of just a good environmental approach to landscaping.
I'm noticing a lot of that. Also, a lot of software, e-software, which is something that you don't expect to see at a nursery show. You expect to see a bunch of trees, which they do have down there. We've got some great greenery on the floor, but there are a ton of software companies that help nursery managers, landscape managers, even gardeners smartly, if that's a word, intelligently manage their green assets.
Doug: I like smartly better. [laughs]
Lou: Yes. Just how to manage your green assets in a way that makes sense for efficiency. I think that's brilliant stuff.
Doug: One thing when I'm at a show like this that I think about looking at what you guys do is some of the unique cultivars here. Talk a little bit about getting to a property
where you've got a client that is open to some of this uniqueness and something different how much fun that is for you.
Lou: I love getting to know the clients. When I meet with clients that talk about plantings, I want to get to know their personalities. Where'd you grow up, what are you into, what colors do you like, those kinds of things. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio in an area--
Doug: Oh, I'm sorry.
Lou: Hey, man. It's a good place.
Doug: I know. I'm teasing.
Lou: I grew up in a neighborhood called Sycamore. I've always had a love for Sycamore trees. Now is that because I grew up there and I have that memory? I think so. I think that was implanted. Getting to know people, if they grew up in Oak Lawn or if they grew up in Maple or if they're into a certain place like that, I think that really speaks to you. Getting to know clients, what their approach is, what their likes and dislikes are, what their styles are, can really help you to design, if not a landscape, at least a planting that is successful.
You're not going to put in something crazy that's going to be a high-maintenance low success cultivar but also something that they want to see on a daily basis. The last thing you want to do is plant a tree that they hate. The next 80 years, your trees live a long time. It's like getting a pet turtle. It's going to last you a while. You make sure you like it.
Doug: Back to the show, what other things have you seen here that interested you?
Lou: I will say there's a ton of excitement here and that's been really refreshing. From the minute I walked in the door, you can feel the energy. There's just a buzz in the industry.
Doug: What's really interesting about that, Lou, is you say that last year for this show, right beforehand, COVID peaked again and so many of the exhibitors had to pull out. That's why I think you're feeling that here. We feel like even though we know that we're still battling this, there's some normalcy to it that everyone's here. That's really cool that everyone's here, the place is filled, and you've got so many options on what you can see and what you could add to your landscape.
Lou: Absolutely. The weather's great too. I got to mention that it's spectacular. It's 45 degrees and there's a chill, but it's still nice. I think last year there were some weather difficulties also but people are thrilled to be here. They're thrilled to be here. They're thrilled to be purchasing landscape materials so that we can then turn around and get them into the ground for our clients and make their properties just all the more better. It's a great excitement to be here. For some people in the industry, it's a lot of fun to rub elbows with your friends and get to know one another and you all have a shared story and a shared culture, and a shared message that is, trees are the answer.
Doug: One thing that we see at a show like this are new introductions. What does a new introduction have to do for you to be able to put it into someone's property? How do you look at that? Like I'm not sure it's brand new. How do you deal with that?
Lou: We do a lot of research. Back at the Davey Institute in Northern Ohio, we're always staying up on trends and what's happening. For me, what's important is resistance to pests and disease. I want my clients to be best served by a plant that is long-lived so that it's a wise investment. We're looking at those kinds of things. We're talking to growers to make sure that they're doing it responsibly. They're not just pouring chemicals into a plant to keep it alive until they sell it to you and then good luck. There's an all-around holistic approach to what we're doing.
Doug: When you see something new and they're pitching it to you, sometimes do you get like a, oh my, that thing would be perfect for this?
Lou: Oh, yes. For us, landscapers the right plant in the right place is as wonderful as seeing a Chevrolet with a Hemi for a gearhead. It's just, oh yes, this is the coolest thing in the world. For me, it's just a sense of beauty.
Doug: We had a presentation for the media earlier today and they were presenting a new arborvitae that, did I say that right, arborvitae?
Lou: Yes, arborvitae.
Doug: You know what I'm talking about. That grows super fast. It says that the claim usually it takes three years to get this big. Now it only takes two to get this big. I guess that's just part of the fun of a show like this. I'm sure you get pitched a lot of ideas. I get pitched a lot of ideas. These plants need to be trialed first before I'm going to tell people about them. Just because it's the newest, latest creation, you don't know what it's going to do in the wild.
Lou: Especially when we're planting 100 arborvitae on a property. When one of our clients says we need to develop a screen, I don't want to use a product that I don't know very well for that. We stand by all of our products what we plant in the ground and that comes from the growers themselves. We're making sure that it's the right stuff.
Doug: One question, I don't think I've ever asked you, what is the hardest part of your job or some of the hardest things for your job? Does anything come to mind?
Lou: There's difficulties in all jobs. For me, it's when things don't go right. When a tree does die, for instance.
Doug: Which can happen no matter how well you plant it something could have happened to it before you got it. Plants die. That's part of it.
Lou: I know that and you know that and usually, the clients know that but having to go back and replant, and I don't mind doing it because I understand that trees do die.
Doug: There is a certain disappointment to it, even when you do it. Trust me, I think anyone that works in this industry knows no matter if you do everything right, sometimes it's weather, sometimes it's insects, sometimes it's a disease, you never know what it is, sometimes the client's not watering it.
Lou: The products that we sell for homeowners and business owners are in flux. It's not a static product like a roof or a driveway or a sidewalk or even an electrical system where once it's in, it's in. What we're selling is a product that is a living product that is living, it's breathing, it's ingesting. There's a lot of input that decides and dictates whether it is a success or not. Our job of managing expectations is really important, and managing the needs of the plant itself and what the client needs to do to keep it alive.
Doug: Now let's hear about the fun part of your job because I see it every time we talk and when we do these podcasts remotely, we're seeing each other. Now we're in person. Lou's always smiling. I must imagine that when you're out on these properties, you have a lot of fun with your clients.
Lou: I do. We have some really cool properties that we take care of. We talked about some of the historic ones a few weeks ago on one of our podcasts. Here in Baltimore, we take care of the National Aquarium which is right next to the convention center here.
Doug: I finally got to see it. I finally got to see the aquarium. Amazing.
Lou: The indoor rainforest there, we take care of that, the trees outside. We've got crews that go in there. The Baltimore Zoo is another client of ours, a longtime client, that's a lot of fun to work, hanging over the lion's enclosure and pruning out the oak trees.
Doug: That picture in my mind is really scary. Talk about safety.
Lou: Talk about safety. When you hear that thing roar underneath you, you get moving. It's a blast. I get to get onto some really fascinating properties. Most of my clients, if not all, I really like working with. I can't think in my head of any that I have not enjoyed. I do like some of those, I like it when my clients are into trees. I like it when they're into nature. We get called out to properties occasionally where people say, “I love every tree except for the ones that are next to my house and on my property. I want you to cut them down.” It's like, ah, that's just heartbreaking.
Sometimes you do have to take down a healthy okay tree for whatever reason. Maybe it's a construction project that's coming in or they know they're going to be doing gas work underneath that tree for whatever reason. That's one of the heartbreaking moments when we have to remove healthy, happy trees but that's part of the community, that's part of being alive. That's the work we do.
Doug: Lou, I can't tell you how nice it is to finally meet.
Doug: After seeing each other on Zoom, I've been thinking a lot about this because so many of the people that I work with now, I don't meet, that we see each other only on a screen, but yet we do connect that way. We are able to know, like, boy, when we do meet in person, it's going to be awesome. I have to tell you it is absolutely awesome to meet you.
Lou: You better believe it, Doug. This has been an absolute pleasure. Every time I talk to you is a lot of fun, and I hope the message going out there is great too. Thanks for having me on.
Doug: We'll talk to you next time. Tune in every Thursday to the Talking Trees Podcast from the Davey Tree Expert Company. I'm your host, Doug Oster. Do me a favor, subscribe to the podcast so you'll never miss an episode. Do you have an idea for a show or want to send some feedback? Just send me an email at podcasts, that plural @davey.com, that's P-O-D-C-A-S-T-S@D-A-V-E-Y.com. As always, we'd like to remind you on The Talking Trees Podcast, as Lou said, trees are the answer.
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