When I first traveled with our associate publisher Stephanie Schartner, I learned the first of her many “Steph-isms,”

“It’s really about relationships, Mike!”

The exclamation point was used because she actually said it to me while we were at a closely contested hockey game in Grand Rapids, Michigan. However, she was referring to the many long-time relationships she nurtured while we were at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo that was held in that city last year.

Stephanie is – what I would describe as – a hybrid between a relationship builder and challenger. What do I mean? Well, there’s one side of her that works hard to lay the groundwork for any business relationship. She is a strong advocate for what she believes in, although she’s objective enough to adhere to other methods and opinions. On the other side, Stephanie has the knack to step back, evaluate and challenge our perspective. Her frame of mind is an engine that runs on continuous improvement.

It was the combination of these two qualities that I noticed in Grand Rapids. When I walked the showroom floor with Stephanie at Great Lakes – as well as the World Ag Expo and other events – I was consistently asked inquiries that started with, “What if…,” “Why don’t we…,” and “How come…”. Most importantly, these types of questions were posed to exhibitors and attendees we were fortunate enough to speak with. The answers we received have moved us into the new year with enthusiasm and anticipation of what’s to come. For me, it’s inspiring to push further past what has been successful and challenge myself to accomplish more.

And that’s what relationships are about.

In business, we all have certain goals to meet whether it’s a bigger, safer crop or larger sales revenue for the fiscal year. In order to arrive at the point of success, we need to have robust relationships with our partners and most often, that involves an effort to motivate both sides of the business to do better.

Next month, we’ll return to the DeVos Place Convention Center with another year of experience and brainstorming that has manifested itself into execution. Afterward, the cycle will continue. As for now and 2016, I’m proud of the gains made by our team and it couldn’t have happened without our partners and you, the reader. Here’s to another show season and several more “Steph-isms!” Cheers!