Become A Business Driver

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Finishing up 2009 and heading in to 2010, it feels like we’ve entered a new era in the greenhouse floriculture industry, like we’ve come out the other end of a long and somewhat painful transition.

For the last 10 years, we’ve been collectively bracing ourselves for a lot of what has happened: more growing operations of all sizes leaving the industry and a mature market where overall sales are flat. As some businesses leave, others are gaining market share.

While some of this is normal and generational with growers retiring without successors, for others it’s an inability to compete and turn a profit. This is especially true when owners don’t reinvest in their business over time and have dilapidated structures and use inefficient methods. If you’re running the business the same as you did 20 years ago, chances are, you have fallen behind.

Those who made it through 2009 on solid financial footing with their customer bases intact are survivors. But those who thrive in the future will be business drivers, proactively driving many facets of their operations by making long-term investments in time, people, systems, programs and facilities.

How is it possible that some operations are still growing at an average rate of 10-15 percent a year? Here are six secrets of success:

- Get close to your customers. Spend quality time with the retailers, consumers, landscapers and fellow growers who buy your plants. Listen to them and look for ways to respond to their needs, solve their problems, exceed expectations and delight them. Build relationships.

- Create a culture of innovation. Channel the power of ideas by getting your employees involved. Not only will you get the ideas, you will get the buy in you need to achieve your goals.

- Invest in new product development. Growth based on existing product lines will always be limited. That’s why electronic devices become obsolete so quickly. Consider product lines that may not be completely new but are new for you and your customers. Think about new presentations.

- Cultivate new markets. Think of new ways you could be selling plants. Some growers have successfully implemented programs at retail outlets that don’t normally carry plants. Others have diversified into fruited vegetables for local markets. Some are looking at green roofs. Where would plants be a great fit?

- Commit to marketing. Don’t let your budget stifle your creativity. Some of the simplest ideas are most effective, like Proven Winners’ idea booklet which has led to building a database of 165,000 consumers to engage. Stage publicity events with your retailers or other businesses in town. Support charities. Get coverage.

- Employ the best people. In addition to hiring the best, bring out the best in your employees by investing in their development and channeling their talents.

I witnessed all these secrets of success in action at a growers summit Costa Farms put on for its key production employees last month. At the close of the event, Jose Costa said, “Our mission is Team, Solutions, Growth. We are working on the team, which is No. 1 in our mission. Without the team, we have no solutions, no growth. We turn away opportunities if we lack the human capital. You can buy any nursery, but if you don’t have the people to operate it, it’s not going to work.”

People power most certainly has worked for Costa Farms, which has 3,000 employees and generates $250 million in annual sales. Next year, the business is looking for the next $30 million to continue the growth trajectory. Sound impossible? Last year the company generated an additional $13 million just by getting behind a mandevilla line in a big way. Scale these secrets of success down to your business and make them work for you.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at

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