Count Your Blessings

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As we approach the end of the year that marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of Greenhouse Grower magazine, it is time to stop and reflect on what has happened in the last 25 years and to be thankful for all of those people who have made it possible.

I have a friend who sends cards for Thanksgiving rather than Christmas. She thanks those who have helped her during the past year and indicates how grateful she is to have them as friends. She considers each of her friends a blessing, and she makes it known to them how special they are. While I don’t send cards to everyone, I do count my friends as blessings. I spent this month thinking about all the people who have helped build Greenhouse Grower magazine. I believe that I have had 10 editors who have helped turn my scribbles into meaningful articles. I had an editor who spent six months helping develop my book, “One To Grow On.” Then, there are all those who make up the staff and management who have been supportive of my efforts to communicate with you. They certainly have been a blessing to me.

You might want to take a little time this month to stop for a while and count all the positive things you do and realize what your product means to our society and the world.

Adapting In Tough Times

In his September 2008 editorial, Fast Company magazine Editor Robert Safian wrote, “There may not ultimately be enough resources on the planet to meet everyone’s needs unless drastic actions and drastic innovations are embraced.” If you reflect on his sentiment, you can see the potential for our industry is tremendous. We have come through a hard year. Severe weather problems, uneasiness in energy prices, increases in the cost of goods and reluctance to increase prices have all had an adverse effect on the health of our industry.

Many businesses will soon grow products only in the spring and then close their operations down for the rest of the year.

As operations get bigger, growers try to produce year-round to reduce overhead costs. One grower told me that when he started growing year-round and produced poinsettias, his costs were $10,000 more than what he got when he sold the crop. He stopped producing the winter crop and used the $10,000 he saved to take his wife to Hawaii for a vacation.

When times get tough, there is usually an increase in innovation. If you can identify the problem and set your mind to finding a solution, a solution will be found. For example, when Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb, people asked him how he did it. He replied that he had discovered 2,000 ways that it couldn’t be done before he found one way that it could. Edison certainly proved that if you don’t get it right the first time, try, try again.

Real Growth

There is no doubt there have been many positive changes in our production, marketing and business practices. We took the bedding plant industry from the smallest segment of floriculture to the largest part of the industry. In Michigan, floriculture went from a $10 million business to almost $400 million in the past 25 years. Nationally, the total floriculture industry is worth more than $4 billion.

However, the basics of our industry remain the same. You can count your blessings if you have these five basic factors down – whether you’re thinking 1983 or 2008.

1. Your employees are your most important assets. A business without good employees is like a desert without an oasis. The employees of the future will have to be well trained and possess skills that can maintain a state-of-the-art facility – knowledge about computers, plant physiology, pathology and entomology and cost benefit analysis will be essential. While manual labor will still be needed, automation will be increasingly used. Smaller greenhouses will still exist but will be primarily retail or niche market growers.

2. Knowledge of the business environment will be essential. There will be fewer businesses that grow plants unless the plants are sold before they are produced. Growing plants on speculation will be a risky business. Excellent internal business practices will be absolutely essential. Knowing all the financial information about the cost of production and, if changes are made, how they will affect the company’s financial picture will be vital.

3. Marketing knowledge will need to improve. It takes as much time and effort to sell our products as it does to produce them. If you have the right people who can differentiate fads from trends, if you can react quickly to changes in the market and if you can produce the right product at the right time, you will have a successful business.

4. Like all other businesses, our industry is not static. New technology will continue to provide new systems that will need to be implemented in order for our industry to remain competitive. It is important to seek new knowledge, analyze everything that becomes available and adapt what can be useful and profitable to your business.

5. You are the most important person. If you are the owner, the grower, the section foreperson, the daily worker, the greenhouse night watchperson; or if you are the sales manager, the salesperson, the store representative; or if you represent a seed company or a supply company or one of the hundreds of different jobs and services needed to make a greenhouse business successful, you are the most important person!

I’ve always considered myself to be someone who works with other people, not for them. Whomever I worked with, I felt like I was part of the business. If you have the attitude “if it weren’t for me, it wouldn’t be,” then you will be of great value and help to your company.

Live Life To Its Fullest

Remember life is short; eternity is forever. We all need to enjoy our short lives and realize what a blessing it is to be here. Robert Fulghum wrote a great book, titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” One thing he learned was to live a balanced life – learn some and think some and work some every day. Fulghum also learned when you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together. I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving and that you know what a blessing you are to Greenhouse Grower magazine and to me.
I want to dedicate this article to three of my friends who have gone to eternal life this year: Jack McConkey, Todd Bachman and Larry Boven. What blessings they have been to me and to our industry!

Will Carlson is a Michigan State University emeritus professor who has devoted his career to educating growers. He also had the vision to launch Greenhouse Grower magazine with Dick Meister more than 25 years ago.

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