Hardening Of The Mind And Heart

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Everyone seems to be interested in physical health. I’ve spent the last month taking people to the doctor and, in my case, to the dentist because of a broken tooth.

Once a month I get together with a group for choir practice, really a friendly game of poker. The oldest member is 92 years old, the others are 85, 78 and 73, and I’m the youngster. The major topic of conversation is our health and how to maintain our quality of life.

At the last meeting of the group, one of the members announced that he had to have an operation on his prostate. The others shared their comments and advice, consoled him and offered to be of help to him and his family.

I’ve been thinking about our industry and not only physical maladies but mental ones as well. With all the changes we are seeing and the need to capture the big box sales, I’m convinced our industry is suffering from hardening of the mind and heart.

We have only to turn on TV and watch "The Apprentice" to see the techniques Donald Trump uses to get one employee – spend 16 weeks and go through 20 people to see who will survive. Big industry thrives on making big bucks and pays CEOs millions while they lay off 1,000 people.

In our industry, there have been attempts to acquire companies and put them into large corporations. However, most of these attempts have failed. Also there have been many small growing operations that have gone out of business. While many of them were good growers, they lacked the business and marketing skills to survive.

In the past, our industry looked great. It was easy to get into and didn’t require a lot of money. You could learn the business while you grew the plants. You built your own greenhouse on 10 acres you already owned. You grew plants as a part-time job while you worked on the farm to make the money you needed to build your greenhouse business.

I know hundreds of families that started this way and now have children and grandchildren either in business with them or operating their own greenhouses. However, there are people who tried this venture and failed within the first three to five years.

The difference between these two groups is that the successful growers had a vision and worked to make it happen. The unsuccessful group got caught up in the physical stages and were usually unsure about what their goals were. Their vision was never properly developed.

If we look at our industry as a whole, we could be classified as a mature industry. Our sales have leveled off or increased only slightly. About 47 to 50 percent of our product is marketed through fewer than 10 big box stores, and thus is forced into being a commodity rather than individual plants or products. 

What’s Ailing Us

I believe our industry is suffering from psychicsclerosis and cardiosclerosis – hardening of the mind and heart.

Psychicsclerosis: We have let our minds go into a resting state. We have convinced ourselves that we either have to get bigger or perish and that small or middle-sized growers either have to sell to the bigger companies or go out of business. Our only options are get bigger, sell to a larger grower or quit the business.

Suggested Treatment: Don’t hang around with negative people. Don’t say negative things. Don’t talk about bad weather conditions. Don’t tell people the plants won’t sell, times are hard, employees are poor workers and the buyer is a dummy. Negative statements and thoughts attract negative people, negative actions and negative results.

Be positive. Always tell people about your great business, the great people you have working with you, the great job your salespeople do selling and how successful your customers are using your product.

Don’t use the weather as an excuse. The weather changes, but people still love plants. If they don’t buy them now, they will buy them when the sun shines. Records over the last years show that sales trends may vary by a week or two, but the end results are very similar.

You may need a shot of enthusiasm (the word means "God within us"). You must have faith in what you do. You must have faith in the people who work with you, your growers, your salespeople, your buyers, and most of all your customers. Also, you must have faith in yourself. Remember that the last four letters of enthusiasm stand for "I Am Sold Myself."

You can worry about everything, but only 10 percent of what you worry about will actually happen. The other 90 percent can be cured by faith. Believe that you, your people and your customers will solve the problem.

Cardiosclerosis: If we don’t have our heart in our business, we will suffer from cardiac arrest. I’ve seen all types of personalities in our industry. I’ve met funny people, strict people, introverts, extroverts and people of every race and creed. Most of them have been excellent owners and CEOs. However, I have never seen a successful business with an absentee owner.

If the person who founded and developed the business thinks it is possible to give it to the children or sell it to a third party and walk away with a profit, the business is usually doomed.

Suggested Treatment: Very few businesses last three generations unless those in leadership roles have a sense of the history and values of the business. There is a greater chance of success if the owner or family member has been active in the business and remains the figurehead of the operation.

When I first came to Kalamazoo in 1966 to talk to growers about converting from vegetables to bedding plants, I met the patriarch of a greenhouse business. At the time he must have been between 65 and 70 years old. His son was learning the ropes and was actively involved in the change from field to greenhouse growing. The son and his wife had several children. Everyone knew the history of the business, and the patriarch was there to make sure they never lost sight of its vision and values.

He worked every day of his life in the field or the greenhouses. On his last day, he worked in the morning, went home for lunch and a nap and said he would come to dinner that night with his son and daughter-in-law. He didn’t make it to dinner, but passed away in his sleep that afternoon.

Dedication is essential to a successful business. Your heart has to be in it. Some businesses today don’t have a heart. The owners want to take the money and leave.

The secret of success in business and in life is to realize that you must be positive, surround yourself with positive people who are smarter than you are and who know and believe in the goals and vision of your company. These are the secrets of businesses that survive for generations.

The greatest joy of an entrepreneur is to have a business and family that survives and does well after he or she is gone! If you are successful with your family and your business, I’m sure that you will be at the top!

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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