June 13, 2008

Times Are Tough — And Other Unrelated Observations

The industry today is in disarray, if weather is the scorekeeper. The drought in the Southeast and the fires in California — to say nothing of floods and late freezes elsewhere — have knocked even battle-hardened growers and gardeners for a loop. Even with all our high-tech gadgets in the greenhouse, highfalutin market nonsense in retail and high fives by gardeners, we are still nothing more than glorified farmers, whose very existence and well-being are tied to the weather. The only problem is that farmers’ produce is always essential, ours is not. We are farmers. Farmers have struggled for years with the vagaries of poor crops due to poor weather. We are no different: today, our margins have been pinched so tight there is no wiggle room. One bad season makes us teeter, one very bad year closes the doors. The domino effect of closures and Chapter 11 filings will be felt for […]

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June 13, 2008

In With The New

When Homestead-based Meristem Nursery’s Dennis Smythe decided to retire, he had 26 acres of product and land to parcel off. This past August, when Kraft Gardens owner Kevin Kraft heard about it, he bought a truckload of Smythe’s arborea, an old plant that is making a comeback. And Kraft had no trouble selling it to retail and landscape contractors. Two weeks later, a program was in place for Kraft to lease 11 acres of Smythe’s facility and purchase its remaining inventory. Kraft is currently cultivating three acres of arborea in seeds, liners and finish plants and will exhibit the plant at TPIE. What is old is new again, and having the courage to jump on new introductions and ideas is a key strength of foliage innovator Kraft Gardens. New is a word Kraft uses a lot these days. With the acquisition of Meristem’s property, the company has formed a new […]

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June 13, 2008

Success Breeds Success

“Some of the recent trends in home gardening are very similar to trends in the ’80s in green plants, when we started selling plants that weren’t very durable and were high-maintenance,” he says. “We need to be really careful about that with the outdoor annuals and perennials, and sell plants that do well in our customers’ local area. The more our industry can be up front with the consumer and help them be successful, the more plants we will sell.” This is the philosophy at Fahr Greenhouses as the operation puts more of its emphasis on its own garden center. “When someone brings a plant back to us that they haven’t been successful with or killed, I say we’ve done one of two things. We either sold them a bad plant, which hopefully we haven’t, or we haven’t educated them. Educating the consumer is a huge task, but it’s worth […]

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June 13, 2008

Why Do Brands Exist?

There was an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review, September 2004, titled "Customer-Centered Brand Management" by R.T. Rust, V.A. Zeithami and K.N. Lemon. It focused on a discussion of the purpose of brands. The article posed the question, "Is the brand developed for the company or for the customer?" Their answer was that, "Brand management still trumps customer management" and they stress that this tactic is increasingly incompatible with growth. A graphic in the article shows the brand manager can try to gain customer attention by using free samples, brand awareness, image advertising, attitude toward the brand, ethical corporate behavior and brand ethics. All of these factors become the brand equity. However, value equity (what the customer gets for the money) and relationship equity (the relationship of the company to people and the environment) will also be considered by the customer when choosing a particular brand. Therefore, the final […]

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June 13, 2008

Insurance Coverage Is Risky Business For Providers

Ever since Florida got slammed by a series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, insurance has been expensive and hard to come by for growers, and steps the state has taken to provide insurance to homeowners has made it even less desirable for private insurers to do business in Florida. The state-sponsored market of last resort, Citizens Insurance Company, has become the only option for many homeowners and businesses, especially if they are near the coast. To subsidize Citizens, the state is charging private insurance companies a 2 percent surcharge on each premium in the state of Florida. On top of this, the state has enacted a rate freeze for private insurance companies in Florida. Where the real squeeze comes is when insurance companies can’t pass along rate increases from their reinsurance companies, who are not frozen by the state. Insurance companies buy insurance to minimize their risk and exposure. On […]

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June 12, 2008

The Accommodating Syndrome

There are a number of competing influences that help mold our behavior. One pair of forces that often clash is a desire to do our duty and the need to be liked and fit in. Youth often grow up in subcultures where succeeding is simply not fashionable. They quickly learn that achievement often brings envy and disdain. Stories abound of young people who have buried their talents so as not to appear too successful, talented or intelligent in the eyes of their friends. Sooner or later these individuals enter the workforce, where things are not much different. Individuals who are perceived as working too hard are often targeted for punishment by co-workers. When employees become supervisors, foremen or crew leaders, these challenges are compounded. As supervisors, such individuals seek the approval of subordinates rather than their own supervisors. Even though the boss might clearly explain why a task needs to […]

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June 12, 2008

Raising Roses

Cornell University plant pathologist Dr. Kenneth Horst has authored the second edition of the “Compendium of Rose Diseases and Pests.” In this new edition, Horst collaborates with Raymond Cloyd, Kansas State University associate professor and Extension specialist. “The Compendium of Rose Diseases and Pests, Second Edition”  (http://www.greencure.net/compendium_of_rose_diseases_book_ken_horst.asp) has been thoroughly updated, expanded and given a new format with 151 color photographs. The second edition now includes information on insects and mites with 68 images to help identify these pests and the damage they cause. The book covers rose diseases caused by bacteria, as well as viral diseases such as rose mosaic, rose streak, leaf curl and other problems. It also covers rose damage caused by physiological problems, environmental imbalances, air pollution, pesticide toxicity and nutritional deficiencies. Color photographs of infectious disease symptoms, now inset with the text, enable users to accurately identify diseases that affect roses and quickly understand the causes, […]

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June 12, 2008

The Co-operative Movement

Difficult times call for interesting ideas – and the co-operative idea is one that has had varying levels of success for generations in several industries. In fact, rarely has such a simple idea had such a huge impact for those that earnestly participate. Risking the obvious here … the word "co-operative" comes from the word "co-operation" or "co-operate." Most people don’t think of this when you ask them what a "co-op" is. Ask 100 people what a co-op is and you will get a lot of answers that involve organic farming or other small local farm operations. However, a co-operative can involve as few as two "members" or as many as thousands. Indeed, farming has often been the genesis of many co-operatives. To this day, dairy farming, organic farming and berry farming are areas where we see co-operatives thrive. The reason? It makes sense. A co-operative is a partnership, of sorts. […]

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June 12, 2008

It’s Not Easy Being Green

A month ago I told you a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled, "There Is A Difference." The moral of the story was that all types of plants and people receive the same resources, such as sun, air and nutrients, and it is up to them to utilize these resources as best they can to survive, enjoy life and prosper. Andersen wrote the fairy tale more than 200 years ago. In 1970, a "Sesame Street" book and record followed in Andersen’s footsteps when Kermit the Frog said, "It’s not easy being green." I guess our industry feels like Kermit, since we have tried to be green for more than 200 years. We use greenhouses to grow plants that are not native to areas and make it possible for them to be enjoyed in all parts of the world. For example, poinsettias, which are native to Mexico, can be grown […]

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June 12, 2008

How Safe is Your Greenhouse?

A greenhouse worker gets her finger caught in a pot-filling machine and barely escapes losing her entire hand. A different employee rapidly moves her fingers in the same position for hours on end while making cuttings, without taking time for breaks. A third employee is just plain careless. She neglects to roll up unused hoses, clean up spills or put carts and ladders away. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? If so, it’s probably time to take a good hard look at your company’s injury/accident record, any reports of “near miss” incidents (or close calls), and your workers’ compensation costs over the past several years. What you may find are increasing numbers of injuries and/or near misses, trends showing that certain types of injuries continue to reoccur and escalating insurance costs. Safety at your greenhouse is directly related to your company’s profitability. A poor safety record can result not […]

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June 11, 2008

Freakynomics

In the Dec. 10, 2007 issue of Fortune magazine, Stanley Bing wrote an article with the title "Freakynomics." It is a great spoof of all that the so-called financial experts are predicting, everything from recession to depression, stagflation to inflation. His subtitle is "Getting Your Finances Squared Away For The End Of The Year World." I believe Bing hit the nail on the head when he finished his article with this statement: "If I don’t believe everything, it’s possible, just possible, that I might end up believing nothing. That would be bad, wouldn’t it?" I certainly wouldn’t count on financial experts to tell me what to do. Many believe that they have caused the recession, depression and unstable financial situation. The "experts" have pushed sub-prime mortgage markets, student loan schemes and death bond loan scams. They even have developed a scheme where interest rates can be over 100 percent a […]

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June 11, 2008

A Holistic Approach

When Wayne and Chris Mercer bought their 17-acre piece of land in Zellwood, Fla. in 1987, it held less than a half acre of Dutch glass house, 2 1/2 acres of vintage fiberglass greenhouses and several common flat-top shade structures. “We affectionately called the location ‘The Rat Hole,’ because several large rats scampered for their lives as discarded mounds of nursery debris were loaded into dumpsters,” Wayne says. The property, overrun with old garbage, brush and trees growing up through the buildings’ roofs, was given new life over the next three years. The Mercers’ mentor and family member Gene Batson “provided a military style of training and introduction to potted tropicals, turning a dental hygienist and a small-building contractor from Michigan into Florida farmers,” says Wayne. As a result, Mercer Botanicals sold its first plants in 1990 to an already established customer base. Seventeen years later, the operation has grown to […]

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