Thrive, Don’t Just Survive!

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It is obvious we are all experiencing significant change, not only in our businesses but also in our personal lives. Things that were considered the bedrocks of our existence may start to crumble.

Things we worked all our lives for, like pensions, health care and Social Security, may not be as secure as we thought they would be. Even our jobs may not be secure. One has only to look at major U.S. manufacturers to see how the once golden production line jobs are being eliminated and manufacturing is being shipped offshore to places where the cost of labor is one-fifth to one-half of what it is in the U.S.

I recently read an interesting story about a manager of a manufacturing company who was told his whole section would be terminated. People came to him and expressed their sorrow at the company’s decision. However, the terminated manager said, "I feel pretty good. My future is now a clean slate." One of his friends said, "That’s one way of looking at it." He replied, "That’s the only way to look at it!"

Obviously the laid-off manager had a vision of where he could go and what he could do. He had many contacts in the industry. He made many friends in the company and the community. He only had to sell himself to a company that could use his talents. A lot of small businesses are going bankrupt or just stopping production and closing their doors. Even some of the larger floriculture businesses are ceasing to exist.

We are also seeing the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar coming closer to par. As I write this article, the rate is $0.95 U.S. to $1 Canadian. Two years ago it was $0.78 U.S. to $1 Canadian. This means Canadian greenhouse growers will not have a major advantage in selling to U.S. wholesalers or retailers. Our currencies are now almost equal.

Because of the many changes in our business, it is imperative to constantly make adjustments in what we do and how we do it. You need to "frame" your business and your personal life. Think of your business and your personal life as pictures. Once you have captured those pictures and can see them clearly, you need to frame them. This is the simple analogy of what your vision is. This view of your business and personal life will be the business and personal life you will have. Unfortunately, many in our profession have not taken the time to develop their pictures. Because of their lack of vision and lack of proper planning, their businesses and/or their family life will fail.

I’ve worked with hundreds of greenhouse growers. In the beginning, I would help them solve their cultural problems and teach them how to grow plants that were acceptable for sale and a source of income for their businesses and their families. I found it was much easier to solve the plant problems and much more difficult to solve the people problems.

I’ve categorized the people in our industry into four different types.

Those who have lots of money but no life: When I first started at Michigan State, my boss sent me out to visit the top five growers in the state. They were the wealthiest growers in Michigan in the late 1960s. Most of them were very successful business people. They devoted their whole lives to their businesses. I was in awe of what they had accomplished. As I got to know them better, I found most of them had family problems and their sons or daughters did not want anything to do with the business. By the 1980s, three of the five businesses no longer existed, one was marginal and one is run by a son who, after many discussions with his father, decided to stick with the business.

People who have a full life but no money: Some people think business should be a 9 to 5 job, and it should not interfere in their personal lives. It usually doesn’t take long for these people to wake up to the fact that plants live 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They find that plants that are neglected don’t do very well, don’t look good and don’t sell well. They learn that money isn’t everything, but you can’t grow a business or a family without it.

People who have no life and no money: These are the folks who think of floriculture as an escape from the real world. Some are actually recluses. They rely on their ability to build their own structures, grow their own plants and live in a survival mode. Very few in this mode survive for long!

People who develop a balance between work and their personal lives: Many times these folks are a family unit that all work in the business. They are able to put the framed picture together so all family members can see the vision and are willing to work not only for the company’s vision, but for the family’s vision as well.

While I have worked with all four groups, I enjoy most the people who have a balance between work and family. I want to share with you a system that I’ve developed to bring a balance to our industry and to allow business employees and family members to be involved in framing the picture properly. I usually start this process in mid-summer. 

Framing The Picture

While we are thinking all the time and good thoughts or ideas can arise at any time, for many of us, summer comes after the end of our big rush. We have thoughts about what went well and what didn’t. We have ideas about what we need more of, what new varieties we should grow and what we can do to improve the business.

This is a great time to hold a brainstorming meeting with key employees and family members. This is the Dreaming Stage, when we start to develop the new picture for next year.

It’s followed by the Gleaming Stage, that is talking about what we plan to do and giving focus to our thoughts and ideas. And it’s also the Beaming Stage. We may have objections or disagreements about the plan. We need to assess these objections, see if they are valid or not, and make the appropriate changes.

Usually by September we have a clear picture of next season for our business and our family. Once we have this picture properly framed, we start the planning. We develop the scheme (Action Plans) and the team, the people we need to accomplish the vision. It may take three months to work out all the details.

Then in October, November or December, depending on the type of business, it’s execution time! We start to put all the pieces of the puzzle together – the raw products, the greenhouse space, schedules, personnel and so on. What products are we growing? How many do we need, at what time and for what customer?

By the end of June, we need to evaluate what happened and what didn’t. Did we accomplish our goals? Did we meet our sales objectives? Did we make a profit? Then guess what? We can start again for the next year!

Your schedule may be different, but it is a cycle that never ends. Remember that survival is essential. Thriving only comes from knowing how to do each step of production, marketing and business planning.

I hope you all realize changes will occur and that you will be able to adjust to them quickly. It’s time to start planning for next year’s spring season! Good luck!

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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