Perspective: How To Make Changes In Your Greenhouse Business

Tom Costamagna of Mid-American Growers

Change is almost never easy. But in today’s market, the ability to adapt, evolve and make changes efficiently and effectively is one of the most important qualities of a greenhouse business.

Tom Costamagna, director of plant quality for Mid-American Growers in Granville, Ill., has brought a number of changes, big and small, to this Top 100 operation over the past few years. We asked him to share some of the steps he’s taken in getting buy-in and making  change happen in an established operation. Communication, he says, is the key.

GG: You’re a big proponent of involving all the different segments of the business in making changes at Mid-American Growers. Why is that?

Costamagna: I think of our business as a team sport. I like to use stock-car racing as an analogy because many do not think of that as a team sport. Racing certainly seems like an individual sport, considering all the attention a driver gets. But while a driver is arguably the most important part of a race team, he isn’t the only reason a team wins or loses.

Dozens of people work on a race team and contribute to the performance of a car every weekend. From the owner to the crew chief, the engine builder and the guy who orders parts, everyone on a team has to work well — and work well together — in order for the team to succeed.

It’s really not different from our greenhouse team. To continue the comparison to a racing team, we have:

The Driver — In the case of the greenhouse, the driver is the grower, as he or she is holding the profits at the end of the hose. Using art and science to grow plants, growers drive our products to success or failure as they are graded by the quality, timing and specifications set by the customer.

The Owner — This position is similar in racing, greenhouses, or any business. The owner has the final say from hiring to firing and spending the necessary money on the essentials to be successful, while having to be astute and savvy businesspeople.

A Sponsor — In the case of our greenhouse operation, the sponsor is our customer: the retail stores who contract business with us so we can pay the bills. They don’t get to hang out at the greenhouse or advise us on how to do things, but they expect us to deliver what is requested.

The Team Manager — At Mid-American Growers, this is the Executive Management Committee. This committee is represented by the heads of the following departments: sales, accounting, human resources, growing, production and maintenance. Together with the owners, we collectively strategize and make decisions.

The Rest Of The Team — For a stock car racer, it’s the crew chief, car chief, engine tuner, tire specialist, engineers, mechanics, pit crew and truck driver. For us, the rest of the team is everyone who reports to the department heads mentioned above, from seasonal employees to merchandisers at the store level.

Communication is the critical component in everything we do, as every action has a reaction. To have a car run fast enough for several hours to win a race or to have our greenhouse business function smoothly and efficiently to deliver quality product to our customers, this needs to happen day in and day out. Each department is an integral piece of the puzzle and  its performance ultimately has an impact on the bottom line.

In today’s world of business, good isn’t good enough and will never result in excellence. As management, we must do our due diligence to fine-tune our team and this all begins with communication.

GG: Why is communication betwteen the departments — for example, between growing and production and sales — so important?

Costamagna: If we can’t effectively communicate as a group how can we ever expect to improve as an individual, a department, or the company as a whole? This might seem like a very easy task, but how good are we at it? How often are things misinterpreted or slightly altered when information moves from person to person or department to department? If we can effectively communicate, understand what is expected and be held accountable, this will make everyone’s job easier in the long run.

GG: What steps have you implemented to help make changes at Mid-American Growers?

Costamagna: Something that I learned from my previous employer, Pete VanderLugt of Aldershot of New Mexico, is that the steps needed to effect change don’t happen overnight. [See The Steps Needed To Effect Change.] They take time and a whole lot of persistence. This is my third spring here at Mid-American Growers, and with every season until the day I retire I will analyze, question and adjust accordingly. Like anything in life, this process will not be free of mistakes. But not trying and learning from them only leads to the same result. That is not how I am wired.

GG: What would you suggest other growers do to improve their communication — especially businesses that might not have the resources of a Top 100 Grower like Mid-American.

Costamagna: Effective communication does not rely on a company’s resources, which is a great thing!
It takes discipline and the willingness of an organization to be successful. The process can be overwhelming, so start in one area. Do not try to tackle the whole company at one time. Work on this collectively as a management group, both objectively and subjectively — not forcing a resolution but letting ideas and documentation age over time.
Even though greenhouse businesses are similar, they are not all alike, so there is no one easy answer to making changes. Like communicating, it is easier said than done. But one will be amazed how this process can evolve and show positive results relatively quickly when adapted and followed through.

The Steps Needed To Effect Change

Big changes in your business are almost always easier to accomplish if you implement them incrementally rather than try to make them all at once. Here are 10 steps I learned from Pete VanderLugt at Aldershot of New Mexico that we’re incorporating at Mid-American Growers:

1. Define the goal you want to achieve

2. Define the current status

3. Define the areas of responsibility. In our case, those areas include:
   a. Growing
   b. Sales – National/Local
   c. Shipping — Breakdowns/Sleeve/Warehouse/Transportation
   d. Production — Planting/Flow/Spacing/Maintenance
   e. Office – Accounting/Accounts Receivable/Accounts Payable/Human Resources/Administrative

4. Define the department heads/chiefs
   a. Begin the evaluation of the workforce

5. Define the team’s job duties and responsibilties (JDRs)
   a. Develop the process and procedures (PRO/PROs) for those JDRs and determine the sequence needed for the JDRs and PRO/PROs
   b. Develop a scoring system so individuals are aware of what’s expected.

6. Get consensus from the team on the JDRs & PRO/PROs

7. Implement and train

8. Police the JDRs and PRO/PROs — get everyone to engage.

9. Develop the change JDR lists and PRO/PROs to develop the escalating development of the system you are creating

10. Develop a summary/report card, reward and discipline system
— Tom Costamagna

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...

April 17, 2015

Sakata Seed Uses California Spring Trials Display Plants To Give Back

Sakata Seed America is putting its post-CAST (California Spring Trials) plants and flowers to good use to support events in local California communities of Salinas and Morgan Hill. The plants, along with donations through Sakata's Charitable Giving Program, will support three fun-filled community events that promote healthy lifestyles and support the agricultural industry.

Read More
Hakonochloa macra Aureola v

April 17, 2015

Ornamental Grasses — A Few Thoughts

Grasses have been embraced by growers, landscape architects and retailers, and are an important component in wholesale and resale sales. Allan Armitage shares some popular grasses, one to avoid and a few to use with caution.

Read More
PW_CAST15

April 17, 2015

Allan Armitage’s Favorite Plants From Proven Winners, Syngenta And Danziger

Between visiting California Spring Trial giants like Proven Winners, Syngenta and Danziger, Allan Armitage saw a lot of great plants in one day. Despite the size of the challenge, Dr. Armitage finds a few favorites he thinks you should try.

Read More
Latest Stories

April 15, 2015

Redesigned SunPatiens Website Offers New Tools For Saka…

Sakata Seed America's new and improved SunPatiens website launched March 1, 2015 and provides growing information, marketing support, product location and many more tools to encourage consumer success with SunPatiens.

Read More
Farwest2015

April 15, 2015

Online Registration For FarWest 2015 Open, Discount Bef…

Online registration is now open for FarWest 2015, a green industry educational conference and tradeshow, which will take place August 27 to 29 in Portland, Ore. The show promises a full menu of classes, seminars and off-site events, plus a special benefit added this year for attendees.

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Janeen Wright

April 13, 2015

Different Routes Lead To New Growth In Your Greenhouse

The path you take to success in your greenhouse may not be the well-traveled one, but the end result can still be the same — growth for you and your greenhouse business.

Read More
Restricting foliar pesticide applications on blooming plants to early morning or as dusk approaches in the evening reduces direct exposure to bees.

April 10, 2015

10 Steps For Protecting Crops And Bees

Bees stay safe and high quality crops thrive when you use bee-friendly practices designed to help both succeed. Griffin Greenhouse Supply Pro (GGSPro) has been actively discussing bee-friendly pesticide use for years. Based on its current understanding of the science and social factors at play, GGSPro currently recommends these 10 bee-friendly practices.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More
Dummen

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Todd Woodfield

April 8, 2015

Sustainable Horticulture Pays Off

Practicing holistic horticulture has saved money and improved plant quality for Abby Farms. Its manager shares where the operation has seen differences from conventional production.

Read More
Gov._Jerry_Brown_California

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
HRI logo

April 8, 2015

Horticultural Research Institute Accepting Scholarship …

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) is offering seven scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year, totaling $20,000. Applications will be accepted through May 31.

Read More
american-hort-logo

April 8, 2015

AmericanHort And State Associations Advocate For Workfo…

AmericanHort, along with roughly two dozen other state association partners, joined nearly 140 organizations in a letter to the House of Representatives responding to the Legal Workforce Act (H.R.1147), which is being voted on without provisions that would ensure legal workforce options for agricultural and seasonal employers. H.R.1147 would mandate that all U.S. employers use the federal E-Verify program.

Read More

April 1, 2015

Philadelphia Flower Show Draws More Than 250,000 Attend…

With more than 250,000 consumers attending the prestigious Philadelphia Flower Show in March each year, it's a great opportunity to get flowers and gardening products into the public eye. This year's show displays took on family favorites at the movies, with a focus on Disney and Pixar films. Check out some of the highlights in our slideshow.

Read More
protecting bees and pollinators video

March 31, 2015

New Video On Protecting Bees And Pollinators Educates H…

A new educational video that provides information on the horticultural industry’s essential role in bee and pollinator stewardship is one result of industry collaboration by the Horticultural Research Institute, AmericanHort, Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment. “Protecting Bees & Pollinators: What Horticulture Needs to Know,” narrates the current state of bee and pollinator health, provides information on factors that impact pollinators and the environment and underscores the beneficial role horticulture plays in providing healthy pollinator ecosystems.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Hor…

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 25, 2015

NASS Reports U.S. Honey Production Was Up By 19 Percent…

Honey production in 2014 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 178 million pounds, up 19 percent from 2013, according to a March 20 report from the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Read More