Tom Foley, a greenhouse industry veteran who was most recently with EuroAmerican Propagators, has joined the team at WaterPulse as its Vice President National Sales.
“Tom’s more than two decades of horticulture experience and knowledge will serve our customers well,” says Jim Heffernan, CEO of WaterPulse, a company whose suite of products uses patent-pending technology to mimic the natural capillary action of soil and move water to plants efficiently and precisely . “He understands their needs and will help customers identify the best strategies for impacting their productivity, their quality, and their bottom lines.”
Foley started his career as assistant director of the North Carolina State University Arboretum, before moving into the supply side of horticulture. His experience includes time with California’s Hines Horticulture as Sales Manager and National New Products Manager, as well as serving as Global Supply Chain Manager for Ball Horticultural Company and as Chief Operations Officer for EuroAmerican Propagators. He graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor’s degree in horticulture.
In his new role at WaterPulse, Foley will be responsible for North American sales of the company’s patent-pending capillary mats and associated irrigation systems to nurseries and growers.
Greenhouse Grower recently caught up with Foley and asked him about his new role.
Greenhouse Grower (GG): How did your previous experience prepare you for this new role?
Tom Foley: My experience over the past 20 years has been working in, or with, commercial wholesale greenhouse and nursery operations. The green industry is going through a renaissance. The market is in the midst of significant changes. Where there are market shifts, there are opportunities for the supply chain within breeding, growing, and retailing. One of the opportunities for the green industry is to increase the operation efficiencies for growers and retailers. Reducing waste leads to increase margins. I see waste as any input that does not add value to the final product. An example is having an employee watering plants by hand every day. There are tools, such as the WaterPulse system, that helps reduce the cost of labor. We can then have that person move to more productive areas, adding value to the final product. The WaterPulse system can be used with wholesale growers and retailers.
Another waste is water. We are over watering through overhead irrigation, and hand watering. We are not targeting the water to the plants. The WaterPulse mats get the water directly to where the plants use it: at the roots. This is a simple solution to implement. The return on investment can be returned in less than a year.
GG: What are the some of the biggest issues or concerns you’ve heard from the growers you work with, and how do you plan to help them deal with these issues?
Foley: There are several concerns that growers, including myself, which we are facing. The biggest one is the challenging market that we are facing in terms of finding skilled people to work in horticulture. Our industry is rapidly moving to using automation. Some of these pieces of equipment are very expensive to install, maintain, and operate. The WaterPulse system is a simple tool with no moving parts. The equipment is familiar to most growers. Having tools that can reduce the costs of labor is critical. The WaterPulse capillary mats fulfill the need to have people watering by hand. We can have the people who were watering focus their time and skills on other tasks.
GG: What are the biggest challenges this industry is currently facing? Conversely, what are some of the biggest opportunities on the horizon?
Foley: One of the opportunities is to reduce the time the products are on the benches. Shortening the crop cycles, turning the space more times, leads to increased profits. We have seen from growers that the WaterPulse mats reduce the growing time. One grower reduced a five-week crop to four weeks. That adds up to three additional crop turns per year.
One of the opportunities is to evaluate the entire operations, in a holistic approach. Focus on the simple changes that lead to big results.
GG: Looking ahead, what role can you play in moving this industry forward?
Foley: What interested me in working with WaterPulse was two factors: reduction of labor, and reduction of water. Both are valuable to the grower’s profits. Using less water helps to increase the profits. Redirecting labor from manual watering to adding value to the product will increase profits.
GG: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?
Foley: I have been in horticulture my entire life. I love plants, the industry, and the people in our profession. I am passionate about our products and services. I am fortunate to have chosen a career that offers me the opportunity to work with people and plants. I see significant changes in the future for our industry with regards to products, markets, and connecting to the consumer.
If I was to be in another profession, it would be finance. You can learn a great deal of information on how a company has been run by looking at the past financials. There is information about how a company is performing, in which you can then direct the company, and organization towards a strong financial future. I have used P&L statements to open up conversations with managers. The conversations lead towards insightful discussions regarding organization, leadership, management, and commitment. There is a commitment from managers, and others within the organization, using financials and other metrics. Using metrics, providing training to understand the goals, and working hand in hand with the organization, leads to impressive results.