Team Empowerment Pays Off at Micandy Gardens Greenhouses

Micandy Ownership Team feature
Photos by Kate Feuerstein.

What happens when two farmers fall in love? For Andy and Micki Buist, co-owners of Greenhouse Grower’s 2017 Operation of the Year Micandy Gardens Greenhouses, it has resulted in 53 years of spreading joy with flowers.

And after all these years, what still drives Micandy’s success is a strong desire to provide beautiful plants for people to enjoy and better their lives, all while being a good steward of the earth.

After graduation from high school, Micki and Andy started growing on leased land in Hudsonville, MI, and named their business Micandy, a combination of both their first names. Micki’s grandfather gave them the idea, suggesting they try their hand at growing flowers. It turns out they had the skill and passion for it.

Today the wholesale operation includes 580,000 square feet of production space spread over 14 acres. It sows more than a million seeds a year and has more than a thousand vegetative varieties. Micandy specializes in the propagation of annuals, providing plugs and liners to other growers, retailers, and landscapers. It also offers finished products to retail chains and independent garden centers. Over the last few years, Micandy has expanded into perennials and recently added a new outdoor growing area dedicated to this crop.

Grower Team at Micandy Gardens
Terry Foster (left), Andy Buist (middle), and Alberto Tierrablanca (right), head up the grower team at Micandy.

Micandy is More Than a Business — It’s a Way of Life

Keeping everything watered, at the right temperature, and moving smoothly from propagation to shipping is no easy feat. Micandy gets the job done using innovations such as a monorail system to move plants, and high-pressure sodium supplemental lighting in its propagation range to enhance plug germination and improve the rooting of cuttings. Last year, Micandy transitioned much of its lighting from incandescent to light-emitting diode (LED) systems. Energy efficient unit heaters warm the greenhouses, while high-efficiency fluorescent lights provide the greenhouses with ample lighting.

In 2015, Micandy qualified for energy efficient certification through the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. It also implemented a recycling initiative and stopped using neonicotinoids, among other inputs, to run a more environmentally friendly operation.

While Andy heads up Micandy’s growing division as Head Grower and Micki works as Vice President of Production, their daughter Marcelyn Buist-Byl serves as President of the operation and as a shared owner. Marcelyn says her interest in horticulture came naturally because enjoying flowers and the beauty of nature was a way of life growing up. She remembers doing various jobs around the greenhouses as a child and working in the family vegetable garden.

“It was part of who we were,” she says. “I remember a large banner hanging in the greenhouses that said ‘Plant flowers. Don’t pollute.’ What that meant to me growing up was to enjoy the beauty around you and to take care of the earth. Both of those things go hand in hand. That was the way we lived, and it is incorporated still today in how we operate the greenhouses.”

By the time Marcelyn took over as President, she had plenty of experience in all aspects of the family business. She started doing payroll at a very young age. Once she mastered payroll, she learned how to do accounts payable, and after that, she took on the challenge of bringing the business into the computer age. Next, it was attending sales meetings, meeting with breeders, and so on. She says there was always something new and exciting to learn, and she still enjoys that part of the business today.

Seasonal Employees at Micandy Gardens
Seasonal employees who return year after year have contributed to Micandy’s success with expertise gained both inside and outside of the operation.

A Strong Seasonal Labor Force Furthers Success

As President, Marcelyn takes charge of coordinating the efforts of the 150 people Micandy employs during its busy season. Several of these employees are seasonal workers who return year after year, because the Buist family treats them so well. Micandy pays time and a half after 40 hours, among other things, and employees share in potlucks and cookouts to celebrate various occasions of life. The return of seasonal employees each year is one thing Marcelyn attributes to Micandy’s success. Seasonal employees who come back build upon their experiences year after year and establish valuable, long-term customer relationships. Along with providing a steady labor pool and consistency in operations, returning employees share what they have learned at other jobs, which benefits the entire operation.

“Many of our seasonal employees have their own seasonal rotation at other businesses,” Marcelyn says. “Although those businesses have a different focus, employees working there might see something that is more efficient and implement those processes when they come back to work at Micandy. Our employees want to be successful themselves, by contributing to the success of the operation.”

Team Empowerment Springs from Recognizing Contributions

With employees coming and going, it can be a challenge to keep everyone focused on the same objective. Micandy’s management team has a way of encouraging employee buy-in on company goals and initiatives, which is the reason Greenhouse Grower awarded Micandy with its Excellence in Team Empowerment award, in addition to the overall Operation of the Year distinction.

The Buist family says it firmly believes that every employee is important and that all have something to contribute. They instill confidence in the team by maintaining a positive attitude toward them, encouraging team members to be responsible for themselves, and helping them feel good about the tasks they are performing.

“Some of our employees have certain gifts that can benefit our operation. We try to incorporate those gifts wherever we can,” Micki says. “For example, we have a couple of women who are great designers, so we put them in charge of creating combination containers.”

Micandy’s staff meets regularly to keep everyone working toward a common goal. More often than not, however, Marcelyn says it’s the one-on-one or small group conversations that lay the groundwork for working through any challenges that arise, and coming up with different scenarios and ideas that work for everyone.

“You can tell when someone is frustrated with something they are dealing with and doesn’t exactly know how to continue,” she says. “That often leads to a conversation, and that conversation might lead to an impromptu meeting with certain people who might have an impact on the discussion. Our team members’ contributions aren’t a one-time event; they’re constant, which allows everyone to keep learning and solving problems together.”

Micandy also keeps its team on a path of continual learning, by urging them to visit field trials nearby, browse through trade periodicals, and trial the plants they are growing in their own gardens, as well as take advantage of educational opportunities offered through Michigan State University Extension and the local Michigan Plant Growers Cooperative.

An Empowered Team is a Solution-Oriented Team

All of this team empowerment leads to one thing — an experienced team that confidently comes up with solutions for customers and meets product challenges when it really counts, exceeding expectations in the process and consistently producing a high-quality product. A comment made by Micki and Andy’s son and Advisory Board Member Randy Buist, in a video posted on the company website, sums up the 2017 Operation of the Year’s attitude nicely.

“Businesses like to talk about profit, but for us it is about culture,” Randy says. “It is about caring for our employees and our customers, and being proud of having an amazing product.”

Beauty on the Homefront

The team at Micandy Gardens Greenhouses is constantly seeking out new opportunities — some for growth and others for learning. It recently had the chance to share the joy of plants by adding beauty close to home in Grand Rapids, MI. Micandy worked with the city to develop four seasonal combinations to switch up the various municipal planters throughout the year. The project also includes several in-ground plantings.

“We love the city of Grand Rapids, so it has been exciting and rewarding for us to work on this project and envision how we could make a difference in this vastly diverse and growing city in our community,” says Micki Buist, Vice President of Production and shared owner of Micandy Greenhouses. “This is a new venture for us, but with talented and creative employees leading the way, we look forward to making our personal mark on the city and bringing beauty to those who travel its streets each day.”

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