It is difficult to determine what the most important lesson I’ve learned in my 32 years of owning a greenhouse business is, but there are certainly a few lessons to ponder.
Lesson No. 1
First, have a good plan–both short and long term. Dream big! Set lofty goals that seem unreachable, then put a short-term plan together that takes the first step in achieving those goals.
When my wife Louise and I first started with 9,000 square feet, our dream was to have a 1-acre greenhouse. That would be a huge accomplishment. But 32 years later, we have 18 acres of heated greenhouse space and 30 acres of outdoor production. Who would have thought it?
The price for not dreaming big enough and laying out your project for future expansion is a costly expense and a mistake to correct later. We learned along the way and accomplished some great things. So plan big and go for it!
Lesson No. 2
Surround yourself with great people. Louise and I started building the business by ourselves. Close friends and family also aided in construction, planting and completion of our first greenhouse. The next year, my brother Bill and another young man, Joe Moore, who’s now head grower at Lucas Greenhouses, started working part time. As we grew, so did our list of very talented people.
Today, we employ more than 150 people. I believe the success of our business is because of the dedicated staff we now have from bottom to top. They are committed to our primary goal, which is to produce excellent quality products, give great customer service, be honest and treat people fairly.
Lesson No. 3
Always be ready to learn new things. Trial or experiment with new technology and plant materials. Then be prepared for the unexpected. We have tried new-style greenhouses and growing on flood floors with different types of collection methods. We are working on recycling all of our interior runoff with the use of ozone and filtering systems.
We trial new boom technology, spray application routines, fertilizer injection methods and environmental controls. We constantly test new varieties and cultural processes, and evaluate shipping methods and lighting developments.
Change can often be good for us, and it is coming whether we are ready for it or not. “Change” may be due to the economy, or a change in customer base, location or supply and demand. Regardless, change happens and we must be prepared to meet it. Look into that cloudy crystal ball and try to anticipate what is coming. Ride the wave; don’t be drowned by it because you refuse to change with it. Be better for it and, of course, learn as often as you can.
Lesson No. 4
Pay attention to details. If you are not a detail-oriented person, you must find key people to put in those positions. It is the ability to pay attention to the little things that makes us better than the next guy.
Keeping your greenhouse clean (i.e. plant material and facility), maintaining equipment on a regular basis and picking and packing orders are extremely important. Even simple tasks like washing and keeping delivery trucks clean are important.
I often get calls from people who say, “I saw your truck on the road and it was really nice, clean and caught my eye.” Little details like this make a huge impact on a person’s perceptions of your business. Sure, paying attention to details is tough, but it’s so important. Attention to detail separates good companies from great companies.