Hey, welcome back … to reality that is. Becoming reacquainted with reality is a wonderful and valuable incidental benefit of a crisis, economic or otherwise. Anyone who has faced the imminent probability of death has a better appreciation of life; just like person who has faced the potential of economic ruin or loss has a better appreciation for the benefits of economic success and conservatism; or the person who has staked a fortune on the promises of “greenness” and learned it is still about quality product, quality service, fair prices and good business management.
Once again, it was confirmed the most important factor in the year-to-year success of our business is how many sunny Saturdays there are in April and May. Once again, the day to day success of our industry has been confirmed to be how well you manage your business. Yes, a penny saved is a penny earned. Once again we appreciate the “magic of compound interest” relative to the “amazing wealth building capability of the equity markets” in the tortoise-and-hare race to business and personal success.
Three years ago, we suspected burning corn to heat our greenhouses was a no-brainer in reducing the costs of heating our greenhouses. Now, having seen the cost burning our food sources for fuel exceed the cost of gas, many growers have a better appreciation for the “magic of turning on the gas valve” and paying attention to money, managing, marketing and merchandising to achieve profitability.
Two years ago, we maybe thought growing organic crops in a sustainable cow manure pot and delivering them in a carbon neutral fashion was the key to success. Today, we are learning delivering good quality on time for a good value wins the race regardless of whether product is organic, grown a thousand miles away or was delivered in an electric car or a diesel truck.
One year ago, we were afraid there might be a recession and weren’t sure how it would affect our “recession-resilient” industry. Today, we appreciate the fact that, as we are, we are in fact the original green industry. To a degree, we are recession resistant, and our success is still generally dependent on how well we manage our businesses and how many sunny Saturdays we have in April and May.
Six months ago, we were pretty sure the “big stuff”–fancy patio planters, 16-inch hanging baskets, and high-end do-it-for-me products were the way the market was going.
In the last two months, we realized when the consumer is faced with economic reality, or at least fear of reality, the 4-inch bedding plant is still a popular item and grandma’s vegetable garden makes sense.
Sure, organic production, greenness and sustainability all have a place in the market, and they’ll be viable market approaches for some growers. But most consumers (sorry, but it is true) still just want to have a beautiful patio or receive a compliment from their neighbor for having a nice-looking yard–even if chemicals and plastics are involved.
And, the general trend toward do-it-for-me products will most likely prevail. This past season demonstrated to most growers in the United States that success comes with a focus on the basics of good greenhouse and nursery business. Pay attention to the details of your cost per unit of production (fuel, labor, water, chemicals). Grow a crop of quality appropriate to your market, deliver it on time and in good condition. Help your retailer merchandise your product well, treat your customers, employees and family well, and boom, you have success.
My father can’t remember a lot these days about a lot of things, but when I talk to him about how to succeed in business–something he did well–he remembers:
- Gotta show up every day to make sure things are going as they should.
- Gotta take home the same amount, good year or bad, so you can reinvest in the business to keep up with the ever-present grind on profitability and keep your family happy at the same time.
- Gotta pay attention to the details. The devil is in the details. Turn off the lights when the sun is shining, turn down the heat when you don’t need it, open the doors before you turn on the fans.
So here we go again, coming back to business as usual, a bit wiser, a bit chastened, and confident that we have a beautiful product that is already green, that people want even when times are bad, and that we can be successful even if we aren’t super green, wonderfully sustainable, earthily organic, or politically correct.
Congratulations on surviving a tough spring and achieving another successful season in spite of it all.