Waste Watchers

The annual Seeley Conference is designed to promote discussion of issues important to the future of commercial floriculture. And from the words of the first speaker – “Nobody’s making the money they should” – it was clear that this year’s conference was all about the bottom line.

In fact, the theme of the twenty-second annual Seeley Conference was “Profit Squeeze – Is There A Solution?” Conference organizers posed the question: “Will the industry’s profit squeeze be overcome through innovative approaches resulting in less costly operations, by improving the value of our products or both?”

A possible answer to that question is one of the more talked-about subjects in the greenhouse industry today: Lean Horticulture, and this year’s meeting focused in large part on just that idea. The Lean philosophy was presented and discussed from the perspective of bankers, grocery chain buyers, traditional retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and growers.

What Lean Means

As the conference proceeded, reactions from attendees toward the idea ranged from skepticism to intense interest. One thing that was pretty clear from beginning, however – dropping into the middle of a discussion about Lean techniques can be a confusing experience for the uninitiated. Lean has a language all its own, with practitioners tossing around words like “Kaizen,” Kanban” and “Takt” (see Speak The Language sidebar). Broken down to its most basic form, though, the concept of Lean Horticulture is pretty much just common sense to anyone in the business: It’s all about your customer. The Lean philosophy says that a company should define value from the viewpoint of the customer and eliminate or reduce everything else. If a customer is willing to pay you for something, it has value. Anything they don’t want to pay for is, by definition, waste.

Some “waste” – costs that go into overhead, transportation, salaries, etc. – is necessary, of course, and can’t be eliminated. On the other hand, variables such as overproduction, excess inventory, extra motion or unnecessary product handling are considered “pure waste” and should be eliminated from the process, since they don’t contribute to what the customer ultimately wants.

Businesses implementing a Lean program identify an area with waste and go through an intensive, hands-on process to find ways to reduce or eliminate the excess motion, effort, time or expense. 

The People Factor

The real benefit of Lean, said proponents, is not the immediate cost savings. Rather, it’s teaching people to think differently and training them to look for new ideas. Changing people, however, is harder than changing process, they pointed out.

From firsthand experience, many of the growers at the conference explained that a common fear from employees asked to participate in a Lean program is that their jobs are in danger. And, indeed, one of the bottom-line benefits of the process is finding efficiencies in a specific procedure and, often, becoming more productive with fewer people. However, most speakers reported that by becoming more efficient, they were able to free up workers for other tasks, and cross-train them for new jobs, making the entire operation even more flexible. And ideally, if you train people well enough, they will self-manage a lot more. “You’ll still need a supervisor to keep the plates spinning,” said one grower, “but the need to micromanage everything is greatly reduced.”

Reading List

Looking for more information on the Lean Manufacturing concept? Check out these titles available on the Web and through many national bookstore chains:
The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox
Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones
The Machine That Changed The World: The Story Of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos
All I Need To Know About Manufacturing I Learned in Joe’s Garage by William B. Miller and Vicki L. Schenk

Perpetual Progress

A common mindset in business is to view everything as a project with a beginning, middle and end. That’s a fatal mistake for anyone trying to implement Lean said many of its practitioners. “Lean never ends,” emphasized more than one speaker. The idea is that this commitment to a Lean culture in your business requires that you continuously look for ways to streamline your business, providing more value and less waste.

How do you make Lean sustainable over time? It needs to become part of your company culture, stressed several of the speakers. “You need a good system in place with a well-oriented, trained staff.”

Like any business management technique, Lean isn’t always implemented without a hitch. While most of the growers at the meeting who had adopted lean practices seemed more than happy with the results overall, each also spoke about challenges he faced, and suggested steps he took to avoid more problems in the future.

• Do post-mortems after instituting a change. Talk about what went right and what you can improve on the next time you go through the process.

• Don’t focus on cutting costs alone. It will make you myopic. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Lean is all about the customer.

• Be persistent, avoid backsliding and sustain change. Sacrifice the number of changes you make in order to sustain the ones you’ve already done.

• Make sure you have buy in from the top of the company. If they don’t support what you’re doing, neither will anyone else in the long run.

• Address the fence sitters. They’ll bring you down if you’re not careful.

In the end, one of the keys to success with Lean Horticulture is just getting started, they said. “You have to have a bias for action,” said one grower.

“Don’t overanalyze. Just do it,” added another speaker. “It’s a continual process. If something doesn’t work out as well as you hoped, you just start again.”

Leave a Reply

Latest Stories
hoffman-new-greenhouse-feature

September 30, 2016

How Hoffman Nursery Invests In Technology In Response T…

The North Carolina-based ornamental and native grasses producer recently invested in greenhouse structures and advanced automation to help increase efficiency.

Read More
cannabis-planted-in-a-greenhouse

September 29, 2016

The 10 Most Common Misconceptions About Greenhouse Cann…

In an emerging market such as cannabis, there can be a lot of bad information out there. One greenhouse supplier points out some common myths.

Read More

September 28, 2016

Pennsylvania Greenhouse Grower Applying For Cannabis Li…

Allen Wagner of Wagner’s Greenhouse in Grandview, PA, hopes to become one of 25 applicants — among as many as 150 — chosen for a grower-processor license.

Read More
finneran bee on snakeroot

September 28, 2016

Which Annuals And Perennials Are Good For Pollinators?

If you are a grower looking for information on producing plants that are safe for pollinators, or which plant types can be marketed as good food sources for bees, the new publication “Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes” provides a good resource.

Read More
The-Capitol

September 28, 2016

How The November Election Might Affect The Legalization…

National polls indicate Americans are largely divided on the topic, while this year’s presidential candidates generally feel it’s a state issue.

Read More
tomato spotted wilt virus angular-necrosis-of-leaves-and-plant-stunting

September 28, 2016

Tips For Managing Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus In Mums

According to a report from Michigan State University, symptoms of tomato spotted wilt virus on chrysanthemum include yellow blotching and rings, necrotic lesions, and stem collapse.

Read More
cannabis-crop-protection

September 27, 2016

Washington State Outlines Pesticide Criteria For Cannab…

The state has also compiled a searchable list of pesticides that fit the criteria for use on marijuana.

Read More
Vogel Alcove NGB Therapeutic Grant Winner

September 27, 2016

National Garden Bureau Announces Horticulture Therapy G…

The NGB’s annual grant program, Growing for Futures, recently selected three therapeutic gardens that will receive grants totaling $5,000.

Read More
phlox-fashionably-early-flamingo-walters-gardens

September 27, 2016

Walters Gardens Partnering With Darwin Colombia On Unro…

Beginning in spring 2017, Darwin Colombia will offer unrooted cuttings of more than 40 varieties of Walters Gardens’ new genetics, including many popular genera such as Agastache, Monarda, Nepeta, and Phlox.

Read More
totalgrow-night-and-day-management-boom-lighting-venntis-feature

September 27, 2016

Check Out The Latest In Lighting Technology For Greenho…

Manufacturers are developing several innovative lighting systems that can help growers save on energy efficiency, while improving plant quality. Here’s a look at some of their newest offerings.

Read More
cuttings-facility

September 27, 2016

How Global Suppliers Of Unrooted Cuttings Are Working T…

The world’s top vegetative producers discuss how they continue to evolve to overcome challenges and embrace opportunities to help growers and the varieties supply chain.

Read More
Streptocarpus Ladyslippers Grape Ice (Green Fuse Botanicals)

September 27, 2016

9 New Blooming Potted Plants To Jazz Up The Home And Ga…

Blooming potted plants are the ideal gift for anyone, from a homesick college student to a spouse in need of some cheering up. Check out nine these new introductions hitting the retail market in 2017.

Read More

September 27, 2016

Kitchen Counter Gardening Leads Garden Media Group̵…

This year's list includes several items around healthy living and eating, from gardening indoors year-round, to "forest bathing."

Read More
bruce-butterfield-and-ngs-image

September 27, 2016

Bruce Butterfield, National Garden Survey Researcher, D…

The man who headed up the National Gardening Survey for the past 35 years, Bruce Butterfield, has died. He was 67 years old. Butterfield’s work with the National Gardening Survey gave the green industry a reliable tool to understand consumer gardening practices and spending. Bruce Butterfield started his career as the Market Research Director at the National Gardening Association in 1978 and continued that same work until his death on September 5 as the Research Director at GardenResearch.com. “These many years of experience doing market research about gardeners and gardening trends gives him a unique understanding of who gardeners are, what they need and want, why they buy the products they do, where they shop, how gardening trends have changed in the past, and where they are headed in the future,” his bio on GardenResearch.com reads.       Butterfield was also behind What Gardeners’ Think and the Environmental Lawn […]

Read More

September 26, 2016

How Even An Overworked Plant Retailer Can Predict Consu…

Years ago, I read an article about Pottery Barn and the women who were making it a success. It was eye-opening to realize that a glossy, national chain like Pottery Barn used to buy products in a similar way garden retailers do. There was one section of that article that really caught my imagination. It was the profile of Celia Tejada, the woman who moved Pottery Barn from buying products from outside vendors to designing their own products. When Tejada joined Pottery Barn, she instructed her entire staff to begin keeping an eye out for things they liked, no matter how minor. So if they were at a restaurant with friends, or walking along a street and something caught their eye, they were to either buy it or photograph it and place it in a room set aside for these kinds of inspiration. When it came time to select themes for the […]

Read More
urban-outfitters-logo-feature

September 26, 2016

Terrain’s Parent Company Breaks Impass For Waterl…

There’s been a development in the stalled plans for a new Terrain garden store from Urban Outfitters on the former Waterloo Gardens location. In a letter to Easton Township, PA, officials, Urban Outfitters’ Chief Development Officer J. David Ziel says the company is removing a key element that had met strong resistance from the community around Devon Yards, its term for the development plan on the former Waterloo Gardens site. Devon Yards will no longer include a four-story apartment building in its “lifestyle center” project, Ziel wrote. But it will still include its third Terrain store, a large format Anthropologie, and several eateries. The planned apartment building had created friction with local residents, Mainline Media News reported back in April. While residents welcomed the retail aspects of the plan, they felt a large apartment building would change the character of the community. The developer who will work on the project, […]

Read More
Orius_June 2015

September 25, 2016

Peace Tree Farm Hosting Biocontrols Event In October

“Advanced Greenhouse Biocontrols for Ornamental and Vegetable Producers” will feature advice from biocontrol authorities Lloyd Traven and Suzanne Wainwright-Evans.

Read More
sbi-software-triumph

September 25, 2016

Greenhouse Software Suppliers Offering A Range Of New S…

Want to know what some of the leading software suppliers are doing to address the ever-evolving needs of their greenhouse customers? Here’s a brief update.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]