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
Workers

July 25, 2017

H-2B Gets Cap Increase – Here’s How it Impacts Ho…

Greenhouse Grower caught up with AmericanHort’s Craig Regelbrugge to find out how changes to the non-agricultural guestworker program impacts us, and what it could mean for changes to H-2A, the agricultural guestworker program.

Read More
Cultivate Town Hall 2017

July 25, 2017

Cultivate Town Hall Discussion Highlights Great Potenti…

This year’s Town Hall forum at Cultivate’17 focused on how consumable products have the potential to revolutionize the industry.

Read More
Lighting Book Light Management in Controlled Environments

July 25, 2017

Three Lucky Lighting Book Winners at Cultivate’17

Each day during Cultivate’17, the Greenhouse Grower/Meister Media Worldwide booth gave away one copy of “Light Management in Controlled Environments.”

Read More
Farwest Show Floor

July 25, 2017

Heading to Farwest 2017? Make Sure You Register by July…

July 31 is the last day to take advantage of early-bird registration discounts for the show, which includes the trade show, all education seminars and pesticide classes, and nursery country tours.

Read More
Decorative Premium Hanging Baskets (Ainong USA)

July 25, 2017

16 Products That Garden Retailers Loved at Cultivate’17

In what has become an annual tradition at Cultivate, a team of garden retailers presented awards for their picks as the best new products (both live goods and hard goods) from Cultivate’17.

Read More
Craig Regelbrugge

July 23, 2017

Horticulture Industry Insiders Offer Tips on Communicat…

With immigration in the spotlight and a national budget that could severely impact horticulture industry programs, it’s more important than ever to be vocal about how the decisions that lawmakers are implementing impact your business.

Read More

July 22, 2017

Craig Regelbrugge: Proposed Budget Cuts Could Eliminate…

President Trump’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year includes significant cuts to the Agricultural Research Service, which supports the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative.

Read More

July 21, 2017

New Products Zone at Cultivate’17 Features Goods …

The New Products zone is always a popular exhibit at Cultivate’17. Here’s a sampling of some of the many items on display that could make growing easier than ever before.

Read More
EOE Ushio Sakazaki On Stage

July 20, 2017

Highlights from Greenhouse Grower’s Evening Of Excellen…

Greenhouse Grower held its annual Evening of Excellence event on Monday, July 17, during Cultivate’17. The Greenhouse Grower Evening Of Excellence awards reception celebrates greenhouse operations and plant breeders that strive for excellence, and as to be expected, there was much of that to be found during the event.

Read More
Terra Nova Shipping Box

July 20, 2017

Terra Nova Nurseries, Dümmen Orange to Partner on Unroo…

Terra Nova Nurseries has contracted with Dümmen Orange to produce unrooted cuttings (URCs) from Terra Nova private stock located at Dümmen Orange’s Central America facilities. The URCs will fulfill orders in North America and Europe.

Read More
Jon Gordon

July 20, 2017

Nine Practices for Positive Leadership That Drive Chang…

Cultivate’17 keynote speaker Jon Gordon encouraged leaders to keep moving forward and confront negativity to create a cohesive, committed team.

Read More

July 20, 2017

New Perennials, Trial Gardens, and Merchandising Were H…

Darwin Perennials Day has steadily become one of the must-attend perennial events of the summer. This year, even the weather cooperated.

Read More
Luxfloraflowerrun17

July 20, 2017

Luxflora Attracted Even More Participation to its Secon…

More than 170 runners kicked off Cultivate'16 on Sunday, July 16, with Luxflora's second annual 5k race. It was a great way to start the week, participants said.

Read More
Fluence Bioengineering

July 19, 2017

New Videos Highlight Grower Experiences in Shifting to …

Fluence Bioengineering recently produced two videos in which growers in the U.S. and overseas describe why they switched lighting systems.

Read More
Florida Nursery Economic Impact

July 18, 2017

Florida’s Nursery and Greenhouse Industry Has a Huge Ef…

A new economic impact study from the University of Florida says the green industry contributes more than $21 billion in sales and 230,000 jobs to the Sunshine State’s economy.

Read More
EOE Joe Lara, Aron Hoff, Laura Drotleff

July 18, 2017

Aron Hoff of Meyers Fruit Farms and Greenhouses Named H…

"Everyone on my team is an inspiration, and this award is a testament to what they've done in challenging me to always do better," said Hoff in accepting the award, which was presented during Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence program.

Read More
EOE Micandy Gardens

July 18, 2017

Micandy Gardens Greenhouses Named Operation of the Year…

"Our team works with passion and has a common goal and purpose: to share the beauty of plants and nature with the world," said Micandy Gardens President Marcelyn Buist-Byl in accepting the award, which was presented during Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence program.

Read More
EOE Syngenta

July 17, 2017

Greenhouse Grower Honors 2017 Medal of Excellence Breed…

Greenhouse Grower’s Evening of Excellence at Cultivate’17 was a celebration of the 2017 Medal of Excellence Winners that embody the best in breeding, marketing, and growing, and typify the dedication to quality that is so prevalent in our industry. Check out who the big winners were.

Read More