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
Jim Zablocki, Plant Prod

February 5, 2016

Sign Up For A Webinar On Using Plant Nutrition To Impro…

The webinar takes place March 2, and covers how leading growers are using plant nutrition to minimize costs, reduce the number of factors they need to worry about, and lessen environmental impacts.

Read More
Biocontrols Conference and Expo 2016

February 4, 2016

Biocontrols 2016 Conference Offers Insights And Learnin…

The Biocontrols 2016 Conference & Expo, which takes place March 3-4, 2016, in Monterey, CA, brings together growers, pest control advisers, suppliers, researchers, and other segments of the industry to share the latest information on biochemicals, microbial pesticides, and beneficials, and help you put biocontrols to work in your operation.

Read More

February 4, 2016

Poinsettia Growers Discuss Their Recent Trials And Triu…

Growers from Pennsylvania, Illinois, and North Carolina describer their experiences trialing everyone’s favorite holiday season flora.

Read More
LiveTrends Copper Wire Orb

February 3, 2016

The Coolest New Retail Products From TPIE

During the recent Tropical Plants Industry Exhibition (TPIE) in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, the Garden Center Group embarked on a search for the coolest new products for garden retailers. Here’s what they discovered.

Read More

February 3, 2016

New Plants, Products, And Trends From TPIE 2016

Tropicals, foliage, and succulents may be the way to new consumers’ hearts, based on the cool ideas, products, and trends presented at the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) 2016 Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE), January 20-22, 2016 at the Broward County Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The theme this year, Elevating Expectations, was fulfilled, renewing and reinvigorating attendees to carry forth their businesses into 2016 and beyond. TPIE showcases the latest trends in foliage, floral, and tropical plants, with a tradeshow of more than 200,000 square feet of show-stopping displays. While checking out new plants and products is a great excuse to travel to South Florida in late January, the threat of Storm Jonas bringing the snowstorm of the century to the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states had some show attendees booking flights early to get home before they were stranded. Still, reports from FNGLA said this year’s TPIE […]

Read More
Rhododendron ‘Dandy Man’ (Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs)

February 2, 2016

Spring Meadow Nursery Partnering With Proven Winners Eu…

The expansion creates a cohesive brand for what is now a global market, immediately introducing more than 24 shrubs to the European market, with the potential for 125 or more in the future.

Read More

February 2, 2016

19 Strategies To Strengthen The Horticulture Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW initiative’s five pillars: cultivate new customers, demand quality, drive consumer success, invest in the industry, and sharpen business management. Here is what you had to say.

Read More

February 1, 2016

Stores Big On Plant Sales Vs. Stores With Diverse Produ…

Stores with most of their gross sales coming from plants tend to think those where plants generate less than half of annual sales are ... not quite legitimate. So we took a closer look at what kind of differences we could find between the two groups, and discovered several surprising results.

Read More

February 1, 2016

Vendor Day At Osuna Nursery Draws Gardeners And Builds …

The New Mexico-based garden retailer invites all its vendors to meet its customers one day a year, and give customers access to deeply knowledgeable representatives, and giving vendors a chance to meet the public in a way not usually available to them.

Read More

February 1, 2016

12 New Poinsettias For Holiday Growing

Poinsettias are still a consumer favorite during the holidays for home décor and gift giving. For greenhouse growers looking to get a jumpstart on purchasing young plants for the 2016 poinsettia growing season, there is no shortage of great varieties to choose from. Here are 12 new varieties to keep in mind for holiday product offerings.

Read More
Texas Aquaponics

January 30, 2016

Texas A&M Extension Hosting Aquaponics Workshop In …

During the workshop, which takes place on Feb. 27, participants will help assemble and set up a fully functional aquaponics system.

Read More
Workers at The Farm at Green Village

January 30, 2016

Protect Your Love For Your Garden Work By Taking Time O…

We have an annual work rhythm that I think threatens to steal the joy we find in our industry. Our marathon run of extreme hours during the spring rush must stop.

Read More
Fertilizer Rates Feature Image

January 29, 2016

Bioworks Releases New Higher Nitrogen Fertilizer For Or…

Verdanta N-Vita 9-4-3 promotes foliar growth and features a slow release process, making nutrients available for a longer period of time.

Read More
Costa Farms

January 29, 2016

Costa Farms Named International Grower Of The Year

Costa Farms was the night’s biggest winner during an awards gala presented by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) and held at IPM Essen in Germany. (Read more about the business culture that’s driven Costa’s success in Greenhouse Grower’s January 2016 feature story.) The Florida-based grower was named the International Grower Of The Year, and was chosen from a group that included eight other international companies. “This award is a reflection of our entire team, and we are all dedicated to being the best at what we do and making this company successful for the long term,” said Jose Costa, Executive Vice President of Costa’s foliage division. The AIPH awarded gold, silver, and bronze awards in three categories — Finished Plants And Trees, Young Plants, and Cut Flowers — prior to naming the big winner. Costa was the gold winner in the Finished Plants and Trees Category. Each of […]

Read More
Zinnia On ISS

January 28, 2016

NASA Astronauts Become Gardeners With First Space-Grown…

The issues faced by growing zinnias on the International Space Station offer several learning opportunities for scientists back on Earth.

Read More

January 27, 2016

Costa Farms’ Season Premier Provides Sneak Peek A…

Costa Farms presented the 2016 Season Premier at its 2-acre Trial Gardens in Miami, FL, in the third week of January. The event showcases varieties from breeders of all sizes to growers and major retail buyers, providing a look at what genetics are coming to the market and how they’ll perform in retail settings and in the landscape, when consumers bring them home. The mild winter climate in South Florida allows Costa Farms’ Research and Development Department to simulate the spring growing conditions of various regions in the country. Because each group of visitors to Costa Farms’ Trial Gardens wants to see what the new plants look like in the environments that matter to them, Season Premier offers several areas within the Trial Gardens that highlight different ways to look at the wealth of new varieties. The New Product Showcase offers a way for retailers to see how plants will […]

Read More

January 27, 2016

Garden Retail Survey Says Consumers Are Buying Annuals …

During the 2014 Greenhouse Grower GROW Summit, Susie Raker of C. Raker & Sons made a comment that hit home for everyone in the room. She said she was tired of trying to get more market share from a shrinking pie. She would much rather grow her business by having the industry expand. Susie gave voice to what just about everyone in the industry feels. It’s ridiculous to fight each other for market share when we should be focusing on fighting for our industry’s future. Simply put, we need more customers. One way to expand our customer base is to follow the lead of those in charge: consumers. Ultimately, they control how much our industry grows or slims down. To help make that happen, take a few minutes to look over the results of what we learned from retail surveys over the past few years. When retailers report what is selling […]

Read More
Dummen_Begonia_UnbelieveableFirstKiss

January 26, 2016

Dümmen Orange Acquires Florexpo Europe

After acquiring the activities of Florexpo in Costa Rica in 2015, Dümmen Orange has also acquired Florexpo Europe, a company specializing in sales, marketing, and distribution of perennials, herbs, and grasses in Europe.

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