Readying For Next Gen by Al Gerace
A look to the future must start with where we are today and what got us here. Looking at our own firm, Welby Gardens, we’ve had about an eight-fold increase in total revenue over the past 25 years and a five-fold increase in physical plant. What were the major factors behind this growth, and will those trends sustain continued growth?
In the mid-1960s Welby Gardens staked out an independent regional marketing course, partnering with independent garden centers and innovative commercial and estate landscapers under the Hardy Boy brand. Welby established a dynamic system of introducing and recognizing new trends at the frontline of active retail and at the cutting edge of both lifestyle landscape and plants that really work at 55 miles an hour. The challenge for the ongoing future is not the “what” or “with whom,” but the “how do we” present our products to capture the imagination of the current and future generations.
Answering Tough Questions
How do we insert ourselves into the markets of the future? What will growers and independent garden centers need to better serve their customers? Can we capture RFID technology to not only track and price our inventory, but to market to the next generation of consumers? Can we embed into new technologies the story behind our products, and visual or virtual exciting ways to use them? Over the next 25 years we will witness countless smart technologies that will invade every aspect of our daily lives, including our gardens.
How do we confront the green challenge? Twenty-five years ago, Baby Boomers were just entering the 35- to 55-year-old group of consumers that proved to be the green industry’s prime source of buyers. Today Generation X is at the same point and Generation Y is hot on its tail. Although basic attitudes have radically changed, the fundamental environmental awareness that began with the flower children of the 1960s was instilled and deepened in the following generations. The green industry grew up and matured following this green revolution.
Today, the word “green” has been associated with everything from household cleaners to automobiles. Can the green industry capture its rightful place in this new green tidal wave? Can we capture the imagination of the new generations and become a vital part of their everyday lives? How well we succeed at engaging this movement will determine our ability to continue to prosper.
Our industry will come under the new green/sustainable microscope and will have to pass that acid test. Our work will be cut out for us. How well we continue to present a beautiful, affordable package with a minimal carbon footprint will mark us as good or bad guys.
How do we satisfy our ever-growing need for affordable energy? Will organic solar cells be embedded into clear film covers for our greenhouse structures? Are there alternative biofuel and recycled fuels we can convert economically to reduce our dependence on natural gas and heating oil? Will we find suitable and affordable alternatives to petroleum products currently used at every stage of our production?
How do we confront the water problem? Far more important than the challenges of inflation and scarcity of product inputs, water use in the landscape will impact not only the arid Western United States, but the entire nation. Drought, population pressures and the continued pollution of clean water sources will threaten the green industry time and time again. It is important politically and culturally that our industry continues to make the case for its essential place in the living landscape and in the overall ecology of the urban environment. We need to continue to promote the studies of water physiology in the plants we currently use and promote the future development of more water-efficient plants.
How do we increase our worker productivity? Labor will continue to be the industry’s most costly input. Lean procedures will need to be applied to every function and process that is involved in the production, handling and distribution of our plants and services.
How do we finance change and continued operations? Maintaining a viable growing operation will require additional infusions of capital to upgrade to smart and green technologies and improve production efficiencies. We will need to work as an entire industry, both politically and financially, to educate bankers to our great potential and immediate needs. The green industry remains predominantly a small and/or family business. Even with continued consolidation, our relative size to the greater economy does not really change.
Challenges Bring Great Potential
There are many challenges facing us in the next 25 years, but there is also great potential. For Welby Gardens, it is vital that we continue to enable the economic competitiveness of the independent garden centers with better ways to network with their current potential customer base. It is equally important to stimulate landscapers to offer better environmental and aesthetic solutions to enhance the urban world that we live in.