Around the Table By Darhiana Mateo

Participants

Steve Parker
President, Parker Gardens
Scotch Plains, N.J.

Danny Hartmann
President, Hartmann's Plant Company
Grand Junction, Mich.

Scott L. Lueder
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Floral Plant Growers
Denmark, Wis.

What steps are you taking to combat the consequences of the soft market on your business?

"We are keeping a very close eye on what we are growing and ordering so that our inventory levels will be especially tight this season. We feel that the housing slump and reduced customer spending will affect us but not to the degree that it affects most businesses. When people are trying to sell their house, landscape material, plants and flowers are often added because they increase the value of a home by up to 20 percent and add curb appeal for buyers." — Steve Parker, Parker Gardens, Scotch Plains, N.J.

"We have diversified our plant inventory and customer base, so we are less likely to be hurt badly in the future. The market for the ornamental shed is light. We continue to have affordable pricing; what hurts is the delivery charges." — Danny Hartmann, Hartmann's Plant Company, Grand Junction, Mich.

"The current consumer is not only pressured by higher living expenses, but they also see downward pressure on their home equity. This may result in fewer projects around the home and fewer trips to the home centers, mass retailers and garden centers where our products are sold. During the recent holiday sale season, Floral Plant Growers did see a softness in poinsettia sales. All our efforts are to make sure we have the best product value for the consumer and that we have the right product available at the right time to take advantage of every possible consumer buying opportunity." — Scott Lueder, Floral Plant Growers, Denmark, Wis.

Describe some measures you are implementing to ensure your business is running efficiently.

"We are keeping inventory levels to a minimum, and we have implemented weekly management meetings to discuss more efficient production, including planning where items are to be placed for the season so that we avoid moving product around several times. We are also looking at options to mechanize if the payback is not too long in the future." — Steve Parker

"Labor is always the big expense; we continue to keep this yearly in a manageable area. There is no one at the nursery who does not give the company 110 percent of their effort. We heat our propagation facilities efficiently, using minimal air heat. We try not to overproduce any plants that may be soft for the market. Our production schedule numbers may change several times during the year, up or down." — Danny Hartmann

"The first [measure] is an effort to change the culture at Floral Plant Growers to one that actively seeks employee involvement in identifying and eliminating waste, or non-value-added activities, from the company. We are using lean manufacturing principles as the framework for this initiative. Second, we began measuring several operational metrics focused on key cost and quality drivers to ensure that we offer the best product value to our customers. Lastly, we implemented pay incentives to reward our employees for their efforts to minimize dumped or unsold product and also to reward efforts to improve labor efficiencies." — Scott Lueder

What is your philosophy for surviving this tough economy?

"Our philosophy to survive a tough economy is to cut our expenses and overhead to the bone and plan ahead. Grow less if we're not sure we are going to sell at a decent price." — Steve Parker

"The pendulum swings from one side to the other; we never know how long it will remain on either side. Update the five-year plan every year or more often if necessary. If sales are not accumulating, cut back on spending." — Danny Hartmann

"With a daily focus on producing high-quality products, strive to be as lean as possible." — Scott Lueder

Darhiana Mateo

Darhiana Mateo is associate editor of GPN's Big Grower. She can be reached at dmateo@sgcmail.com or (847) 391-1013.



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