INSIDE THE BOX — Taking a Lesson from Apple

The recent passing of Steven Jobs was felt around the world and saddened so many people for the simple reason that Apple products became part of our everyday lives and more so made it more convenient to live them. Steve and Apple didn’t invent the computer but did see that they could become part of a person’s everyday life and
made them much easier to use. Why? Because they knew most people would need them to be simple and fun to accept them.

He didn’t invent digital music but again revolutionized a marketplace when Apple came up with a product and supplier, the iPod and iTunes. What about the iPhone? Same chapter and verse. The iPad? Ditto.

Apple has a certain corporate culture that breeds this thinking and definitely knows how to market product, but the bottom line is they just make some really cool things that people want even though they don’t know they will want them. Now that is some serious vision and innovation.

Innovation in Horticulture
As an industry of growers and retailers looking for something to inspire current and future home designers, our efforts have not been bold as of late. We complain and compete for small price increases and a few margin points. We look to shift risk in the attempt to make the next season’s results better than the last. This has all the attributes of a commoditized market ripe for significant new introductions.

We let our state and federal governments cut funding to university departments, horticulture programs, teaching and research where some initial ideas of the real cool things might actually start. Who better to dream than the kids/ students who will make up our next generation of consumers?

All of horticulture, and every market channel served by it including the big box retailers, are in need of someone like Steve Jobs and Apple to keep us relevant. We have come to accept a new version of red and something called innovation. We actually come up with new words for red just to make something sound different. We rave about the ability of a plant to stay a ¼ inch smaller or for a series of 20 colors to bloom at one time as significant. They are but not in a way that will change the mind set, or better yet, create a whole new mindset of the consumer.

Could We Ever…?
What about flowers for the homeowners that have a fragrance every bit as powerful as their visual appeal? We have bred fragrance and aroma out of many flowers to achieve other attributes. What about flowers that are as therapeutic or medicinal as they are beautiful? Can we develop a product that is as beneficial for the body as it is the soul? Does health care have to reside outside the home and the simple reach of each person and their garden?

What about blooms that change color based on time of day, temperature, or other reactions which consumers can control?

We compete for consumers’ dollars in a marketplace where consumer tastes change quickly. They change the look of their phone or laptop just by the case they place around it.

Consumers are used to and continually inspired by new products and innovations and we need to be bold enough to make the type of changes that will inspire homeowners to place more of their dollars in our products.

A Few Wins Can Be More Than Enough
What’s interesting to note is that for all the success of Steve Jobs and Apple, they actually put out very few products. Apple has competitors in each segment or industry that put out many more products but because Steve was such a force within the company as well as its visionary, products had to meet his approval before going to market. Because he was involved in all new introductions, it meant fewer could be handled.

Apple also set a very high bar for customer satisfaction and innovation. Anything they put out had to be unique. A “me too” product would tarnish their image and brand equity and that was something sacred. It was not to be tarnished.

They also did not respond to every new introduction of competitors. If they didn’t feel the product was as good as theirs, Apple didn’t respond by making something to match it. It just wasn’t part of the DNA to operate this way.

Take a Step Back for Different View
What’s also of interest is that Steve was once fired from his own company (or lost out in a power struggle). The company struggled to find its way until he was brought back. What it gave Steve was a chance to work on new ventures like animated films at Pixar.

Two lessons from this are staying fresh as an industry and as business leaders within it. Are we looking at other industries for motivation and ideas? What can we learn from food and culinary markets?

Let’s embrace investors, managers and employees from outside the industry instead of assuming that they just don’t or won’t get it. It is that lack of understanding of products and the consumer that makes their view and “why not”
questions so attractive and relevant.

Managing Employees with Different Perspectives
As you look within the company you own, the department you manage, or the organization you work for, are people who think and act like outside your “norm” accepted or are their ideas pushed aside as stupid or unacceptable?

The horticultural industry’s collective success will be dependent on our ability to view consumers not so much as gardeners but as decorators. The context of plant usage around the home will be as important as how to grow it. Companies will need employees who understand this change and are comfortable viewing the products
we supply through the eyes of the consumer. A company’s culture must be consumer centric and with people who understand the ever changing market needs, not one of being a grower of plants.

Apple succeeded not only because of Steve but also because of the type of culture it created and its commitment to maintain it. It hired those who wanted to be part of culture creating cool and neat things no matter what they ended up to be instead of hiring those that wanted to be part of a big computer, phone, digital music company.

Opportunity Lies Ahead
With a generation — Gen Y — that will have more consumers than the baby boomer generation ever had about to make its mark on housing and horticulture, will you approach it with innovation of products and services and a culture
supporting it or take a back seat on the ride up? Remember, it can start with only one.

About The Author:

Dean Chaloupka is partner of Visions Group LLC, a solutions group providing marketing, management and production assistance to the green industry. He can be reached at

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