Decisions, Decisions

November 11, 2003 - 12:13

Most growers are starting to ship poinsettias and finish up
the fall season. Last spring is a distant memory, but you still need to make
decisions about next spring and beyond. Many growers cannot make decisions
about the spring season until they get orders from mass-market customers, who
seem to take longer every year. Still, other growers need to predict what they
can sell based on what they did last spring. The longer you wait to make key
decisions, the more it will cost you in the end.

The Business Side

The longer you wait, the less likely your orders will be
filled completely and without substitutions. The Eastern Canadian peat harvest
this year was less than predicted, so you better get your peat moss and growing
mix orders in now. Orders in February and March might be shorted if demand
stays high. Seed sowing for many growers starts in December, so it is important
to get seed orders in before needed. Cuttings of key varieties may not be
available from desired sources if you wait too long to order. Some growers
address the delay by putting in projected amounts for seed, cuttings and plants
based on last year and make adjustments once the box stores put in their

Can you raise prices for any items next year? If you sold
out of some items at the price you originally asked, you should increase both
production and the price of that item by 10 percent. If you still sell out,
repeat the process again next year. This especially pertains to baskets, large
containers, combos and unusual plants. If you cut your prices halfway through
the season last year, was it due to a soft market and poor weather,
overproduction or poor quality? Are you planning on cutting your prices again
next spring if you run into any trouble? Have you calculated what that will do
to your profitability?

If business was good this past year, are you expanding for
next year? How much expansion is enough? The timeline for completion is already
limited tight. Make sure you have enough buffer time to complete the projects
with regard to putting plants in the greenhouse, so you can shake out the
facilities and not mess up the crops in them. Your people need time to work
with new facilities, too.

What other improvements are you planning for your operation?
Some growers will be putting in new computer systems (see pg. 44 for more
details), some will be increasing their shipping areas, while others are
staffing up with merchandisers and customer service personnel. Whatever the
improvements, make sure they get done on time. Underestimating the time needed
to put in new computer systems is even worse than misjudging how long it will
take the new greenhouse to be ready.

When it comes to people, hiring never seems to go as
planned. Are you competitive in your area, not only for greenhouse operations,
but for the general employment picture? If not, decide what it will take to be
more competitive.

The Personal Side

If you have been reading my columns each month, you know
that I believe we need to consider our personal needs in addition to our
business needs. Otherwise, we get swallowed up by the demands of business. I
try to look at what I am doing not just every year, but also every five years
to get a better overview. I ask myself some tough questions about what I want
to do in the next five years, both professionally and personally. Then I break
things down to a yearly basis, set up goals and check my progress. I can make
adjustments to my goals each year, but long-term, the goals basically stay the
same for that five-year period.

I think every owner, grower, manager and other key staff
need to go through the process outlined above. We need to ask the questions and
decide how to proceed, no matter how painful or time-consuming the process may
be. So, here are a few key questions to ask yourself:

*               How
big of an operation do you want the business to become? If it is a small family
business, do you really have to get bigger to make a good living? What about
getting better?

*               List
at least five things you love about your work or business, and ask yourself why
you love them. Do you love growing plants, working with people or bringing them
pleasure from buying your plants?

*               List
at least five things you hate about your work, e.g., long hours, not seeing
family or low pay.

*               What
are your biggest problems? If you are the owner, list your top three. These are
the ones you need to solve in the next year. When I work with growing operations,
I try to focus on the top three problem areas and get them worked out, then go
down to the next three items, etc. Developing a long list does not allow you to
focus on what is really important, unless you prioritize the items for action.

*               What
are you doing about them? Do you have a game plan for solving the biggest

*               Do
you still want to do this job? An obvious question, but one that takes more
self-examination than most people are willing to do. If you put this question
on the backburner, I guarantee it will come up when you least want to think
about it.

*               How
does this job affect you and your family? If your family works in the
operation, this question becomes a lot more complicated (see below). If only
you are involved in the job and operation, are you missing out on too much
family time? Is your health suffering due to the long, strenuous hours? What
about your relationship with your spouse?

*               Have
you planned for family members to be in the business? It is one thing to have
your kids work part-time for you, quite another when they get old enough to
want full-time work and responsibility. Plan for this progression.

Remember -- the decisions you make now not only affect next
year, but many years to come! Put enough thought into the questions before
coming up with decisions and acting on them.

About The Author

Dr. Roger C. Styer is the industry's leading consultant and president of Styer's Horticultural Consulting, Inc., Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone at (630) 208-0542 or E-mail at

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