Making the most of your slow season

Features - Hort Truths

Get ahead on marketing, staffing, training and cleaning in the off season.

Schedule group cleanup days for both offices and facilities to make things tidy before the spring rush.
© david | Adobestock

If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. One of my oldie-but-goodie favorites. When you’re running a greenhouse growing operation that navigates wide swings in seasonal traffic, you may struggle with how to make the most of your slower seasons. The trick is selecting specific objectives and pre-planning the time when customer traffic is lighter, so the extra catch-up time doesn’t slip through your fingers.

 Many of you may just be eager to get through the spring season and then take a mental vacation for a few months. I totally get it. But I also know how frustrating it can feel when you’ve not taken the best advantage of the valley of downtime, and now a new peak season is again looming over you. “I should have gotten that done in August!” We’ve all been there.  

 In my experience and observation, there are two key management tasks that get put on the backburner when running at full speed to meet customer needs: marketing and staff development. Unfortunately, these are two crucial areas where owners and managers need to invest time, ahead of time, to get the job done right.


Pre-sell your season

You can’t pre-sell the season if you’re trying to create your marketing during the season. As someone who works with green industry businesses on marketing, strategy and company culture, my most intensely busy time of year is usually the 4th quarter, specifically, November and December. That’s because many growers and other green industry companies wait until then to hit up consultants and agencies for the following spring’s marketing. 

It seems like a logical time, but I’ll encourage you to take advantage of any available time in your summer season (now) to get started on marketing efforts for next spring. Come January, spring is already upon you, from a marketing perspective. Any marketing work that starts anew in January or February is going to get rushed. Getting started with next year’s marketing during summer and fall also helps you work off a fresher memory of what did or didn’t work well for you the previous spring.

 July, August and September, when you’re hitting the summer trade shows, are excellent months to schedule post-spring marketing meetings with your team members and make decisions on any changes you’d like to make to your marketing budget or approach — and your product selection. Many of the individuals or companies you might want to work with on marketing will also be at the trade shows. Schedule time in advance to meet with them at trade shows so you can find the right fit faster. Doing so will knock a few birds out with one stone and help you get rolling with new marketing efforts during the fall and winter season — in a much more organized and less-stressful way.


Staff up

When it comes to staff development, I think we can all admit to avoiding performance evaluations and compensation reviews. Nevertheless, you need to make sure you are clearly communicating your needs to your staff, and they have a chance to make theirs known to you. Put these key employee meetings on the calendar for your slower times, well in advance. That way, staff knows that once you come off your busy season, they’ll have a chance to talk through their needs, and you can give them feedback on performance.

 Have your post-spring party right at the end of the busy spring season to show appreciation, then knock out performance evaluations right afterwards, before everyone hits vacation time. This can both relieve tension for employees and help you make decisions about key staff changes in summer and fall. This timing also gives you the opportunity to do any necessary recruiting while you’re at the summer trade shows.


Level up

Slower times are also the perfect opportunity for staff training. Work with your product vendors three to six months in advance to schedule educational training sessions off season. Slow times are also good opportunities for key staff to take online training courses, which are available through several university extension programs. If you have staff who can work remotely from home a couple of days a week, consider letting them do so to work through online courses or catch up on key projects without interruption.


Tidy up

Still have some time to lean? A clean and organized work environment makes all the difference, for both your plants and your people. It’s easy to let things slide when things are busy, but no one wants to head back into another busy season with things a mess. Messy greenhouses and offices have a negative impact on production and staff morale.

I’ve always found that pre-scheduling group cleanup days, for both facilities and offices, is the best way to get tidiness back under control. When everyone is pitching in to clean up together, it gets done faster and can even be a bit of fun. Put your cleanup days on the company calendar well in advance so everyone can plan.

We all need a break during slower seasons, but don’t miss out on rare opportunities to make the most of valuable time.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural and business consulting, as well as product development and branding for green industry companies. She is also a horticulture instructor, industry writer and book author.