This year’s report shows similar results from the past few years, with the majority of contractors doing well overall. While median revenue slightly decreased $4,000 to $287,000 in 2017 compared to 2016, those who turned a profit slightly increased to 87% in 2017 compared to 86% in 2016.
Confidence continues to uptick also slightly with 79% answering they were either very confident or confident their business will grow in revenue in 2019, compared to 75% saying the same for 2018. Contractors are confident in industry growth as well with 78% being either very confident or confident the industry will grow, compared to 75% last year.
Brian Horn is the editor of sister publication Lawn & Landscape.
Employee retention in a candidate’s market
Departments - The Human Resource
Learning and development is the critical retention tool for small-to medium-sized businesses.
Are you tired of hearing about the “candidate’s market?” Do you want to relieve the stress and strain of finding new talent just to meet the daily demands of your business, let alone grow your business? Well, there are two sides to this coin — recruitment and retention.
Recent polling of CEOs by The Conference Board, released in January of this year, reflect that their top internal concern for 2019 is obtaining and retaining talent. According to a September 2018 article from CNBC, “Workers are quitting at the highest rate since 2001.” A driving need for obtaining talent is retention. Certainly, some of the small- to medium-sized nurseries are reading this and thinking, “Those studies are all fine and good, but I bet they apply only to the big companies.”
Think again. Look at your current situation and I bet you will relate to it more closely than you think. We have been intimately involved with serving the horticulture industry for close to two decades and can definitely say the concerns uncovered by these studies are shared throughout the industry. It stands to reason that if your business retained its employees longer, the pressure to hire more would recede. Well, at least somewhat. If your business is growing, then the need to hire more employees will always be a key business challenge. Even if your business is stable or even contracting, in all three situations the retention of employees will certainly reduce the stress.
How does a business retain its employees? Every employee is different. Some are there just for a paycheck. Some think of it as just a job. Others are there to launch a career. Regardless of how an employee looks at their employment, what keeps them there is how an employer invests in them. Investing in your people is not exclusively about paying them more money, it includes helping them do their job better, expanding their responsibilities and growing their careers. Cultivating your employees will drive engagement and improve retention.
When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, two core business areas were cut almost immediately: recruitment and training. Since then, recruitment has roared back, while training (now often referred to as learning and development or L&D) has slinked back at a snail’s pace. Part of the reason is the perceptions of these two critical business initiatives that predate the recession. It is, however, time to shift perception and properly invest in your people in order to retain them.
I had the privilege of speaking with Claire Chandler, SPHR, President and Founder of Talent Boost, a company that helps leaders build legacies by inspiring the “Whirlpool Effect” in their teams. Claire consults with small- to medium-sized businesses just like yours all over the country on L&D initiatives that are customizable to their unique size, corporate structure, and budgetary constraints.
“Leading up to the recession, a lot of the focus of L&D was more on the remedial side,” says Chandler. “[The idea of] ‘let’s get people into L&D opportunities to improve where they are’ is weak.’”
Chandler says that though there were some soft skills training, it was mostly about technical skills.
“[L&D] lacked the holistic training that we are seeing today. It was focused on filling holes, especially for corporate led training.”
She characterized the pre-recession training as driven by the “carrot and the stick” approach.
Of course, this was also a time when many businesses were investing more budgetary dollars in training their people. Many businesses invested in new technology, innovative techniques and remedial skills to lay a foundation for growth. But since the recession, Claire has seen budgets for L&D cut drastically — in many cases by more than 50%.
It has been 10 years since the declared end of the Great Recession, yet many businesses have this old impression of L&D that holds them back from spending time, talent and money to appropriately invest in their people. But the perception is beginning to change. Businesses are becoming less interested in large corporate training departments and more driven by customizable solutions-based training. Today, according to Chandler, L&D is more partnered with the business and unit. More outsourced. There is an opportunity to get more tangible and granular.
A consistent theme she has seen, from small- to medium-sized firms and in both union and non-union environments, is the clamoring for more operational training and L&D that is customized to their specific needs. This thirst for L&D crosses all employment groups from front line workers and middle management to senior and even executive management.
Understanding where we were and what employees want helps to identify how to move forward, to innovatively cultivate employees, quench their thirst and grow your business into the future ahead of competition. Why is this important?
“L&D is no longer a perk, it is a requirement,” says Chandler. “There have been times in the past where employees were sent to development and led to believe this is a reward, that it was geared to high potentials and performers. Millennials have had a lot to do with moving this needle. But now it is a requirement, a necessity. They are expecting and assuming a two-way relationship. [For instance] ‘I’m going to bring my skills and best and in return I expect to be nurtured and have direct access not just to my direct manager but their management above and expect that I would be considered for advancement and other employment benefits.’”
The biggest perceived impediment by small- to medium-sized businesses leaders is budget, but it’s all proportional, all relative, she says.
“Many think that because they are not a large company they cannot afford the Deloitte scope analytics, that because of their size, and only their size, they are losing out to larger companies for top talent. [However], from a recruiting and retention perspective — from exit interviews and [my] experience in these functions — many have been retained by small to medium companies due to ‘access.’ Where people might go to larger companies for vertical advancement, title and large money, others have remained because of the unmatched access that small- and medium-sized companies can provide, such as access to upper management and to more ad hoc learning opportunities,” she adds.
If you hire the right person the right way and if you nurture the new hire, just like your plants, they will grow and flourish. Culture is critical to the success as well. It is the right environment that will facilitate the growth of the plant and the person alike. Feeding the plant means the right light, soil, nutrients and water. Feeding employees means nurturing, coaching, feedback and L&D.
There is an old saying where a CEO asks his head of human resources, “What if we train them and they leave?” To which the head of HR responds, “What if we don’t and they stay?” There is always a risk of employees leaving. Investing in them and providing access in a way they cannot gain elsewhere is at the heart of retaining them.
Author note: Claire Chandler, SPHR is a leadership strategist with 25+ years of experience in business leadership and organizational effectiveness. She helps ambitious organizations accelerate performance by building better leaders.
Michael Maggiotto Jr, PHR, SHRM-SCP is a Sr. Human Capital Advisor at BEST Human Capital & Advisory group and leads the human resources advisory services as well as providing retained executive search. He developed the firm’s WR2 HR Analysis designed to identify the Wins, Risks, and Remedies for horticulture and other niche industry companies.
Build solid relationships
Departments - Hort Truths
Making meaningful partnerships across the industry is how we all thrive.
While we all share the same end customer, as growers, retailers and landscapers, we don’t always prioritize building solid partnerships with one another to best serve those customers. That said, when it comes to the relationships between grower and retailer, co-dependence is a reality and relationships of trust are necessary. Making meaningful partnerships across the industry is how we all thrive.
The retail market for plants certainly has shifted significantly over the past decade, with many new non-industry players getting into the game of online retailing. You may find yourself in a situation where you simply don’t have as many independent garden centers to sell to, or they just aren’t buying as much volume. You may need to work to build new partnerships with non-traditional retailers and the new breed of urban plant shops that are all the rage. You may even be in a situation where selling to mass merchants is your only viable option. Whatever the case, marketing yourself as a wholesale grower — both to the end consumer and your retail partners — has become increasingly important.
While most growers seem to focus most of their marketing energy on product, it’s the partnerships (not just the plants) that need some TLC.
Expecting your retailers to come to you is no longer a sustainable path. Active recruiting to keep your customer pipeline moving is essential. Getting together with local retailers and landscapers is a great first step in building new partnerships and improving existing ones. Both one-on-one and group gatherings help build exposure and trust with your buyers.
Tip: Make sure your account reps are setting up pre-scheduled meetings with retail buyers. Time is a valuable resource and unscheduled “pop-ins” were not appreciated during my retail buying days.
New kids on the block
Many of the new urban plant shops and small indie garden centers popping up around the country are started and run by people from outside the industry, often with little or no horticultural experience. They don’t always have a good understanding of how the plant supply chain works, or about best buying practices. They don’t have an intimate understanding of how plant growers work or do business — and they may not even know you exist as a business. As a grower, you not only need to introduce yourself, but you may also need to train up these new retail outfits.
Tip: Make sure you have a new customer packet (and an up-to-date website) put together to bring to your first one-on-one meeting. Include information on exactly how to place orders, contract growing opportunities and special services.
Open your doors
Open-house events are also a great way to introduce yourself to new retailers and touch base with current customers. Such events are an excellent opportunity to find out what your customers really want and need from you and what new products they are responding to. It’s also a great opportunity for customers to have rare facetime with your customer service staff, growers and support staff to further build familiarity and trust. Make sure to incentivize attendance by creating a valuable experience for your customers and prospects.
Tip: Schedule educational programming opportunities that qualify for CEUs so attendees can make the most of their visit.
Partner from within
Keeping and growing a good current customer is always less costly than acquiring a new one. Improving relationships with existing customers and improving their average sale should be priority No. 1. Especially if you find yourself with fewer retail buyers in your market area. The first question you should ask yourself is, “What can I do to improve their customer experience with our company?” There are a few key factors that will either maximize or diminish your retail partnerships.
Ease of ordering: How easy — or difficult — do you make it to order? I mean both for contract growing and on spec buying. The ability to order your product online is a huge time-saver for retail buyers. Not only will you get your orders faster, you’ll also probably see an increase in order size. During my days of retail buying, I calculated that I typically increased my order size by 30% when I could order online and see images of the available plants. In turn, the increased sales increased my order frequency.
Communication: How easy — or difficult — is it to talk to someone at your company or get a quick email response? Can I text my account rep? Faster and more efficient communications translate to trust and sales. If you don’t have dedicated account managers or customer service reps who can quickly and efficiently handle questions and ordering needs, you’re going to lose ground with your retailers.
Flexibility: As retailers adapt to a quickly changing market, flexibility has become more important. How quickly can you expedite a last-minute order or manage an urgent order change? Are you willing to do small contract grows for niche retailers? Retailers will prioritize partnerships that allow them to adapt and respond to their customer needs most quickly.
Customization: To take your partnership to the next level, retailers may want POP customization. Perhaps a customized mix of plant material exclusive to the retailer can help them gain an edge. Customized pre-printed plant tags may help them expedite receiving and inventory control. Be willing to discuss custom programs and services with individual retailers to gain their confidence and help them grow.
No matter whether you’re considering partnering with a mass merchant, or you want to focus on small independent retailers, making a good target customer match is always the key to success. If both partners are focused on the same goal — a happy and successful end user — together you can build long-lasting and profitable partnerships.
Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com
Top stories from Greenhouse Management’s website
Departments - Home Page
Check out some of the major headlines from around the industry.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week, you can get the latest industry news right in your inbox with the Greenhouse Management newsletter, featuring the latest headlines and stories from the magazine. You'll find everything from exclusive research and industry insights to production tips and breaking news. To subscribe to the newsletter, click here.
Here are some of the top headlines you might have missed
Mary Lewis named 2019 Ecke Scholarship winner
Mary Lewis, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, has been named the recipient of the American Floral Endowment’s 2019 Paul Ecke Jr. Scholarship.
“I think ornamental horticulture often gets a bad rap as something people do to get away from other people, when in reality, horticulturists are some of the best folks out there,” Lewis says. “Yes, sometimes they are strange as all get-out! But they are, like most artists, very passionate about what they do.”
Currently working toward a master’s degree in horticulture, Lewis graduated the University of Georgia two years ago with an already impressive C.V. Among other activities, she interned at Walt Disney World Resort’s Epcot theme park (supported by an AFE Vic and Margaret Ball internship/scholarship), testing new floral cultivars for production, maintaining crops and displays and conducting tours for guests.
Twelve years ago, the U.S. Senate designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week” to address the decreasing pollinator populations. Now internationally recognized, it has grown into a celebration that is acknowledged by all environment lovers. This year’s Pollinator Week was June 17-23, and experts shared their updates and advice to assist with the continued protection of some of the ecosystem’s most valuable creatures.
How are pollinator numbers in the U.S. and Canada?
While this is great information to know, it’s difficult to answer. Honeybees and monarch butterflies have the most data, meaning, there is less data on other pollinators. According to Victoria Wojcik, the science and research director and Canadian program director for Pollinator Partnership, there are about 3,000 bee species in the U.S. and more than 800 in Canada. Wojcik also says that even though other pollinators may not have as much data as honeybees and monarch butterflies, there is just enough historic presence and absence information that helps researchers know their status.
ColorPoint KY switching to hemp production
Announced in mid-June, ColorPoint KY has transitioned to become a hemp-only company and has merged operations with AgTech Scientific of Paris, Kentucky. The fully vertically integrated hemp company will immediately become a leader of outdoor and indoor grown quality hemp products. The operations have been granted both a Hemp Grower License and Hemp Processor License from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
The companies met in 2017 and later formed a business relationship to produce clones beginning with the 2019 outdoor farming season. Additionally, a successful beta test of an indoor hemp grow in late 2018 led to a supply agreement between the companies that included agricultural processing, clones and an indoor grow during the summer season. The facility will feature a 1,837,847-square-foot greenhouse, including 145,182 square foot of production and shipping facilities. Also included: agricultural processing center, drying, stripping and milling of over 100,000 plants per day.
TPIE moving to Tampa in 2021, 2022
In June, The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) announced that the Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE) will be moving from the east side to west side of the Sunshine State after the TPIE in Fort Lauderdale on January 22-24, 2020. TPIE’s backdrop for 2021 and 2022 will be the redeveloped waterfront and urban offerings of Tampa Bay, Florida, as the show moves to the Tampa Convention Center.
“No matter where TPIE takes place, it will continue to be the best industry trade event focused on interior plants, tropical foliage, live décor and plant trends,” Marcella Lucio-Chinchilla, chairperson of TPIE and marketing director at Silver Vase, says. “We’ll continue to have the exciting exhibitor displays, cutting-edge presentations and an array of industry thought-leaders and influencers for which TPIE is so well-known. TPIE will continue as the best place to do business when it comes to the indoor tropical foliage and houseplant business.”
Getting the growing bug
Before he founded his own vertical farm right in his own apartment building, Adam Green’s journey through college was, as he calls it, “a winding road.” He started out at Drexel University in his native Philadelphia before he transferred to Syracuse University in Upstate New York, where he changed his major “three or four times.” Green then transferred again — this time to Temple University, back home in Philadelphia — and graduated with a degree in vocational development.
It was at Temple that horticulture got onto Green’s radar. He started shopping at farmers markets in Philadelphia and volunteering at an urban garden company, in 2017. Today, Green has launched his own business — AGreen Farms — a hydroponic indoor farm in Philadelphia growing microgreens, herbs, edible flowers and more.
Funky Pests - Advertorial: Funky Pests with BASF
Look closer to see what’s really weird about one of the most troublesome insect pests out there.
Aphids are like cows in the sense that to avoid being eaten, they just have to outrun their friends.
It’s not that they don’t have any defenses, says Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, owner of Buglady Consulting, but they are “basically a bag of water with a mouth and a butt.” Their defense is sheer numbers.
Several functions allow aphids to reproduce effectively and create large populations, Wainwright-Evans says. For instance, she says, they don’t have to mate to reproduce. Called parthenogenesis, this is a form of asexual reproduction.
Another thing: while many insects must lay eggs to produce offspring, that’s not the case with aphids, Wainwright-Evans says.
“They just pew, pew, pew out the back door,” she says.
Having live births allows aphids to skip waiting for their eggs to hatch. “They are having just live little aphids being born every day,” Wainwright-Evans says.
Interestingly, humans can essentially perform an ultrasound on an aphid using a microscope.
“You can actually see with aphids sometimes, especially aphid species that have red eyes, the baby aphids inside of momma aphid in there if you look through her,” Wainwright-Evans says.
But wait ...
Aphids are funky in part because they are able to change their physical appearance and functions. Just because they don’t usually lay eggs, for example, doesn’t mean they never do.
“Typically, outdoors in the north, they will lay eggs to overwinter outdoors because it’s a very harsh environment and eggs are suited to be able to handle the winter,” Wainwright-Evans says.
Meanwhile, in warmer climates and greenhouses, aphids don’t often receive environmental cues to lay eggs.
“You have to know your environment to know what kind of life cycle your aphid’s going to have because you talk about them overwintering as eggs — that’s only in the north outside,” Wainwright-Evans says. “It doesn’t apply to the people in South Florida. They need to be vigilant about aphids year-round.”
A dense population on Aphis nerii
Photo courtesy of Suzanne Wainwright-Evans
They believe they can fly (and do)
Aphids don’t have wings, Wainwright-Evans says — unless they need them.
About 90% of the time, she says, aphids don’t fly. But they will produce winged (alate) offspring if their populations get too crowded or they need to fly away to lay eggs.
“Basically, they have the ability to flip a switch and be like, ‘Okay, environmental cues, it’s telling me it’s time to have babies with wings.’ Then boop, all of a sudden, she can start having babies that are going to develop wings,” Wainwright-Evans says.
When it comes to identifying aphids with wings, she warns that they don’t look the same as wingless (apterous) aphids with wings added on. The rest of their bodies also look different.
In common greenhouse species, it’s unique that an insect can, on cue, produce offspring that can fly, Wainwright-Evans says.
“Thrips don’t have that option; whiteflies don’t have that option,” she says. “It’s pretty special to aphids.”
Sometimes people think that aphids chew holes in plants. Wainwright-Evans compares their mouthparts more to straws. They suck plant juices out of leaves, stems and roots, damaging the plants.
Aphids then excrete honeydew, which is high in sugar and attracts sugar-hungry ants.
“It’s basically like a soda fountain for them,” Wainwright-Evans says. “And in return, the ants actually will protect the aphids from predators. They actually pick them up and move them to new plants to help with their distribution. It’s just like they’re farmers farming dairy cattle. Instead of milk, they’re getting sugar water, and the farmers protect the cows from wolves, and the wolves would be the beneficials.”
Putting wolves at the door
Wolves make a good analogy for beneficial insects because beneficials brazenly decimate nearly defenseless aphids. Growers should use them alongside spray products, Wainwright-Evans says.
Using beneficials in aphid management is important, she says, because there is not much genetic diversity in aphid populations. If the mother becomes resistant to a heavily used spray product, there is a good chance the offspring will be resistant, too.
There are spray products on the market that are compatible with beneficials. Just check with your biocontrol supplier for help. These spray products can last longer if growers use them with beneficials, Wainwright-Evans says.
“For the most part, this is why biocontrol has been of such interest to aphid management — and especially if you fold the bios in with compatible pesticides, you’re able to make the pesticides work longer because you’re not relying on them so heavily,” she says.