Inside View: September 2007

January 17, 2008
Written by Gary Jones
Garden Globe Awards: “And the winner is…”  On the question of pricing, are we selling ourselves short? Of course we are.
This month’s column should perhaps be called ‘View from the Outside.’ It’s show season time, with CanWest in Vancouver this month and the Canadian Greenhouse Conference next month in Toronto. It’s the time of year to go out and look at new things and other companies’ offerings.

But if other people were to visit your business, what would they see, good or bad?

Practical views: Over the past few years, I’ve seen students from our school gain practical experience across a wide variety of nearly 80 horticultural businesses. They present their observations to their peers, and prepare a critique of their work placement, thereby providing a valuable catalogue of educated insights into much of horticulture. About a third (31 per cent) of these students have worked with wholesale ornamental producers (bedding, cuts and nursery). Almost another third (28 per cent) worked in retail, and 12 per cent chose greenhouse vegetables. Others worked in lesser numbers within many horticultural settings including forestry seedling production, parks, landscape supply, consultancy, institutional/government, and even a world-class B.C. winery. Several students worked in Europe or Australasia, bringing an international aspect to this
collective group. What did they see from their unique perspectives?

Failing Grades: While this is in no way a ‘scientific’ or ‘expert’ diagnosis of the state of the industry, a number of comments are mentioned too many times to be ignored.

Announcing the results in traditional reverse order, the third place problem goes to “poor facilities and/or equipment.” This was particularly true from the retail (garden centre) sector, where this was by far the biggest issue. Perhaps this reflected the schooling that students had received, and therefore their (perhaps naïve) expectations. Or perhaps it’s a realistic assessment that business owners should ponder.

In a very close second place was “poor communications/conflicting instructions.” Not just ‘inadequate’ instruction (which might have simply been a factor noticed more keenly by student ‘newbies’), but ‘different’ or ‘contradictory instruction’ given by more than one ‘boss.’ It may also include comments like “no procedures” or “untrained staff.” It was therefore not surprising that the worst management issue was closely linked to this.

Squeaking into the (dubious) #1 slot was “disorganized” (or variants such as “inefficient” or “lacked planning”). Wholesale ornamental growers take special note, with a third of students saying this, it was a real issue in that sector.

Over the years, students have repeatedly expressed many other negative critiques. Noteworthy ones including:
“Poor nursery hygiene”
“Poor inventory control” (very common)
“High waste,” and particularly in greenhouse vegetables
“Overworked manager/grower.”
Star Qualities: That’s the bad news. So, what are we doing well?

In third place, by a whisker, comes “knowledgeable staff.” That might simply be ‘culture shock’ experienced by students in awe of their more experienced co-workers! But these comments come after working for a minimum of nearly four months. Your staff probably are very knowledgeable. Do they get the recognition they deserve?

Runner-up in our ‘Garden Globes’ is, “great product(s).” We really shouldn’t be surprised by this. But this comment should be all the more noteworthy coming from students who’ve spent time visiting some of the best the industry has to offer. Give yourselves a big pat on the back.
And finally, the top award goes to … drum roll … “friendly/fun staff.” Students repeatedly return to school having thoroughly enjoyed their time in their summer jobs, and are often inspired by the whole experience.

So what? This is just an overview of what students have reported back from their semi-professional viewpoints. But these ‘inside views’ can be very revealing and shouldn’t be ignored.

For example, judging by some of these comments, are employers really taking care of their most valuable asset?
And while students often see a great-quality product, they never find that the product is over-priced. On the question of pricing, are we selling ourselves short? Of course we are. That missed income could be re-invested into better equipment to help sort out the big issue of inefficiency.
Food for thought.

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