Greenhouse Canada

Business Management
Growing in the Green: ‘Thermostat’ or ‘thermometer’?

May 17, 2013
By Melhem Sawaya


Within and outside of my job, I interact with many people.

Within and outside of my job, I interact with many people. I have come to the conclusion that people fall into two main categories: The Thermostat Group and The Thermometer Group.

Bus tours always have great take-home ideas.



Before I share my observations, let me relay to you the dictionary definition of these words:
Thermostat: a temperature regulator, a device that regulates temperature by means of a temperature sensor; or it is a device that activates a mechanism. It is a mid-19th century word. Coined from “thermo” + “stat” – “instrument holding constant value” from, ultimately, Greek “statikos” – “causing to stand.”

Thermometer: instrument to measure temperature. A mid-17th century word from French “thermometer,” from Greek “thermos” – “warm.”

Where do you fit in? Take a couple of minutes to think about it before continuing reading.

Then, the next question is, “are you happy where you stand or would you like to change or adjust?” Here are some steps to consider before you try to fit into one camp or another.

The Thermostat people are those individuals who are driven and love change and are always looking to set new standards in their field, characterized by being achievers. They are divided into two groups:

  • Thermostat people without a sensor.
  • Thermostat people with a sensor.

The Thermostat people without a sensor are those who like to change things for the sake of change, irrespective of consequences, because their main target is change. They justify their action based only on very few factors and they back themselves into believing this is the right action.

■ Normally, this group would love to be General Managers of the Universe, and they know it all. This is a group of very paranoid people, unsure of themselves and their job, and they overcompensate by being overly bossy, claiming everything wrong is somebody else’s fault, or they don’t listen to what other people are saying.

Even with their obnoxious behaviour, they often accomplish good results but definitely not always as good as they might think.

The Thermostat people with a sensor are those individuals who make things happen and are action-oriented but, definitely, do so after registering all the readings from the different sensors (individuals) that will influence the outcome of any decision.

This is the group of people that really believes their strength depends upon the people they surround themselves with, or are in touch with, at all times.

They are genuine, secure, have good communication skills and always put the interests of others at least on par with their own, or higher. They are helpful, even when busy themselves and, at the same time, whenever they need help they can tap into a very large pool of individuals.

■ I worked on a farm in Mount Hope, Ontario, when I first came to Canada and the farm owner, Lorne Freeman, used to tell me you can get all the help you want as long as you help others. He didn’t just say these words; he practised them all his life. He was respected by everyone and it was no wonder he was awarded the honour of being a Citizen of the Year.

He had other wise sayings.

  • “If you make your money with the spoon and your spouse spends with the shovel, you will not get any place.”
  • When I was out late at night with my fiancée (now my wife), and had to wake up early in the morning, he would tell me, “boy, you can’t live on love alone … you have to eat and sleep.”

Whenever I think of a person who represents a thermostat-with-sensors individual, Lorne Freeman is on top of my list. Who is yours and what did you learn from them? I can think of many individuals from the horticulture industry who represent the thermostat-with-sensor group and I have high respect for them, as do many people.

The Thermometer group are those individuals who register what is going on without any action, or whine and complain about what others are trying to do.

Normally, these people are stuck in old habits that are not applicable to the new environment the industry is in. They are living in a submarine and, even if it is equipped with a periscope, they refuse to use it.

I always feel sorry for these people because, sooner rather than later, they will have a sudden wakeup call, but it will be too late and too hard to catch up with the current industry environment. Many in this group strongly believe that whatever goes wrong is someone else’s fault and they are probably right because, first, they don’t do anything to correct it and, second, they don’t do anything – period!

We are not talking about putting in 12-hour workdays, but are talking about change, improvement, progress, innovation and action.

But, most of this is foreign language to them and they refuse to change their ways.

■ Everyone is free to think, act and react in their own way, but, with an industry like the horticulture industry, the actions of every small-size operation have an effect on the industry due to the fact the industry as a whole is still small compared to many others.

Growers are now doing a better job of serving the needs of buyers and consumers.


So, the point is, nobody can sit on the fence. If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

The floriculture industry has been through more changes in the past five years than it saw in the previous 30 years combined, especially on the marketing side, and most, if not all, is forced on us by the buyers – mainly the box stores.

They are the “thermostat” and we are the “thermometer.”

This situation is due to the fact that greenhouse operators concentrated only on production and literally ignored the needs of the buyers and consumers. We’re now struggling to adjust to the unlimited demands of the buyers.

Many operators are responding positively and are building a relationship with the buyers where both buyer and producer take on the role of the “thermostat,” with the priority of having the consumer be the ultimate “sensor” and adjusting accordingly.

Unfortunately, many operations are falling behind, and, sad to say, the reality is that they are stubbornly ignoring every periscope, telescope or any means to look into the future and respond before it is too late.

This past year, and continuing this year, is the first time I have seen so many buyers and growers working effectively to be both profitable and have the enjoyment of serving a customer who will benefit from this synergy.

Many avenues are there to achieve the goal of working and being effectively successful. All that is needed is to get out of our “submarines” (greenhouse operations) and look around, visit other operations, attend conventions and listen to many speakers who can convey most of the information we can use as a starting point on our way to change, adapt, to the new environment of doing business.

■ Conventions, workshops, seminars, grower days, marketing seminars that are close to home could be very beneficial and prove to be a wise use of our time. (The Greenhouse Canada Grower Day is June 19 in St. Catharines. Check our website for details. See you there!)

In my 35 years in the horticulture business, I have never attended a seminar, conference, workshop or greenhouse without learning something. There is always something to take home and apply and the stress here is to “apply.”
Two things I keep telling myself are:

  • There is a lot more to learn and I want to know it.
  • Whatever method or procedure we are following to grow a crop or market a product, there is always a better way.

By no means do we need to drastically change everything we are doing all the time, a strategy that is doomed to failure, but successful progress involves baby-step changes that ensure the operation, buyer, customer are all in harmony towards an effective, successful industry.

Melhem Sawaya of Focus Greenhouse Management is a consultant and research coordinator to the horticultural industry. Comments on this or any other article are always welcome at

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