Decisions, Decisions By Roger C. Styer

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

The Business Side

The longer you wait, the less likely your orders will befilled completely and without substitutions. The Eastern Canadian peat harvestthis year was less than predicted, so you better get your peat moss and growingmix orders in now. Orders in February and March might be shorted if demandstays high. Seed sowing for many growers starts in December, so it is importantto get seed orders in before needed. Cuttings of key varieties may not beavailable from desired sources if you wait too long to order. Some growersaddress the delay by putting in projected amounts for seed, cuttings and plantsbased on last year and make adjustments once the box stores put in theirorders.

Can you raise prices for any items next year? If you soldout of some items at the price you originally asked, you should increase bothproduction 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, largecontainers, combos and unusual plants. If you cut your prices halfway throughthe season last year, was it due to a soft market and poor weather,overproduction or poor quality? Are you planning on cutting your prices againnext spring if you run into any trouble? Have you calculated what that will doto your profitability?

If business was good this past year, are you expanding fornext year? How much expansion is enough? The timeline for completion is alreadylimited tight. Make sure you have enough buffer time to complete the projectswith regard to putting plants in the greenhouse, so you can shake out thefacilities and not mess up the crops in them. Your people need time to workwith 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 moredetails), some will be increasing their shipping areas, while others arestaffing up with merchandisers and customer service personnel. Whatever theimprovements, make sure they get done on time. Underestimating the time neededto put in new computer systems is even worse than misjudging how long it willtake the new greenhouse to be ready.

When it comes to people, hiring never seems to go asplanned. 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 bemore competitive.

The Personal Side

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

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

* Howbig of an operation do you want the business to become? If it is a small familybusiness, do you really have to get bigger to make a good living? What aboutgetting better?

* Listat least five things you love about your work or business, and ask yourself whyyou love them. Do you love growing plants, working with people or bringing thempleasure from buying your plants?

* Listat least five things you hate about your work, e.g., long hours, not seeingfamily or low pay.

* Whatare your biggest problems? If you are the owner, list your top three. These arethe 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 godown to the next three items, etc. Developing a long list does not allow you tofocus on what is really important, unless you prioritize the items for action.

* Whatare you doing about them? Do you have a game plan for solving the biggestproblems?

* Doyou still want to do this job? An obvious question, but one that takes moreself-examination than most people are willing to do. If you put this questionon the backburner, I guarantee it will come up when you least want to thinkabout it.

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

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

Remember — the decisions you make now not only affect nextyear, but many years to come! Put enough thought into the questions beforecoming up with decisions and acting on them.

Roger C. Styer

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 [email protected]

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