Profiting From Seeley By Bridget White

A few months ago, June to be exact, Cornell University senta call to the industry — a call to deal with one of our most pressingissues — a call to discuss profitability.

Approximately 100 growers, academics and alliedmanufacturers responded to the call, including yours truly, and sequesteredthemselves in a small lecture hall for two and one half days to examine whereour profitability problems came from and what we can do about them. It was adifficult meeting for me, and I’ve been thinking about it for the pastfour months, which is why I’m only now covering it in GPN.

You see, there was a lot of potential in that room —so many “thinkers,” so much hope, such high expectations. We allwanted to hear tangible suggestions, to devise a plan, to get some answers thatwould “fix” our industry. But the answers never came.

The Seeley Story

The Seeley Conference, held on Cornell’s Ithaca, N.Y.,campus, was established in 1986 in honor of Dr. John G. Seeley after hisretirement from Cornell. According to its published philosophy statement, theannual conference is “intended to promote discussion of issues importantto the future of commercial floriculture…The program is intended toanalyze the latest developments, provoke conversation concerning the underlyingissues and significance to an extent not usually achieved, and thereby,stimulate advanced thinking…The expected outcome of the Conference is tohave the attendees better prepared to make decisions on issues that have greatimpact on their business and/or the industry as a whole.” Past topicshave included “Floriculture’s Changing Business Structure: WhatLies Ahead in the 90s,” “How Consumer Behavior DrivesFloriculture” and “Keeping the Family in Floriculture.”

Since the Seeley Conference is known as a think-tankinvolving many of the country’s largest growers, I was excited to attendmy first Seeley Conference — “Floriculture’s Profit andMarket Crisis: Charting a New Course” — and more excited about thetopic. Frequent readers of my column know that I often crawl up on the soapboxof profitability to rail against anyone standing on the other side, so I wasanxious to hear the views of some of the leading growers in our industry.

Measuring Success

At a “normal” industry tradeshow or conference,success is measured by the number of orders received or the amount ofapplicable pointers collected, but not at the Seeley. It’s not thatimmediate. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not bashing the SeeleyConference. I’ll be first in line next year to pay my registration fee.

So what’s the real value of the Seeley Conference? Idon’t think we can know, at least not yet. Building and maintainingrelationships is certainly a vital part of this small conference, whereattendance is capped at approximately 100 people. Immersing yourself in asingle topic certainly helps focus your own thoughts. And ample opportunity tovoice questions, producing an interactive experience that other conferencesonly dream of, can’t be overlooked.

But I guess I see the real value of the Seeley as what we donow. Those of us who attended the Conference and those of us who didn’t.A crisis like profitability cannot be solved by a single industry leader or asingle, 3-day conference. This Conference was not meant to crown one person totake the lead and save us all; it was meant to inspire every grower; everytrade magazine; every plastic, media and chemical manufacturer to become activeand fight against the problem that threatens the best part of our industry:people, large, small or otherwise, making a decent living doing what they love.

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