Helping horticulture move toward a better business model

As soon as I saw this Tweet come across my TweetDeck timeline, I knew I had to click the link:

Richard Jones, the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today’s Garden Center magazines, is exactly right. The ornamental horticulture industry is changing, and it must find a better business model to survive.

In the opinion piece that Jones wrote, he explained that their consumers’ tastes are changing. The traditional bedding plants that have been popular for so long are falling out of fashion. The growers who figure out what the next generation of consumers want in their flower beds, Jones said, will be the ones who survive.

But that’s only one part of the equation. Ever since Practical Software Solutions teamed up with Metrolina Greenhouses in 2006 to create Grower Vertical for Sage ERP, we’ve seen how many greenhouse growers have moved away from thinking of their companies as “just the family business” to looking seriously at how their businesses operate.

We’ve helped growers who were using outdated, disjointed, and under-powered accounting systems bring everything together under a single ERP system. Abe Van Wingerden of Metrolina Greenhouses even mentioned this in the January 2012 issue of Grower Talks Magazine: “What can you invest in? … Technology — invest in ways to drive efficiencies through technology, like ERP systems to track your cost of doing business.”

We’ve also seen our customers take up the mantle of innovation themselves and helped make Grower Vertical an even stronger product for themselves and those who have come after them. Bryan Young and Young’s Plant Farm were even recognized by Sage in 2011 with the Sage Customer Award for Innovation after developing Scan by Cart for Grower Vertical. (This was, of course, after Metrolina won a Sage Customer Award for Best Use of Customization in 2008.)

Even since 2006, we’ve seen government regulation — especially in Human Resources — take a dramatic turn in the horticulture industry. One thing we know for sure about the horticulture industry is that these huge family-run businesses appreciate their employees, whether it’s a seasonal worker running a plug machine or a blood relative sitting in a corner office. However, “the way Grandpa always did it,” just won’t cut it with government regulators anymore.

Now, those gracious, well-meaning “$100 handshakes” for bonuses and not tracking the hire and release dates of seasonal employees can cost a greenhouse operation more than they bargained for: with government audits. Even some of our (relatively) smaller greenhouse customers have come to us to learn about Sage HRMS — something we didn’t expect when we first started in the industry.

That’s why we were so shocked when someone came up to us during MANTS and said we didn’t understand the horticulture industry. We know that we’re a relative newcomer as far as horticulture is concerned. But we are by no means new to helping a wide variety of companies improve their business processes with a software system that will meet their needs. And if we don’t have the exact fit, we’re not beyond customizing a solution, like Grower Vertical.

But perhaps we understand what’s going on in the horticulture industry more than some people think. Going back to Jones’ column, he mentioned that 3M would be nowhere right now if they didn’t expand beyond their original offering of grinding-wheel abrasives. (I would be lost without my Post-It Notes.)

We also want to help greenhouse growers — and other parts of the horticulture industry — to see themselves as full-fledged manufacturers who happen to grow live plants. We want them to integrate their accounting, manufacturing, distribution, logistics, sales, customer relationship management, and human resources the same way that traditional manufacturers have been doing for years. We want them to see that they can still be a family-run business without having to do things the way their family did 50 years ago.

We stand firmly behind Jones’ assertion that “growers must be willing to let go of old business models.” We know that we can help be a part of the solution for the horticulture industry.

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