Trends and The Evolution of Your Business

So, what are some trends in the green industry? One big one I’d
say these days is change. Change is inevitable—even in a down-home
industry like horticulture. I’m lucky enough to be able to draw on
several generations of experiences in the nursery business to gain
perspective on how quickly things can change.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the nursery industry in Colorado was
very different! There were no plastic containers for year-round sales—
all trees, shrubs and perennials were sold either bare-root or balled and
burlapped. That meant that your sales windows were . . .

hectic and brief to say the least. Your only other option to sell plants in the summer
would be to dig up iris or daylily from a field in the late summer.

Then came the metal can era... recycled food service cans collected
from schools and restaurants, then cleaned and filled with “real” soil
(probably from a field, not the lightweight stuff we’re used to now!). We
still have a “can cutter” in the back room of our office—a specialized
device that would snip down the sides of these crazy-sharp metal cans
to get the prized plant ready to go into the ground (nurseries back in
the day would check cans out to customers so they could plant their
purchases!). Mechanical tree spades also had not come along yet, so
whether you were balling a 3-foot lilac or a 10-foot spruce, it always was
elbow grease and sharp shovels! If you wanted to sell nursery stock, that
meant loading up your car, lots of paper availability lists, and hitting the
road for days, weeks or even months (old school sales reps used to travel
around the country in Winnebagos!).

Fast forward a few decades, and nothing much looks the same...
technological improvements have helped us gain efficiency. Most
plants are grown in plastic pots in “soil-less” media, mechanical digging
for B&B trees is the name of the game for most growers, and orders are
placed online or via email (although personal visits are still important!).

Another trend we’ve all become familiar with is shrinking and
consolidation. As operations of various sizes begin to form succession
plans for retirement of leaders, many are finding out the next
generation may be making other career choices. That is leading to
some nurseries simply closing, liquidating equipment and inventory,
and selling real estate. Others are ripe for some large players in the
national scene to look at as acquisition opportunities—so we’re seeing
fewer but larger businesses operating in our space.

So what does this all mean to us, the CNGA membership? Well, I
suppose, it means a couple key things. First, be ready to adapt and
update your business to keep up with your peers. The next great
production technology may be right around the corner, and you
don’t want to miss that boat. Second, keep an eye to the future. My
mentor in business told me that the very first thought he had when he
purchased our company was: “Great! Now how am I going to get out
of this someday?” It can take many years to lay the foundation for a
successful succession plan to unfold, so don’t wait until the last minute
to plan your exit strategy.

Most importantly, remember that the lion’s share of people enter this
line of work because they truly love what they do and are passionate
about it, and that is one trend that likely will never change.

About the Author: Dan Wise is part owner and head of wholesale sales at Fort Collins Wholesale Nursery and is a 1995 graduate of Colorado State University with a major in Landscape Horticulture. In 1999 he became a Colorado Certified Nursery Professional and he joined the CNGA Board of Directors in 2013, where he currently serves as Board President. He enjoys hiking, camping, gardening, and spending time with his family.


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