Evolution through Keeping up with Trends

By Dan Wise, CCNP
CNGA Board President

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.