A Big Industry, with Big Opportunities
In an uncertain world, the nursery industry offers a sustainable future. Plants are something that mankind will always need. Plants provide the raw product for most of our food, much of our clothing and building materials, and their importance to the environment has only increased as human populations and activity has grown.
Plant nurseries produce billions of plants every year. They underpin forestry, vegetable, fruit, landscape, cut flower and parks industries. There will always be a demand for plants; and this means there will always be a need for plant nurseries.
Across the world, nurseries can be seen in all shapes and sizes. Some are small family businesses, and others large scale commercial operations employing large numbers of people and grow millions of plants. Whatever the size though, a nursery requires effective management to be sustainable and financially profitable.
Globally the demand for potted plants has grown rapidly over recent decades, and with current environmental problems, that growth is likely to continue. The USA has the largest share of world consumption, followed by Germany, Italy and France. The Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium are among major exporters of nursery plants.
Nurseries have always tended to be mainly small businesses employing fewer than five persons. Larger operations, particularly in nursery retailing, have gained a significant market share in recent decades; but the nature of the industry is such that there will always be a place for small, specialist operations, which cannot be filled by larger chains.
There are many hundreds of thousands of different plants that are cultivated. When it comes to growing and supplying a specialist range of plants (eg. carnivorous plants; fuchsias or pelargoniums); it really requires a nurseryman who has a highly focussed passion for that group of plants, to be able to grow them well and provide the specialised knowledge and advice that a customer needs.
There are always good opportunities for new nurseries to establish, provided they are selective in what they grow and that they maintain adequate standards in the quality of plants they produce.
What plants sell best?
It is important for nursery managers to be well informed about industry trends, demands and conditions. Nurseries sell living things and, like all living things, plants are subject to the influences of abnormal weather, and plagues of diseases and pests. Plants are also subject to changing fashions. A promotion on TV, in popular magazines or on the internet, can significantly change the way the public spends, even if it is only a temporary change.
Averaged over a period of years, the demand for different types of plants may remain stable, but over shorter periods there can be very significant changes in the demand for one type of plant or another. It is essential to stay in tune with the market place and wherever possible foresee changes in demand before they occur. Maintain contact with the magazines, professional associations and gardening experts who can tell you about what is to be promoted next, or what plants re in over supply or under supply in the near future.
Nurseries Can Be Successful if they Embrace Change
In today's world, many nurseries fail; not because they don't have good horticultural practices; but mostly because they do not have good business management skills and practices.
Successful businesses do not remain stagnant. A good business manager recognises this fact, and is aware that a business only has two realistic options – to get better, or worse. Remaining the same is never an option.
It is important to recognise problems as early as possible. Not seeing a problem will cause a delay in solving it.
Problems can either be external or internal.
- External Problems are problems created by the world outside of your nursery. These can be social, economic, political or other changes; for example a recession, changed government regulations, a new competitor entering the market place, or demographic changes in your customers (eg. Relocation of a major customer to a different city, plants going in or out of fashion).
- Internal Problems are issues that are created by the nursery (or staff). They might be related to poor or inadequate choices made; such as sales marketing, overspending resulting in unmanageable debt, or not updating soon enough. Internal problems can occur when leadership is poor, unfocused, time and resources are under utilized, or the business offers goods and services which it does not have a proper capacity to deliver.
These are only some of the problems that can arise. Surprisingly, most nursery managers and staff will have some degree of awareness about what is going wrong; but will often fail to act, Nurserymen can sometimes (for instance) love their plants too much. They may prefer to work on growing plants, rather than work on selling them; even when the cash is not flowing. Some nurserymen will admit to being a plant collector first and a plant salesman second -which is fine for a hobby; but may be impractical in today's commercial world.
When things are bad, the natural reaction is more often than not, to work harder and longer hours to try and correct the problem. When a manager works more though, they tend to become more tired, and less capable of reflecting on the problems at hand, and in turn they can very readily loose perspective.
The solution to a declining business may well be to work less rather than more; to refresh the body and brain, stand back and take a fresh look at the business.
If this is impossible for the manager; it may be necessary to find someone who can look at the business with clearer eyes and a sharper mind. In some instances, this may be someone who is close to, and trusted by the manager (eg. A spouse, friend or colleague); or perhaps a consultant.
Someone close to the manager will already have (to some degree), an understanding of the nursery; but they may also carry some level of prejudice.
A consultant will lack familiarity with the business, and that means there is potential for them to not be considering some important facts; but they will also lack prejudice.
Avoid Business Failure
The reason that so many businesses fail, is that most people react to business problems in an unplanned and largely unmanaged way. They do what comes naturally to them; and are more likely to take decisions that are easier in the short term, without fully considering the long term implications.
There are Choices Though
When things get worse in a business, there are always choices:
- Some people increase activity hoping to stimulate growth
- Some decrease activity hoping to minimise losses
- Some change activity hoping to find a more profitable mode of operation
- Some close down the business
- Some do nothing
- The worst option is usually to do nothing!
Learn to Change; Get Used to Change; and embrace change as opportunities rather than threats.
Staff at ACS have worked in the horticulture industry for over 4 decades; AND SURVIVED. We have worked in nurseries, landscaping, providing advice on gardening, publishing and teaching. Whether you plan to be an employee or an employer; things will continue to change rapidly throughout your career. If you develop a capacity to understand the industry, connect with the people and organisations in the nursery industry, and adapt as need be, your future will be bright.
This course aims to set you on that path.