Town Meeting Solves Industry Woes

Lloyd Traven

Lloyd Traven moderates the OFA Town Meeting, where everyone has their say concerning the most important issues facing the green industry.

You missed it.

Last week I attended the OFA Town Meeting. The topic of discussion was, “Why Don’t Our Customers Love Us Anymore? (Hint: It’s NOT the Weather!).” I really like the “It’s NOT the Weather” part: it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed by things outside my control. It’s an old industry adage that the weather determines our success or failure more than anything else. But blaming things other than my own management is a sure way to be a loser.

The Town Meeting was great! But I didn’t see you there. Where were you? You missed a lively and important discussion on the challenges facing the green industry.

I’d like to share with you some of the discussion, which was led by Lloyd Traven of Peace Tree Farm, or some of the insight from the amazing panelists invited by Lloyd: Joe Baer of Zen Genius, Angela Treadwell-Palmer of Plants Nouveau, Jean Ann Van Krevelen of White Willow Media, Christina Salwitz of The Personal Garden Coach. I’d like to get your opinion on some of the tough questions asked by the crowd of garden center and greenhouse operators.

But…you don’t care, do you? After all, if you had wanted to know how to turn our industry’s crisis into opportunity, you would have been there, right?

It was a wonderful, stimulating session, perhaps the best thing I’ve been to outside of the ANLA Management Clinic. (And it reminded me of some of the OpenHort posters we made for the Clinic this past year…especially this one asking, “Is She An Endangered Species?”) However, I do think that the OFA educational atmosphere suffers a bit from being attached to a busy trade-show. There was so much going on at the OFA that a lot of important people chose not to join in this essential conversation. Why is that? They had something better to do than discuss the viability of the green industry?

Will there be a Town Meeting for you to skip in 10 years?

Overall, I see a disturbing trend away from industry association involvement, and a declining atmosphere of, well, good citizenship. Our associations are withering; our egalitarian spirit is fraying. Maybe the movers-and-shakers are still moving-and-shaking, but they’re not necessarily inviting the rest of you to join in. We have magazines hosting private industry summits and throwing award ceremonies, things which used to be the job of our trade associations, right? This summer there will be a big gathering in Tulsa of most of the big growers that are fortunate enough to participate in the big brands like Knockout, Encore and Endless Summer. With no ANLA annual meeting, is this where industry issues will be decided?

Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying that these things are bad. The magazines are seeing a need and filling it…and generating lots of articles in the process. The Tulsa meeting is so practical: why go to three separate program meetings when everyone can just get together in the same city? Brilliant! Both of these are super-efficient, and we can applaud that!

Also, I’m truly honored and humbled to be included in these events. I don’t want to sound ungrateful. The problem isn’t the private meetings…the problem is if we only meet privately and cease meeting as a wider industry in open forums. We need private gatherings. They’re essential. But that’s not all we need.

The green industry needs associations. We have to get together and see each other–face to face–to talk and share and challenge. We need leadership, volunteerism, and an old-fashioned Town-Hall-style sense of community problem-solving. Where is this going to occur?

Thanks, Lloyd, for being an example to me (and all of us) this week! You gave many a voice, and many more left your session thinking deeply about the problems that face us.

~Art

PS: About the picture of Lloyd Traven above…

The name “Town Meeting” brought to my mind Norman Rockwell’s famous painting, “Freedom of Speech” from the Four Freedoms series published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1943. I pulled a photo of Lloyd from Facebook and “Photoshoped” it on, along with a name badge. I added some “painterly” effects and color correction, as well as warped his face a little to make it look like it belonged on the painting a little better.

Lloyd Traven inserted into Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech" painting.

I wanted to make an image that evoked all that was good about the classically American form of civic participation. Lloyd, I think, is really trying to challenge and engage with our industry. I think more people should listen, and I think more people should speak their minds. In order to do either one…you have to be in the room!

8 thoughts on “Town Meeting Solves Industry Woes

  1. Yes, I was there, and I agree – people need to speak up and get involved. Toss around some ideas and throw around some more. Our industry IS vital – we need to make it known. On the way to Ohio , I encountered “The singing vendor” at Orlando International airport. Listen to the words – “You are the best customer, I value your business.” ” Have a great day, have a great day” He increasing sales hand over dollar. This set the pace for my OFA experience.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i-rsvCClnw

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  3. Although I was unable to attend I do appreciate the forum that is offered both there and continuing here and as this was spread in other places on the social web.

    While we’re all looking for the next big thing or the silver bullet we should remember that most of the problems that exist now are due to trying to improve our situation and going too far. Unfortunately this results in unproductive infrastructure and debt that cannot be supported when the “right size” of a company, or the industry is found. That’s a hard economic truth. Detroit faced it. Production had to be both improved in terms of design and quality, and cut in terms of output at the same time.

    There are many good people that are ignoring or are in denial about the same signs as other industries have faced. There are serious if not severe changes required in most of our industry companies, along with many seemingly minor improvements to what we do every day. Inefficiency, “lip service” to service, and product quality are three categories of improvement within our daily control.

    • Sid, thanks for your very thoughtful and well said comment.
      It makes me think of the best of the new plants that are coming on the market: they are compact growers that don’t stretch or overtake the garden, bloom early and often, are simple and easy to understand, don’t require a lot of inputs, and fill unmet needs or are clear improvements over what’s already available. That’s what we all want.
      Maybe our businesses should look like that too: the right size, doing the right things, focused on doing them well.
      Easier said than done!

    • Yikes! Surely, nobody wants that!
      This “landscape” doesn’t need a bulldozer. I think some skillful (perhaps aggressive) pruning, followed by careful watering and timely fertilizing is what’s in order to set us right.

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