Expecting the unexpected

Expecting the unexpected

In all sectors of the horticulture industry, planning for the worst and minimizing risk is paramount.

September 26, 2016
Conner Howard

Every venture comes with its share of risks. All the preparation and wise management in the world may not be enough to prevent every possible mishap.

This is what makes it all the more important to practice diligent and thorough risk management in all sectors of a business. Nursery stock growers, greenhouse managers and retail garden center owners understand the benefit of insuring their properties and products, but proactively mitigating risks before they can arise demands a more broad and thoughtful approach, says John Hodapp, senior vice president of agency operations with Hortica®, a brand of the Sentry Insurance Group.

“A lot of people would equate risk management to insurance, perhaps loss prevention,” Hodapp says. “Risk management is broader than that. Risk management is really a process a risk manager would take to identify, assess and prioritize risks, and then take steps to treat those risks. Insurance is one of those tools that can be used to treat risks but it’s not the only tool.”

At many small-to-medium-sized businesses, risk management takes the form of managers and owners carefully reviewing daily practices and conditions around the store or facility to ensure employees and/or customers are safe and operations are continuing efficiently. 

“Most of our customers don’t have a dedicated risk manager, but they have someone assigned to safety – it could be a full-time individual or it could be part of another employee’s job,” Hodapp says. “Typically, that responsibility would be handled by the chief financial officer.”

Risk management intertwines itself into financial, personnel and operational decisions in several ways. Although specific challenges can depend on the industry a business is involved in, Hodapp says the goal remains the same: continuity of the company.

“In terms of risk management, we typically think about what needs to be done to preserve and protect the business,” Hodapp says. “Many of these businesses are family businesses, and they’d like to see future generations [take over], so our main priority is to take steps to protect the viability and futures of those businesses.”

On top of ensuring employee safety and the condition of inventory, garden center retailers must also take steps to eliminate any safety hazards that could endanger or even inconvenience customers. Hodapp says risk management-minded business owners must consider seemingly innocuous aspects of their operation that could nonetheless harm a customer, such as loose hoses and uneven pathways.

“There, the exposure is slip and fall hazards,” he says. “Garden centers, on a busy weekend, attract a lot of folks. If there are hoses laying around or uneven surfaces or less-than-good transitions from one level to another, eliminating those things goes a long way toward preventing customer injuries. We don’t want to see people hurt, and it’s good customer relations to prevent injuries in any way that you can. It’s just good business.”

Retail garden centers can minimize risk to customers and staff alike by ensuring walkways are safe and clear of obstacles.

No matter what steps a business takes to minimize risks and ensure continuity, there can be no lasting success without the entire company being involved and engaged in the risk management process, Hodapp says.

“It’s really important, no matter the topic, keeping safety in the forefront of those employees’ minds. And that needs to start from the top. It’s critical that the senior management and ownership of these firms buy into this concept because it’s hard to walk the walk if the bosses aren’t clearly behind the efforts to promote a safer workplace.”