Mike Gooder says growers need to improve upon themselves as they look to the future, take risks and be okay with making mistakes along the way. The president of liner producer Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa, gave a presentation on the Saturday of Cultivate’19 titled “Turning Plants, People, and Predicaments into Profits.”
“All kinds of maladies can happen in the plant world,” he said, pointing to past problems, such as disease, he has had on his crops — crops, he added, that he didn’t try to sell.
Gooder, who started Plantpeddler in 1980 with his wife Rachel, said people can often get too wrapped up in focusing on negative things. But growers have many things to be proud of, such as producing beautiful plants.
Another issue for growers is that they often wear too many hats and leave themselves no time to plan for the future. When growers have a plan for when shipments will arrive, they can be more efficient and cost effective.
Adapting to marketing strategies and making connections both inside and outside of the horticulture industry can improve a grower’s situation, Gooder said. Entrepreneurs in other industries can often share valuable information that can help growers.
In fact, a slide in Gooder’s presentation said, “You often learn more from outside the industry than inside.”
He also advised a packed room to treat high-performing staff as family, noting that “care” is the most important word at Plantpeddler.
At the same time, if there is an issue with an employee and a company’s efforts to accommodate the employee’s situation start to “look like charity,” it is integral to get rid of that employee or get the situation back on track.
When it comes to improving production processes, Gooder took note of the importance of LEAN, which he explained as a thought process where owners and managers can eliminate wasteful and redundant steps in their operation.
Whether growers are simple or advanced, they should focus on labor efficiency. Plantpeddler adopted computers before they became a key part of every business and has since invested in other tools that add efficiency to its operations.
Because he and Rachel started their own business and didn’t come from a multigenerational greenhouse like many other growers, Gooder said they had to learn how to think outside of the box from the beginning. He views that viewpoint as an asset.
“We always had to look at it from a first-time perspective,” he said of the business.
The importance of diversifying
Over the years, Plantpeddler had to diversify to continue to improve. That meant adding vegetable production at one point, and at another, painting about a third of its poinsettias to get families to come out to the greenhouse. (Plantpeddler’s annual Poinsettia Day will be on Dec. 5 this year.)
“More eggs, more baskets,” read another of Gooder’s slides. “Overhead goes on 52 weeks of the year. Are there more ways to cover it than just a spring peak season?”
There have to be, Gooder said. If you only have a spring season, he said, “Your competition’s going to eat your lunch if they grow year-round.”
Knowing your costs
It sounds simple. But Gooder noted that knowing the cost of goods is integral to achieving financial success. Not all growers know the costs of production, but they should.
Gooder shared with his audience the following equation: Wholesale price - variable = overhead coverage. Variables are items such as pots, tags, media, seeds and cuttings.
The session ended with an impromptu question-and-answer session with attendees about the berry shrub Aronia — its presence at Plantpeddler being an example of the many ways the operation has innovated over the years.
Ultimately, Gooder said, a grower’s success will not be based on where they started, but the decisions they make and where they choose to go.