Adjusting to the new economy

As we start the New Year, I’m not alone when I say – last year couldn’t get over fast enough. There’s no question, 2009 was a challenging year for everyone in the industry. Every segment of PLANET membership has been adversely affected, as have been the customers we serve and the manufacturers and distributors who supply us with products and equipment.

Companies need to continue to drive waste out of their organizations and concentrate on honing their marketing and communication skills. Both will be vital to competing in an increasingly competitive marketplace and attracting the attention of consumers who will remain cautious about loosening their purse strings.

Stepping back for a moment, though, PLANET has accomplished much this past year and the long term looks very bright. The first annual PLANET Day of Service was a huge success, as will be a newly rebranded certification program that promises to continue to raise the industry’s professional bar. At the Green Industry Conference, we introduced PLANET Universe, a virtual one-stop shop for anyone seeking information about the green industry.

Our industry has also made tremendous progress in positioning itself as a steward of the environment, and the recently released Crystal Ball Report #29 – Green Industry ECOnomics: Innovating Toward a Sustainable and Profitable Future details how members of the green industry can take advantage of this positioning. As stated in the report, “You may not see the demand for more overtly environmental products or services, now. … But you will in the near future.”

Many PLANET members, as well as their suppliers, are banking on this demand. Bland Landscaping in North Carolina, Greener By Design in New York, and Pacific Landscape Management and DeSantis Landscapes both in Oregon are testimonials to how making a profit and being socially and environmentally responsible are not mutually exclusive. There are many, many more PLANET members who currently are making “green” by marketing and providing green services.

Our industry suppliers are also getting in front of the sustainability curve. Ariens Company and STIHL Inc., to name but two equipment manufacturers, have both developed technology that will allow commercial-grade power equipment to operate on battery power with no falloff in performance. These advancements are not only cost-effective, but they also help reduce both noise and air pollution. The chemical side of the industry is becoming proactive, as well. More organic-based products and bridge products are coming on the scene, and companies, such as Bayer Environmental Science, are reframing the debate surrounding chemical lawn care products, shifting their products’ messages from one of killing weeds and insects to “greening and growing” America’s green spaces.

Smart irrigation controllers and new building products are among other advances that will help our industry stay in the forefront of a greener or more environmentally friendly America. In the meantime, we have to position our companies now for the “new economy.” No, it won’t be business as usual as the cover story points out, but there will be plenty of opportunities for smartly run businesses. In fact, this year’s Executive Forum, to be held February 17-21 in Las Vegas, Nevada, will focus on helping smart owners and their companies master the new economy and develop tools for tomorrow’s success. This event will be well worth the trip to Las Vegas, and there will be an added bonus – it will be held in conjunction with PLANET’s annual Leadership Meeting.

I’ve written and talked at length over this past year on the topic of professionalism and how it encompasses a wide range of skill sets for all business owners. I absolutely believe that individuals who hone their “professional skill sets” by taking advantage of new technology, working hard, motivating their employees, and demonstrating their commitment to their communities and the environment will emerge from this economic downturn in a strong position to grow and take advantage of the recovery.

I say individuals, but the truth is all of us have to reach out to find solutions and move forward in a positive way. This brings to mind one of the more impactful fables I heard as a kid, the story about a king and a thorn. It goes like this: A king one day was out walking when he stepped on a thorn, which hurt very much and made him mad. He was so angry that he ordered one of his assistants who was responsible for the roads to cover all the pathways in leather so that this would never happen again. The assistant gravely suggested to the king, “Would not it be simpler and less costly if the king covered his feet in leather?”

The moral of the story is simple. In solving a problem, the first idea that comes to mind may not be the best, even though it may come from the “king.” Seek advice from those who work with the problem on a day-to-day basis and listen to what they have to say.

All successful leaders and entrepreneurs share an important trait. They’ve learned how to overcome challenges by perfecting their problem-solving skills. For example, Chapel Valley Landscape Company founder Landon Reeve’s approach to solving a problem is to break the process down one step at a time and receive input from individuals who are actually living and working with the problem. He indicates that a common mistake in problem solving is skipping from the problem directly to the solution without addressing the overall cause of the problem. “If you fail to identify the root cause of a problem, your solution will likely be a temporary one,” Landon explains. “So, it’s important to think the process through and identify all the issues at each step of the way.”

See you at the Executive Forum.
Bill Hildebolt, Ph.D., Landscape Industry Certified Manager & Technician
PLANET President

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