Positioning for the Future of the Nursery Industry

Dr. Charlie Hall
Texas A&M University

One of the key premises in strategic management is the identification of the principal driving forces (or trends) that affect the industry in which you are competing. When I say “driving force”, I am talking about forces that are in motion that create incentives or pressures for change. The most dominant driving forces are those that will have an impact on what kinds of changes will take place in the industry’s structure and competitive environment. Managers do not really understand industry and competitive conditions until they understand the fundamental drivers of change. The greenhouse/nursery industry is no exception.

For the past two years, I have been collecting and analyzing data regarding the most dominant driving forces that will affect the greenhouse/nursery industry at all levels of competition. The focus three separate workshops (the wrap-up session at the TAN Management Seminar in January, as well as the wrap-up sessions of the last two MTCNP shortcourses) was identifying these driving forces. In these sessions, various growers, landscapers, and retailers worked hard in brainstorming and summarizing what they felt were the key driving forces that we will have to deal with in the latter part of the 1990′s.

As a preface to these findings, let me reiterate some of the major points that I discussed in these meetings regarding driving forces of change. I began our discussion by making the point that no one knows exactly what’s going to happen in the future. Forecasts and predictions, even those made by “experts,” are oftentimes unreliable, as they tend to be based on extrapolation and projection. This exposes them to those two killer caveats, “if present trends continue” (they never do), and “all other things being equal” (they never are).

Still, I contend that it is possible to discern the knowable future, and to anticipate a range of possible futures. The knowable, or foreseeable future is made up of the ineluctable – events that have already occurred and trends already working their way through the economy and society. For example, demographic characteristics are reasonably established for the next decade, so it is possible for growers and retailers to analyze population trends for age, gender, race, marital status, and income, with a high degree of accuracy. As for the uncertain future, that includes everything else! It sounds daunting, but as you shall see, one can begin to identify and categorize the driving forces or trends that are relevant to their own business. For a nurseryman, these trends might include:

  • Social/lifestyle/consumer trends. Are middle-aging consumers trading down and buying less as they reevaluate their priorities? If so, is this temporary or permanent? If not, is there a switch to more goods that are shopped for and purchased in a more price-conscious manner?
  • Business/management trends. Will slow, uneven growth continue through the 1990′s? Who will be the winners and losers, and what will determine success or failure in an uncertain era?
  • Political/legislative/regulatory trends. What laws will be passed on the federal, state or local level that will affect my business, customers, employees, suppliers?
  • Workforce/workplace trends.Can I find and retain employees with the skills and motivation needed at salaries I can afford? How do I supervise them while giving the right level of autonomy and responsibility?
  • Marketing/advertising/media trends. How do I reach today’s more segmented, fragmented marketplace? What message do I want to convey? Should I compete on price, service, selection of merchandise, quality, convenience or a combination thereof?

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