January 9, 2018

Clean up your act 


Rod McDonald There are days when I really do sound like a broken record. When my kids were teenagers, they would point out my character flaw as I repeatedly asked, “What time will you be in? Where are you going? Is there alcohol involved?” I was so predictable with not only my questions, but also my instructions. “Don’t be rude to your mother. If you hoot with the owls you can soar with the eagles,” and so on. If you are a dad, you understand. If you are a teenager (and I have no idea why you would be reading this) then I am indeed a repetitive broken record. As a secondary explanation, records were the forerunners of CDs which came before streaming.

I am about to repeat a few things this month that I have mentioned before. For some of you I will be preaching to the choir, and for others, the phrase of ‘fell on deaf ears’ will be appropriate. 

Cleanliness is not next to Godliness, cleanliness is Godliness. I understand the dirty mess that passes as a greenhouse/garden centre at a box store. Box stores run their operations on clearly defined budgets. Their mandate is to apply the minimum input and expect the maximum return. Reducing hours is of utmost importance to a box store manager, and if cleanliness is sacrificed, so be it. Box store managers are rarely upset when dead and dying plants are left on the retail bench. They never advertise cleanliness. They advertise price. I get it. That is who they are and that is what they do.

One time, my local Rona store had dead plants marked down to a dollar each. They were displayed on a greenhouse bench. Had I more time, I would have hung around to see if someone actually purchased one. I wanted to ask the manager, “Do you realize they are indeed dead, and not just damaged or shop worn?” I cannot help but wonder what his answer would have been.

What I do not understand is when I visit an independent greenhouse, garden centre or contractor who does not get this cleanliness equals Godliness concept. Some operators really just don’t get it, which befuddles me. Many years ago I visited a nurseryman who excelled at new and unusual introductions. We were sitting in his office which was quite large; more a board room than an office. There were papers, catalogues and junk stacked everywhere, on the tables, the desk and on the floor. To access one pile, you had to move at least two others. I am certain most of you have witnessed a similar office. 

I asked him, always being polite (I write tongue-in-cheek), “Why don’t you clean up this mess? How can you find anything?” 

He did not take offence. Instead, he offered this explanation: “I am trying to clean up the mess that my father left when he died.” Great answer, except his father had passed away 15 years prior.

Excuses do not cut it when it comes to rationalizing a dirty and messy operation. Action is required and those who understand or wish to change will do so, and for others, I waste my words.

For those who understand or are willing to listen, cleanliness makes you money. I can’t be any more specific than this statement. When you spend half your morning looking for something that requires only a two-minute action, you are engaging in reduced efficiency. When you are not efficient, it costs money. Not only does reduced efficiency cost money, it also creates stress. And stress leads to reduced efficiency — so you see the cycle? 

I volunteer at a local, church-run soup kitchen in Regina. I am always impressed at the kitchen’s cleanliness and the operation’s organization. Even our local health inspector commented he wished the restaurants he examined were as clean as this soup kitchen. 

The director of the kitchen told me, “Organization is a form of meditation. Disorganization leads to stress and stress destroys serenity. Being able to find what you are looking for maintains peace.” How I love that phrase! Organization really does create harmony and frees everyone to carry out their work properly. 

When any business lacks cleanliness, a greenhouse or garden centre or contractor’s shop, it is usually disorganized. Cleanliness and organization always goes hand-in-hand. Again, organized operations always make more money than those that are not.
I work with a fellow who is a good landscaper. He has many worthy attributes; he pays attention to details and his work is very good. When he works alongside of me he is organized, but when he works on his own, not so much. Last week, we were doing some repair work on a brick sidewalk. I was working in one area and he in another that was not visible. After an hour, I went over to check on his progress. He had every possible tool laid out. He had so many tools invading his work space, he had no room left to move. He had painted himself into the proverbial corner, with equipment instead of colour. I took away all the tools he did not need, and set the necessary ones two feet away. More times than naught, we do not need every tool we own in a work space. A work space is a space to work. 

I have found, and you are welcome to argue, that when any of us are disorganized with tools and supplies, we are between 30 and 50 per cent less efficient. This reduced efficiency assertion bore itself out; his progress was considerably slower than mine. 

Sometimes, we complicate work with too many tools. Sometimes, it takes longer to go off and find the ‘perfect’ tool, than to complete the task with what we have at our disposal. I am very much in favour of the right tool for the job, but compromises are allowed. Why return to the shop to retrieve an irrigation shovel, when a sprinkler can be accessed using a hand trowel? A trowel might take two minutes longer, but if the shovel is 10 minutes away, do the math. 

Switching gears: I love to cook. I love to cook because I love to eat good food. I have friends who love to cook. I also have friends who love to cook who have every imaginable kitchen tool, knife, bowl and gadget known to mankind. They keep high-end kitchen shops in business, purchasing the latest in wine cork pullers, garlic presses and tiny spoons to remove the tops of strawberries. I argue that all you need to prepare a good dish is a pot, two knives and a set of taste buds. They argue back, rationalizing their $300 knife, that their specialty tools are necessary, even mandatory. When I cook, I have two knives. One big one and one small one. Lots of kitchen gadgets does not ensure a good meal, any more than a landscape worksite filled with every tool imaginable ensures a good job.

As I write about equipment, organization and cleanliness, allow me to branch into a bit of Shakespeare, who wrote, “Neither a borrower nor lender be.” In my garage shop, I have tools organized on hooks along the walls. Easy to find and easy to use, right? One recent morning, I can’t find my pick. It’s not in its spot. I ask a fellow who works for me and he responds, “Oh... I borrowed it last night but forgot to bring it back.” This story will have many readers nodding their heads, having experienced similar scenarios. He knew I had a very clear policy of not allowing anyone to take tools home from the shop. He acknowledged the rule, and offered the rationalization, “I didn’t think we would need it today.” Sigh. Big sigh. I sent him home to retrieve the pick, and hopefully a lesson learned.

In the past, when I have allowed friends, neighbours and relatives to borrow trucks and tools, I have been less than pleased with the results. I am certain this is a shared experience for most readers. 

I still cannot believe how many times I have had people ask me to loan them a chainsaw, even though they have never operated one. Do they realize a chainsaw is one of the most dangerous pieces of equipment? Without proper training it is conceivable to have a major injury. Yet, there they stand, wanting the chainsaw to cut down a tree in their backyard. “But, I only need it for a few minutes.” 

Just for the dads: My friend was a reputable renovation contractor. He was in my garden centre in June, just before that Sunday we honour fathers. I asked him what he wanted for Fathers’ Day. “For starters, I would like my kids to return my tools they have borrowed.” Every dad nods his head when I tell that one, including me. Has anyone seen my vise grips?

Cleanliness and organization are not just admirable attributes. They are profit centres unto themselves. They are keystones to staying on the road to success. And the broken record repeats itself once again.
Rod McDonald owned and operated Lakeview Gardens, a successful garden centre/landscape firm in Regina, Sask., for 28 years. He now works full-time in the world of fine arts, writing, acting and producing in film, television and stage.