November 15, 2010
Tom Intven
LO President

tom intven Don’t you wish you had a crystal ball to help set your course for the future? Sometimes experts get it right, but other times they are way off. Check out these predictions that were
slightly off:
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” – Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949.
“$604,000 ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981.
“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” – Pierre Pachet, professor of physiology at Toulouse, 1872.
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles H. Duel, commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

We are all trying to look into the future; trying to keep ourselves and our businesses ahead of the curve. While some of us are struggling to maintain profitability, we are all concerned about where the opportunities for growth will come from in years ahead.

Renovation market

Soon after I entered into the business of growing and selling plants, our economy entered a long and protracted recession. The early 1980s were difficult times for many with 20 per cent interest rates, sky high inflation, and worst of all, no new housing construction. Many people in Ontario simply walked away from their homes when refinancing their mortgages. In our town of 30,000, there was not one house built for two years.

At that time, we developed a strategy for growth that focused on the renovation market. We targeted our advertising toward established communities where mortgages were paid off, disposable income was high, and landscapes were old and in need of renovation. We focused on new and improved cultivars of plants that were dwarf, needed less maintenance and had at least three seasons of appeal. We offered more sizes of plant material in all different price ranges, so that plant purchases would fit in all budgets.

Our landscape division at the time created portfolios of before and after pictures with testimonials from happy clients. The strategy paid off and our sales never lost a beat.

Economic conditions today are similar to those that appeared in the early 80s, sans the high interest rates. There is a large market of baby boomers that are established homeowners and have disposable income.

I also call on the federal government to re-instate the Home Renovation Tax Credit. The World Bank just released a report stating that Canada’s fiscal position was healthy enough to allow for more stimulus money to be infused into our economy.

The green movement

I re-iterate what I wrote in an earlier President’s Message: “As an industry and as individual companies, we should align ourselves with the green movement that is sweeping the world. Gen X, Gen Y and even the baby boomers are spending intelligently, directing their expenditures toward products and services that are sustainable, green, and environmentally friendly. This is the message of Green for Life. Make sure all your messages to the consumer resonate with this brand. Your company needs to be perceived as green. Do the LO audit. It will ensure that Gen X and Y will be comfortable engaging your company.”

Food and entertainment

The hugely popular Independent Garden Centre Show, held in Chicago during August, promoted how to incorporate food into your business. While this may be somewhat restricted to the garden centre sector, food is hot! The newest garden centres under construction in North America have partnered with food and drink franchises.

Contractors should consider the following story on how to include food and entertainment into a marketing strategy.

While attending the Great Lakes Horticultural Association Conference, I was fascinated by a story from a very successful high-end contractor from Pittsburgh, Pa., named Dan, who specialized in the renovation market. The Pennsylvania association also has an awards of excellence program similar to LO’s.

When he won an award for a backyard makeover, he would offer to host a party for the homeowners in their own backyard. He provided the food, wine, entertainment, and spent time making sure the gardens and outdoor entertainment areas were pristine. He asked the homeowners to invite 20 of their closest friends to the party, at which the contractor presented the award plaque to the homeowner. At the same time, he and some of his sales staff schmooze with the crowd talking about the details of the beautiful outdoor living space that had been created. The contractor inevitably got two or three solid leads for other jobs. How brilliant was his tactic?

Strategic partnerships

As an association, we strategically align our members with many groups that have great potential to provide opportunities for growth for our industry. The projects underway and the potential for new initiatives at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre represent huge opportunities for the growers, contractors, and other sectors.

The Greening of the Highways project alone could provide a market for millions of plants for Ontario nurseries. Kudos to Steven Peck for forming Green Infrastructure Ontario (GIO), a coalition consisting of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Evergreen Foundation (EF), Ontario Parks Association (OPA), Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests (LEAF) and Landscape Ontario (LO). The purpose of GIO is to advocate for the importance of green infrastructure at all levels of government. The initiative may hopefully lead to a Green Infrastructure Act in Ontario which would ensure the inclusion of green space in all public and private developments.

Gardens and health

Society is slowly being educated on the physical and emotional health benefits of green spaces through research and books, like Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. The author presents a growing body of research, indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. His book directly links the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation.

With the winter fast approaching, hopefully we will have time to contemplate where we are heading in the future. Please keep these potential areas for growth in mind when planning your future in this industry.
Tom Intven may be reached at 519-631-1008, or