Sense throughout the century

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Take the right steps to keep your business thriving for 100+ years.

September 8, 2014

This month’s cover story on Evergreen Nursery Co. in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., takes a look at how they’ve thrived for 150 years, which is truly remarkable no matter what industry your business is in. Kudos!

In fact, it got me wondering, what does it take to stay in business for an era? No doubt it takes some special kind of leadership and business savvy by multiple business owners, family members and/or company executives. Probably some good old-fashioned luck too. But what else?

So as any good geek would do, I went online and googled. I found many articles which gave varying advice and opinions on how to stay in business 100 years or more. After reading several, here are a few key factors I walked away with mixed in with a touch of my own observations.

  • While it might seem like the obvious; keep debt low. Yes it is common sense, but too many of us, myself included, have fallen into the money pit trap, so I think it more than bears repeating. Saying you’ve got to live within your means doesn’t just apply to your personal life, but also your business. Quite often, reining in the wallet requires making extremely hard decisions, and unless we’re strong enough to resist the temptation to spend instead of cut where necessary, the consequences can be irreversible.
  • Never forget what your company does best, and play off your core strength. But be willing to evaluate what you’re doing, update people and processes as needed, and perhaps most importantly, keep up with changing times. Ask yourself, is your company in sync with new technology? That doesn’t mean you need to be a technology leader, but you’ve at least got to stay up with the pack.
    For instance, I just came back from the Garden Writer’s Association National Symposium in Pittsburgh. I met a very lovely 20-something who is a marketing manager for a wholesale nursery. She said she refused to do Facebook. She wouldn’t even consider being a FB “stalker” just to hear what is being said by her peers. I sure hope she is at least engaged or monitoring other forms of social media. Because if not, the boat is pulling up anchor without her and her company. I fear her sailboat will have difficulty catching the speed boat, and at some point in time will be lost at sea.
  • Next, remember who signs your paycheck; your customers. I think that sometimes management can overlook the customer in their decisions and end up making choices which benefit them and not their customers. We need to look for win-win scenarios for all parties. While your sales and customer service staff is the logical conduit for hearing customer feedback, there is nothing wrong with getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. Nursery owners and managers must attend trade shows, go on customer visits with their staff and/or just pick up the phone and ask two simple questions – “what are we doing well?” and “what could we do better or differently?” The answers could be the difference in making it or not. But it takes someone who’s not afraid of the answers to ask the questions.
  • Last, but by no means least, is company culture. Every article I perused all said to value the company culture as it speaks volumes about who and what your business is and stands for. It is the fundamental difference in success and failure for your business as it permeates all that you do and are.

For the average Joe, the odds are not in our favor of reaching 100 years. But for those companies who build a solid foundation, keep to their guiding principles, take care of their customers and team members, and who aren’t afraid of taking risks, their future is bright.