Nursery Management Conference: culture crash course
Matt Steinkopf of Willoway Nurseries speaks at the Nursery Management Conference, Sept. 15, 2021.
David Kent

Nursery Management Conference: culture crash course

Two growers share stories of changing their company culture.

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September 23, 2021

Editor’s note: The Nursery Management Conference took place Sept. 14-16 in Arlington, Texas. Over the next week, we’ll be giving you a glimpse of what you missed if you didn’t attend.

Company culture is more than a mission statement. It includes the values that guide your business. Creating a strong company culture is critical because it helps gain and retain your best personnel. It also attracts and preserves your best customers.

Nursery Management Conference attendees learned from two successful growers how their businesses created remarkable company cultures, and how the company benefited.

Mark Leichty, director of business development for Little Prince of Oregon Nursery, and Matt Steinkopf, head grower and manager for Willoway Nurseries, Inc. both gave examples of ways to improve company culture.

Little Prince of Oregon is located in the Williamette Valley in Aurora, Oregon. Leichty said one of the touchstones of Little Prince’s culture is elevating customers to the level of fans. The nursery tries to do this in several ways, from providing top-notch customer service to using their fun frog branding.

Little Prince lets employees unleash their creative juices each year when they develop fun concepts for their Farwest Show booth. Leichty joined the Nursery Management Conference virtually, and during his presentation, gave a virtual tour of the beach house-like Little Prince office. Rows of Best in Show booth plaques from Farwest line the staircase. Employees take pride in their role in the company's successes, which improves culture.

Willoway Nurseries is a nearly 1,000-acre growing operation with locations in Avon and Huron, Ohio. Steinkopf posed the question, is culture important? Well, sure if you want to be able to attract high-level employees and keep them. Steinkopf discussed how Willoway aimed to harness the wisdom of the crowd. To  that end, the nursery created “culture teams.” If you have a problem, need a suggestion, are dealing with negativity from your workforce, or don’t know what your employees want, a culture team can help.

First, the culture team needs to create objectives. Next, it needs to develop ways to work toward those objectives and measure progress.

The value of culture teams, Steinkopf said, is that people support what they help create. It’s a lesson the Ohio nursery learned from The Great Game of Business, a book espousing a business strategy of open book management and giving employees more of a stake in big picture issues. Company president Tom Demaline implemented The Great Game of Business throughout Willoway and the culture teams are a continuation of those efforts.

If you want to create culture teams at your own business, Steinkopf has a few tips:

The group should represent all departments in the business. Take one leader from each department so everyone’s voice is heard.

Meet at the same time and same place each week to create a rhythm.

Pick employees that have leadership qualities but limited room for advancement.

Watch for more from the 2021 Nursery Management Conference.