Study up

From the book “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Study-UpSimply showing up may be enough to squeak by, but you don’t want to do the minimum. You need to show up ready. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.”

It’s not easy to plan ahead, to prepare, to study. It’s not easy to concentrate, but anybody can do it.

In college sports, there are rules about how often teams can practice, but in real life there’s no penalty for preparing more than the competition does.

The thing I love about studying is it helps the dummy more than the genius, because smart people don’t think they need to study. With preparation, a hard worker of average intelligence can outperform an Einstein any day.

“I shoulda said…”

Have you ever left an argument only to realize an hour later what you should have said? On the other hand, some people appear to be “quick on their feet.” Their responses to the unexpected are so swift that observers marvel, “How’d they do that?”

I think the difference is due more to preparation than intelligence. Snappy answers come automatically to those who have invested time studying, carefully thinking about the subject. They know at a glance what it is they are looking at and what they think about it. They don’t have to think about it because they’ve already done the thinking.

If you’re gifted with a fast wit, if you pick up on things with ease, if you are good at playing catch-up, then you should be very careful. Don’t let your natural ability fool you into thinking you don’t have to study up. I have served on boards and committees for various volunteer organizations and associations. Once, I was on the board of directors for a national association. All of us on the board were owners of pretty large, successful businesses. We were all top performers, dynamic leaders, effective managers. We knew how to get things done.

Or, that’s how it should have been. After a few meetings, I began to wonder if some of my fellow board members could even organize a picnic. Before every meeting, the association staff would send us a large binder stuffed with an agenda and tons of reports. I’d show up at the meeting, with my binder under my arm, my head full of knowledge as I’d flip through my highlighted notes…but only a few of us had even bothered to read the reports! It drove me crazy, but then, I guess I drove them insane too.

Don’t be the person who shows up without a clue. Study Up instead, and you’ll run circles around all the other clueless people.

Look up

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Look-Up2You can only go where your eyes lead you, so look up!

All the time, I see people with their heads down. They’re looking at the floor, their feet, their iPhones. They’ve withdrawn from the world.

You’ve got to pick your head up! When you do, you’ll find your physical posture has a big impact on your mental posture.

Look people in the eye! This is so important. I never want to hire someone who won’t look me in the eye when I’m talking to them. What are they hiding? Pick your head up in interviews and meetings, during sales calls and family dinners.

Experts say non-verbal communication is more powerful than the actual words we say to each other. Shrugs, hand gestures, eye movements and smiles, how can you read any of ’em if you aren’t looking?

And what are you communicating to others when your head is down? “Leave me alone. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be involved.”

The phrase, “Things are looking up,” is synonymous with optimism for good reason. When you look up, it has a powerful effect. You suddenly begin to see opportunities. Mysteries are revealed. Connections are made.

It’s so easy to do. Anybody can look up, but if it doesn’t come naturally, you’ll need to practice at it. You need discipline.

Keep reminding yourself: “Look up!”

7 Habits of Highly Upward People

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

SEVEN-HABITS-3Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda

How’s that for a catchy name? Charles Grigg launched a new soft drink by that name in 1929, just two weeks before Wall Street’s “Black Tuesday” crash sparked the Great Depression. Sure sounds like the drink was doomed to failure, doesn’t it?

But it’s where you go that matters, not where or how you start. And it’s never too late to turn a loser into a winner. Mr. Grigg changed the name of his drink to 7UP, and the rest is history.

Simple decisions can have big impacts.

Let’s get practical

Ready to get busy? Do you want to know where to start right this moment making decisions that will build your success? Here we go. I’ve got seven “ups” to share with you.

Whether you’re leading a company or a Sunday school class, here are some dirt-simple choices you can make today—right now—that are guaranteed to succeed. They aren’t difficult; you don’t need any special skills to implement these. You can get started right away.

But while these “seven habits of highly upward people” aren’t complicated or theoretical, they aren’t all that easy either. Just because anybody can do them doesn’t mean that many people do. That’s why they are so powerful.

And no matter how well you think you’re doing, you can always do better!

How do you respond?

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson

Response-AbleI’m blessed to have five [now six!] grandkids living next door, and I’ve gotten a kick out of teaching them how to do things—really important things—like how to ride a bike and how to play cards.

Maybe fun and games don’t strike you as important life skills, but I see ’em as a great way to learn how to deal with things outside of your control. What kid would choose to fall off their bike and scrape their knees? And nobody chooses to be dealt a losing hand. But bad things happen. The question is, “How do you respond?” The first step toward responsibility is learning we are able to choose how we respond, especially to the bad things we don’t want to face.

Sometimes it seems like children actually do fall down on purpose. They get scared or frustrated and just quit. They almost seem to throw themselves off their bikes. You can see adults do the same thing when they are in uncomfortable situations: at work, in their relationships, in struggling with addictions or dealing with change. Throwing yourself off your bike is a choice, but it’s a supremely childish choice.

Persevere! The suffering is worth the sacrifice. I can still see the amazing change that came over each grandchild’s countenance once they finally mastered their bike. They suddenly stood taller; their faces beamed. They had done it! They were independently mobile! They were now free to go make their way in the world!

Been dealt a losing hand? Play it out, man! You gotta play the cards you’ve been dealt. You don’t have to like it, but quit your bellyaching.

Everything is a choice

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!” by Charlie Parkerson:

Everyhting-Choice-4I reckon there are two types of people: those who cry and complain about what they “have to do,” and those who simply roll up their sleeves and get busy doing what they “choose to do.”

I’ve got no patience for folks who complain about their job, their boss, their customers, the traffic on their morning commute…the list goes on and on. I just can’t listen to it.

Who put a gun to your head and made you do that job, work for that boss, live in that city or take crap from those customers? Whatever circumstance you find yourself in, it’s of your own choosing.

You say you hate your job? Well, who picked that job? You did. “But I didn’t realize I’d hate it when I took it.” So quit and find something you’ll love. “But I’m not qualified to do my dream job.” How is that your boss’s fault?

Change is hard, but it starts with a simple choice. Why don’t we change when we aren’t happy with the results we’re getting? Are we too scared or too lazy? Apathy and inaction are decisions to keep things just the way they are.

Don’t complain about it. By staying in that job you hate so much, what you’re really saying is, “I believe this job is better than any other possible alternative.”

Everything is a choice. It’s gotta be one of life’s toughest lessons. It can really hurt to own up to the fact we have chosen the lives we live.

It is painful to take away the scapegoats we love to abuse, because then that abuse is directed squarely at ourselves. Ouch!

Success is a choice

From the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!”

Succes is a choiceJust as true quality is never a happy accident, neither is success. Good things happen for a reason. Sure, sometimes you’ll get lucky and come out smelling like a rose despite making bad decisions, but that’s like winning the lottery.
Success you don’t earn doesn’t last very long. It’s not sustainable. In my mind, success you can’t count on is no success at all.

So, if success is a choice, who in the world would ever choose failure? I don’t think most people are stupid, but I see people do stupid things every day. Nobody sets out to fail, and nobody would ever agonize in front of a signpost faced with a simple dilemma: “Do I choose the path to success or failure?”

The tricky thing is that success isn’t the result of one choice, but of a million choices. It takes wisdom and foresight to know which direction you’re heading in. It’s pretty hard to have the clarity to step back and read the signposts, but they’re there.

Too many people spend their whole lives walking down the wrong path only to realize, once they reach the end of the road, that they wasted their lives. And far too many people lose their nerve. Paralyzed with fear, they don’t have the stomach to lead their own life, much less to lead their business, family or organization. Have courage!

It takes guts to own up to the fact that success is ultimately your choice. Embrace the challenge, and you’ll find it incredibly liberating.

Quality is a matter of choice

This has been the “motto” of Lancaster Farms since I can remember. Here, Charlie explains what he means by it. This is the first “chapter” of the book, “That Ain’t No Deal!”

Quality-is3These six words express the heart of my business philosophy. That’s why I made them the motto for Lancaster Farms, the business I founded in 1969.

I don’t like being average, so early on I decided I wouldn’t make lousy products. I wanted to grow the very best shrubs, trees and flowers, and I wanted to sell them to customers who valued and appreciated the difference between a wimpy plant likely to fail and a superior plant ready to thrive.

Back when I started, that was a pretty radical idea. The name of the game in the plant business was to grow your crops as cheaply as possible. It seemed our customers—independent garden centers and landscapers—only cared about price. Agricultural products, such as corn and cotton, naturally tend to become commodities, right?

Well, I’ve bucked conventional wisdom all my life, and I say, “Quality is never a commodity.” It’s also no accident, because true quality isn’t hit-or-miss. Consistent results come from making deliberate decisions. You have to choose quality every day, in every process.

You don’t define what quality means; only the customer can do that. Quality isn’t just being better, it is being better in ways that are meaningful. In my business, that means not just having a larger, healthier plant, but having a plant that will make more money for the customer.

Landscapers lose money when their design plans call for them to install twelve shrubs but one isn’t the same shape or height as the other eleven. Garden centers lose money when the plants on their shelves wither and look unhealthy within a few weeks. And everyone in the whole supply chain loses when plants die in the homeowner’s yard.

“Roots” vs. “shiny” quality

The truest measure of quality is often hard to see, especially to those who aren’t experts or who don’t take the time to examine what they’re buying. In the plant business, we have annual trade shows where growers display selections of their plants and buyers walk around and hopefully place orders for the coming season. To make their plants look their very best at trade shows, many growers spray their plants with a glossy coating. It makes the leaves seem brighter, more vibrant. The green just kind of “pops.”

I have never done this. It’s so fake. This is a “shiny” quality. It misleads. It’s just for show. It adds no real value to the product.

At Lancaster Farms, we focus instead on “roots” quality. We invest more time and effort into developing the roots, which are almost never seen, than we do the tops of the plants. It’s easy to grow a great top half of a plant. Just give it a bunch of water and fertilizer. (Then spray on a glossy coating!) But wise gardeners know the unseen root system is what really determines success.

What good are features that don’t make a difference? We could put bushes in gold-plated pots. We could carefully hand-water each flower, but these things are not going to deliver the value the customer is looking for. “Shiny” quality is fake quality.

Do you get what you pay for?

A lot of people probably interpret our motto, “Quality Is a Matter of Choice,” as being synonymous with, “You get what you pay for.” I don’t see it that way, because I can recall times when I’ve paid a whole heck of a lot for crummy products.

Several years ago, my wife Maggie bought a new washer and dryer. She wanted the best. These babies were made in Sweden and they cost three times what the GE and Kenmore models did. Why? Because they used less water, were more energy efficient and they sported a cool European design. Wow! We were sold.

The only problem was, their capacity was so tiny you had to do three times the number of loads, the washer sounded like a plane taking off and the dryer took three hours to dry a load. Sometimes you pay extra for “shiny” quality, but you seldom choose it a second time.

“Quality Is a Matter of Choice” wasn’t just a promotional jingle for me. It told everyone in our company, “We control, by the decisions we make every single day, how good our product will be, and thereby what level of success we will enjoy.” These are words to live by!


Introduction to “That ain’t no deal!”

This is the introduction to the book I wrote with my father, Charlie Parkerson, to mark his retirement from Lancaster Farms, the business he started and I now manage (along with 100 great employees, that is).

[tw_dropcap]V[/tw_dropcap]ery few real people have catchphrases. The good ones usually belong to fictional characters. We find them in movies, books and TV sitcoms. “Just the facts, Ma’am.” “Shaken, not stirred.” “Good night, John Boy.” “ET phone home.”

It takes an attentive writer (or team of writers) to carefully and intentionally craft a character-defining catchphrase and insert it into dialog for maximum effect. Normal, everyday people like you and me can’t hope to be so consistent.

My father has a catchphrase, one he never planned to have. It was an accident. He never sat down and thought, “What should be my signature saying, and how can I make sure I say it all the time?”

Charlie is almost wholly without artifice. There’s nothing fake about him. He’s the same wherever he goes. He swears at prayer meetings.

And he hates bad deals.

Anyone who has spent more than fifteen minutes with Charlie Parkerson has probably heard him say, “That ain’t no deal.” As his son, I bet I’ve heard it more than anyone, and I have come to realize it’s a good catchphrase, for it captures the essence of my father’s character, the way he thinks and the way he views the world.
As catchphrases go, “That ain’t no deal” may seem pretty negative, but it’s not negative at all. In fact, it’s an incredibly positive statement.

Let me explain why.

Lesson #1: Face the facts

A truly positive outlook, one that is useful and robust, is not a Pollyanna blindness, but rather it acknowledges problems. The world is often screwed up. Optimists don’t deny problems exist or make excuses for them; they simply think they can be fixed.

What is a “deal?” Everything you do is a trade. You spend time, energy and money to get things or do things. You make deals.

It’s your job, especially if you’re a leader, to turn bad deals, which are everywhere, into good deals.

Lesson #2: Conflict is caring

It’s not mean-spirited to point out bad deals when you see them. Confrontation shows you care. It’s a heck of a lot easier to shrug and say, “Whatever.”

“That ain’t no deal,” is not an ad hominem attack. It doesn’t blame. It doesn’t point fingers. It attacks the problem, not the person.

However, when they are confronted, people often take it personally. They hear something that is not being said. They hear, “You’re stupid for doing that,” or “I’m better than you.”

Oversensitivity can blind you to one of the most remarkable things about “That ain’t no deal.” It invites you to step back and see things from a different perspective. Taken literally, it simply asks, “Is this a good trade? Is this how we want things to be?”

So, if it’s not a personal attack, why do the wording and delivery feel so much like an accusation? Why are they so striking?

It’s by design.

Lesson #3: Provoke a response

There’s a safer, less provocative way to say, “That ain’t no deal.” You’ve heard it before: “There has to be a better way.” The meanings are the same.

But the safer words have one problem: they’re boring. They don’t kick you in the pants. They don’t demand a response. Somebody says, “There’s got to be a better way,” and you nod and say, “Yeah, somebody should fix that.”

And then you forget about it, as if they had commented on the weather or said, “The kids these days,” or “Congress needs term limits.”

Safe words are ineffective words.

Here we go

I could go on and on. I could wax philosophical about the colloquial grammar, the irony of the double negative and the expression’s Southern-born roots. But this is Charlie’s book, not mine, and “navel gazing” has never been his style. From here on out, the in-depth mumbo-jumbo and the “what does it all mean?” stuff will be kept to a minimum. You’ll get to hear Charlie explain the ideas and habits that powered his success.

I’ve been a student of my father all my life. For more than thirty years, I have been listening, absorbing his wisdom. It has not been a waste of time. I am sure you will agree!

Arthur Lancaster Parkerson
August 28, 2013

This is Our Life

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You are NOT average

You might think you’re a pretty normal person, but you’re not even close to normal! As a “plantrepreneur,” you are extremely rare. You spend most of your time OUTSIDE. You actually get wet when it rains, and your tan doesn’t come from a booth, a beach or (God forbid!) a bottle. Your idea of a manicure is cleaning real-live DIRT from your fingernails. You sweat more AT WORK than you do in an air-conditioned gym (with a personal trainer, of course), and you think all of this is perfectly normal.

But you’re wrong. It is not normal.

This is normal

The average person spends less than 10 minutes each day outside. All the rest of the time? They are in climate-controlled spaces breathing pumped-in air. They need sunglasses not to protect their eyes from prolonged exposure, but because the sudden glare blinds them.

The average person watches 4 and a half hours of TV every day. 56% of the time they are watching reality TV. They are on the INTERNET for nearly six hours every day. 2013 was the first year that digital media consumption surpassed television viewing.

The average person must be watching a lot of TV while online, because there’s just not enough time in the day! How do they stare at a screen for a total of 12 hours and 14 minutes every day?

What it means to you

Pretty much everyone is online all of the time. Every waking moment they are searching, looking, chatting and buying. If you do not have a digital presence, you might as well not exist.

— Art

Who is PlantClick?

This post is from the PlantClick website, which can be read here.

We are growers

My name is Art Parkerson. I own a wholesale nursery called Lancaster Farms in Suffolk, VA. I studied computers in college, but chose to return to the family business because I believe it is more rewarding to grow than to code. My company produces flowers, shrubs and trees for landscapers and independent garden centers in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Do plants click?

Gardening was once the #1 Hobby in America. But today, if something doesn’t involve a screen, it’s not going to get our attention. The statistics show that the average American spends about 4 hours staring at a TV or computer screen each day, and about 10 minutes enjoying the great outdoors. The evidence suggests that plants just don’t click anymore.

Our challenge

People need plants in their lives. Flowers make us happier, healthier and more productive. Trees improve the environment and increase the value to our properties and communities.

Selling plants to the world isn’t a job. It’s a calling. You are an evangelist. Don’t be the world’s best kept secret. Go where the people are.

Where are they? They’re online. And if we fail to show up, we can’t complain when nobody goes out of their way to find us and give us their money.

Making plants click

We didn’t set out to make an Internet company. We just want to sell plants, because that’s what we do. We are growers.

But it has been obvious for quite some time: if we don’t figure out how to make plants click in this post-information age society of ours, we might just barely survive. But we will not thrive. As growers, that just ain’t no deal. “Stayin’ Alive” is not our theme song.

We are setting out to discover new and exciting ways to make plants click. And you can make money by joining us.

— Art