Get Paid 83¢/Hour

Would you work for less than a dollar an hour? Even a Chinese factory worker makes twice that. But that’s what you’re signing up for if you want to start your own business.

I recently read an article about a study by JPMorgan Chase where they studied the cash flow of small businesses. On average, businesses bring in $381 each day and pay out $374. That’s a difference of just $7. Or about $2,500 per year. Assuming a business owner works about 60 hours per week, 50 weeks a year (that’s three thousand hours), the hourly rate comes to 83¢ per hour.

Hopefully, part of the daily cash outflow of a business is the owner’s salary. But if the average daily income is $381, that’s a total annual gross income of only $137,160, how much are small business owners making?

Can this be right? According to the article, JPMorgan uses “data from the bank to analyze the economy.” There are three possible ways this data could be bogus:

  1. JPMorgan just has lousy customers.
  2. Successful small businesses don’t need to report their daily income and expenses to JPMorgan or any other bank.
  3. Small businesses are under-reporting their income (or over-reporting their expenses).

Even if the data doesn’t “feel” quite right to me, there are three morals to this story:

  1. It’s a perilous landscape out there for small businesses.
  2. If you have a secure job, you’d be wise to think twice about striking out on your own (the E-myth). Considering the risk small business owners take, the returns are not very attractive.
  3. It doesn’t pay to be average.

Why write?

It’s not difficult to write. It’s not even that hard to write well. The hard part is thinking clearly enough to have something worth writing about.

I have two employees who I pay to write for me (among other tasks). One works for PlantPop as a producer. She writes articles and will (maybe) write a blog with her insights on her life and job. The other is writing for a project (a book?) we have titled “Power Plants.” In the past few days, I’ve had to speak to both about letting me down because they aren’t getting the writing done.

I sympathize. I employ them because I don’t want to do the work myself. But one of my core beliefs is this: any problem an employee has is a problem I share. So it begs the question, why don’t we get the writing done? Which leads me to the real question, “Why write in the first place?” Here are my answers:

  1. You love it. You really enjoy the process. It’s fun. (Not at all true for me. Writing is painful.)
  2. You get paid to do it. (Also not true for me, but true for my employees.)
  3. You have something important to say to the world. You feel a strong calling to speak out. (Sort of. Not really.)
  4. You have an audience that wants to hear from you. People care to read your work. (Nope.)
  5. You don’t know something you’d like to know and you can’t find the answer you’re looking for. Writing is the path to discovery. (That’s the only reason I write, I think.)

Let’s assume a writer needs to have three of the five reasons be true in order to write productively and consistently…without a great deal of effort or external pressure or self-motivation schemes.

It’s not difficult to write. Anybody can do it. But it’s extremely hard to habitually–day after day–write anything worth reading.

Some of my work

This is some of what I’ve been doing this year. I’m working almost exclusively digital now, and mostly in B&W. I like the constraint, and the challenge. After many years of using really bright colors, this is really different and going back to my roots, but different cause often I don’t touch a real piece of paper. I am feeling the need already to work with canvas and paint again, however. Most of this is based off source photos or other found images. But 100% is by my own hand.

thinking-about-plants-Cropped cave-painting girl-by-the-lake-big-4 HDT-02 erysimum plant-as-factory sweetgum-ball Treehugger logos-vs-leaves-4 factory postcard 3 Factory no tree rose-04

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!

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

Necessity Not Luxury

This is part 3 of 4 of “OFA Town Meeting 2011” series. Read part one, two and four.

Are plants a necessity or a luxury?
Are plants a necessity or a luxury?

“Our product is not just a luxury. It is a necessity!”

This statement from a member of the audience at the 2011 OFA Town Meeting drew applause. It’s becoming a sort of industry mantra. I have heard it many times this year. Everyone’s saying it. After the Town Meeting, I was honored to receive a Horticulture Industry Leadership Award from GIE Media and Syngenta, and as I walked up to accept the plaque, this was said about me, “[Art] believes that our industry is not doing its job in getting the word out about the incredible value that we provide…and that we’re not just ornamental, but a necessity.”

I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that, and even if I did, I now retract the statement. Perhaps we are a necessity, but that should not be our rallying cry. And I don’t think we should be scared or ashamed of being a luxury.

Consider necessities. Your mortgage is a necessity. Taxes are a necessity. Using the bathroom is a necessity. You buy necessities at Wal-Mart. Where’s the allure in necessities? Where’s the excitement? The market is brutal to necessities, commoditizing and driving them to the lowest common denominator.

Perhaps we would all sell more stuff if the stuff we sold was universally perceived as necessary to survival, but would it be any fun? Would it be profitable? Would it be worth doing? Is that the future we are dreaming of?

Who are we talking to?

I understand a little botany and ecology. Of course, plants are necessary. But is that the key to making the world fall in love with us? I didn’t win my wife’s heart by explaining to her that our species needed to reproduce–that procreation was a necessity–so she had better do her duty. No! I told her that I was madly in love with her and that all I wanted to do was to serve her and make her happy for the rest of our lives.

I think it’s a fine thing for us in the industry to start with a base foundation of knowledge that plants are essential. But why do we need to tell each other this? Do we lack faith in our purpose, or value? Do we really lack that much confidence?

I guess this would be an OK message for elected officials, architects and city planners and such. Let’s preach away at those folks. But is this really the basis for our message–our story–our value proposition–to the world? Buy our stuff because you have to?

Is gardening a chore?

Who likes chores? I take little delight in necessary things; in fact, I avoid them whenever I can. Do we want to make gardening a chore or an escape? A drudgery or a lifestyle? A necessity or a luxury?

There are human basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing. Let’s take clothing, for example, and assume that just as everyone in the world wants to appear attractive in their dress, they also would like to have a nice looking yard. So, if you were to start a business selling clothing, would you want to have your slogan be: “Pants: Don’t leave home without them?” Or would you find that it might be a more profitable tactic to make fashionable clothes that targeted consumers would fall in love with and pay a premium for because they made them feel extra-good about themselves?

Afraid of luxury.

Are we eager to reposition ourselves in the mind of the consumer away from the “luxury good” category because we think we can’t compete with the other luxury goods and services out there? Perhaps we are unwilling to go up against smartphones, big screen TV’s, vacations, furniture, clothing…you name it. If you don’t think we are a legitimate luxury product that consumers should spend their discretionary funds on, well, that might be a big clue to our problem right there.

Ashamed of luxury.

Maybe we are uncomfortable with the “luxury” label because we don’t think its legitimate. Maybe we are a conservative industry of frugal minded folk who don’t live very fancy and think that those who do are pretty irresponsible.  Maybe we drink Folgers instead of Starbucks. Maybe we go to SuperCuts instead of the salon. Maybe we drive Fords instead of Cadillacs. Maybe we’re just cheap.

But there is no shame in the luxury that plants offer. In fact, that is one of the key things that will differentiate us from the other luxury items. We offer 100% guilt-free, soul-restoring luxury. Who else can say that?


PS: Joe Baer, a panelist at the OFA Town Meeting, wrote this blog post in preparation for the event. Here’s an excerpt:

Shoppers are looking for an experience to connect with.  Give LOVE and receive LOVE.  Give your customers an experience to LOVE.  Give them more WOW, ENERGY, CREATIVITY, SUPPORT, EXPERIENCE and ENCOURAGEMENT!

Besides, what’s is there not to love about you?  Your industry creates beauty.  It creates happiness and it honors our loved ones, celebrates our accomplishments and helps us create safe havens where we can rest, relax and enjoy life with our family and friends.  You make us happy.  You make our yards look better.  You put smiles on our faces.  You make our gardens more beautiful and more abundant.  You empower us to nurture the earth and eachother.  It’s your job to ignite creativity, passion and love through flowers and plants.  By selling the right products, tools, supplies, offering tips, education and encouragement you are providing the things to make our lives more comfortable and more rewarding.  That is LOVE.

That’s a far cry from staking a claim as a “necessity” in the customer’s mind. Interesting that this is a perspective from a genuine industry-outsider.