Bill Jones, founder and president of Carolina Native Nursery, is a recent graduate of the EAGL Program — Executive Academy for Growth & Leadership — and he shares his experience with Kellee Magee O’Reilly.

Tell us a bit about your business: Carolina Native Nursery is located in Burnsville, North Carolina, 30 minutes north of Asheville. Our nursery grows close to 200 species of eastern U.S. native shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses. We specialize in rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurels indigenous to the Southern Appalachian mountains that we grow from seed we collect.

Carolina Native’s clients range from landscape architects, landscape design and installation firms, independent garden centers, commercial developers to gardeners that want native plants for their back yards. In fact, you can find our plants on the Biltmore Estate, in [New York’s] Central Park, on the Mall in D.C., at Monticello, and gardens both public and private from Atlanta to Maine.

Our nursery has accomplished this through the quality of our plants combined with the honesty and integrity with which we have established our client base. These core values are essential to the growth of our company and our brand.

Describe the reasons you were interested in the EAGL program: I was aware of the EAGL Program from its initial launch through its publicity and description. And had looked into applying. Plus, friends had been members of the previous cohorts and I had spoken to them about their experience. Strategic planning had been something I knew Carolina Native Nursery needed, but struggled to even know where to start. Plus, I had been searching and trying to figure out some industry metrics to measure ourselves against. I had been in other industries where established metrics were available. We had a reasonable marketing plan in place. Unfortunately, the admission fees were out of our reach. Consequently, the struggle continued. Receiving the opportunity of the BioWorks Small Business Scholarship to defray the costs of participation allowed me to decide to make the commitment to join the EAGL Epsilon cohort.

What portions of the program were most beneficial to you at this point in your business evolution? The effort to determine our core values and establishing a strategic plan that begins with those values and moves everything forward was wonderful. The readings assigned prior to that module, as well as the rest, were vital too. It is reference material that I review as I continue to work on my business. But the most important aspect was taking the necessary time away from my business, with the groundwork laid, to actually put together the plans, strategic and marketing, combined with the financial understanding to bring it all together. The combination of the planning with the appropriate metrics and measurables for my company gives us a competitive advantage. The excitement all of this has created within our staff as they have been brought up to speed and involved in its development and implementation is just icing on the cake.

How was your experience with the peer group in the class? I have enjoyed getting to know all the other members of our cohort. The balance of working alone and in groups, sitting with different people daily, and relaxing events in the evening, make for a dynamic environment.

Describe the effect that you feel participating in the EAGL program will have on your business: Compared to all the other companies involved in EAGL, Carolina Native is certainly the smallest, least experienced and youngest. We need all the help we can get. The EAGL Program has already had a wonderful effect on my company. The tightened focus of working on our business, constantly improving, and staff involvement has been invigorating. As we set our metrics and measurables for the upcoming year, finalize our marketing plan and goals, and continually review our strategic plan, I know the EAGL Program has been and will continue to be an essential part of our success. Carolina Native Nursery will be able to leverage this investment to strengthen our position as the industry leader in high quality landscape ready native plants.

What other “words of wisdom” might you have for other smaller businesses considering participation in the EAGL program? EAGL presents a rare opportunity for a small business to learn and apply cutting edge, MBA level business acumen to their operation. Come in with an open and learning attitude toward change. Read the materials early then again making notes on how does this apply to my business. Then show up to the meetings already prepared with what you want to accomplish because you will not only have the time, but the kind of professional help that will both encourage and support you in accomplishing your goals.

Note: The next EAGL cohort has seats available, but you need to act fast: Sessions begin this June.