September 11, 2001. It is the day in my lifetime that will live in infamy. I happened to be attending the ANLA Legislative Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., when terrorism struck our country hard and fast. My green industry colleagues and I were awaiting our assignments so we could head over to Capitol Hill to lobby our Congressmen. Word came that a plane had flown in to one of the World Trade Center towers. Then the next tower was hit and we, like many, realized this was no accident or coincidence. Jim Berry of J. Berry Nursery had stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He quickly walked back in the room holding the phone, turned and said to me, “They’ve bombed the Pentagon.”

I could continue reflecting upon events I experienced in our nation’s capital, but I won’t. We all have our memories of where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day. What I will tell you is how I think it relates to where we are 10 years down the road.

In some ways, I think 9/11 was the beginning of the end of an era for the nursery industry. Up until that time we were pretty much in the “if you grow it, they will come” mode. Sure, there were times when things were tough. There would be a drought and sales would dry up, too. However, if your product line was diverse enough and your geographic sales area broad, you could fairly easily switch your sales and marketing efforts to compensate.

It is, however, harder to adjust when consumer confidence is shat- tered. Homeowners have been on a roller coaster ride since 2001. Each time the dip becomes a little deeper and the peak a little less high. Many factors have played into the economic scenario we face today. Yep, if only we all coulda, shoulda, woulda seen it coming.

But, that is in the past and there is nothing we can do to alter it except hopefully learn, remember and move forward. While it may be hard to see in this very moment, most clouds have a silver lining. I call to mind one of my favorite old sayings, “things must change to stay the same.” I know from first-hand experience that with change can come unexpected opportunity.

During the summer I talked with individuals and companies who are going outside their comfort zone to do whatever is necessary to survive; for instance, creating long-range strategic and/or marketing plans to find a new niche or confirm their current market. Yes, these can be almost painful to write. But, once you have, you’ll at least have a concrete direction to follow. The path you take won’t be just a stab in the dark but the result of a solid, educated guess. If you’ve never written a plan before, let me recommend the book “Alpha Teach Yourself Business Plans in 24 Hours” as a good starting point.

A few examples of those who are looking beyond the stormy clouds include:

  • Steve Cissel of 10-20 Media is thinking far outside of the box with GardenQuest. It is a gardening game like Farmville but with 3-D and seasonal plant features. I personally don’t play games online, but a lot of people do. This game is one avenue to educate consumers on plants and give them gardening skills they can then utilize in the real world. And, it’s a fact that social media games influence consumer purchases. All I can say is it will be interesting to watch how this unfolds.
  • Agricola is developing the HGTV Plant Brand Line. They have the support of the network but, more importantly, they’ll have the attention of 100 million households in the United States who already watch HGTV. Agricola feels that for too long the ‘G’ has been silent, and they’re taking steps, like the plant brand and a new magazine, to capitalize on a trend – gardening – that they feel is only going to grow. (Sorry, no column would be complete without one of my bad puns.)
  • I toured Bountiful Farms in Oregon. In addition to their traditional sculptured plants, they’ve come out with a new Patio Collection of arbors, screens and tree umbrellas. How many nurseries do you know that are expanding to the tune of five acres of pot-in-pot this year? Best I can figure is they have a unique product line that is being sold into areas where consumers have discretionary dollars to spend, despite the economy.
  • The Farwest Show saw more than 50 plants in its New Varieties Showcase. As an exhibitor I spoke to attendees who had never been to the show before. An added attraction was this year’s ANLA Kick the Dirt tour right before the show. Two buses of out-of-towners, raring to learn and network, got treated to some of the best Oregon has to offer.

In closing, I must confess that there are times when I still wonder what might have happened if the brave passengers on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Penn., had not over taken the plane. Undoubtedly it was headed for some point in D.C.; perhaps to a place where my colleagues and I may have been at that moment. As much as my life was affected by the events that day, I know that it pales in comparison to what the families of the 3,000-plus individuals who lost their lives on 9/11 have endured.

As we come from the land of the brave, we have so many American soldiers (and their families) who continue to give of themselves each and every day so that we can continue to live in the land of the free. I for one am grateful to them all, and while it doesn’t seem like nearly enough, I humbly say, “Thank you.” To everyone else, I say, keep moving forward and find your silver lining. As Linda Nelson, from Hans Nelson & Sons in Boring, Ore., so aptly said, “We’re all in this together.”

Maria Zampini is president of Lake County New Plants LLC, Madison, Ohio. She co-founded the company with her father, Jim Zampini. Their focus is sales and marketing of LCN Selections along with research and development of new plant introductions. She can be reached at maria.zampini@yahoo.com.