Even if you’re not on Facebook, surely you’re aware of its reach. But what you might not know about is its groups” feature.”””

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a fan of “Dancing with the Stars.” I look forward to watching it every week: It’s full of people out of their element, not afraid to take on a challenge and try something new. Oh, and I suppose the male dancers aren’t too hard to look at, either!

Author Don Miguel Ruiz has said, “Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.”

It reminds me that we all need to step out of our own comfort zones and start dancing to the tune of today’s technology.

Y’all know I’m a Facebook user, as I’ve talked about it several times in this column. Even if you’re not on Facebook, surely you’re aware of its reach. But what you might not know about is its “groups” feature. I belong to about 10 groups; some are for home gardeners and others are industry-based. Regardless of the type, there are groups of people who have a common concern or passion. It provides an audience of like-minded individuals you can reach out to regarding your shared focus.

I’m always looking for story ideas, so I went to the “Nursery and Greenhouse Production” group, which is described as “A place for growers, propagators, IPM managers, research, academics and allied vendors to discuss production related issues important to them.” I posted my April Nursery Insight column and asked what topics they might suggest for future issues.

I received multiple story suggestions, and one in particular caught my eye. Gary Whitehurst of Worthington Farms in North Carolina asked, “How about one on how technology has affected the way nurseries operate.” So here are a few thoughts from my FB friends, along with my two cents worth tossed in regarding technology and how the times they are a changin’.

  • On the farm or in the fields, CB and handheld radios have been replaced by cell phones.
  • GPS units help truck drivers make deliveries and salespeople navigate their road trips more efficiently. My GPS recently broke, however, and I haven’t replaced it. Instead, I opted to use the navigation system on my smart phone.
  • Credit card payments now can be processed right on your cell phone by using apps like SquareUp. Heck, if you’re Troy’s Landscape Supply in New York, you’re checking out your retail customers and processing credit cards from an SBI handheld unit on employees’ belts instead of a traditional cash register. Talk about customer-friendly service!
  • At our nursery we used to have one person whose job it was to take and pick up the mail and take the deposit to the bank. Now you can scan and email copies of your checks to the bank, or even use your phone to take a photo of your check and do a direct deposit. You never have to leave the office.
  • As for postage, you can “Click N Ship” – print postage from your own computer. And if you want, you don’t have to print and mail acknowledgments, confirmations, invoices, statements, availability lists, sales flyers and the like – they can now be emailed. No more filing all the order and billing copies for accounting, either. We’re approaching a paper-free world!
  • OMG! I remember typing up the inventory as a teenager. Now you can go to the field and input inventory as you take it.
  • MiFi units provide Internet access just about anywhere there is cell phone service. I may always joke, but I’m not really kidding when I say, “Have backpack office will travel.” The MiFi helps me be mobile. I find it especially useful if I’m at one of those expensive hotels that charge an arm and a leg for Internet service. Or for the time when a loved one was in the hospital, I didn’t have to choose between them or work; I could do both.
  • Eric Davy, owner of Panhandle Growers Wholesale Tree Farm in Florida, reminisced about taking pictures on 35 mm film and having to rush it to the 1-hour photomart for development and then Fed-Ex photos to customers. Customers are demanding it, and we have the ability to deliver photos now. We can snap good quality pix with our smartphones and text or email them to vendors and customers while we’re still standing right in the field!
  • Michael Martin of the University of Georgia told me that he co-wrote an Android app, available for $0.99, called Hortus IBA Water Soluble Salts™ 20% Calculator. You simply insert the desired concentration of the rooting hormone (ppm), the amount needed in volume (l, ml or gal) and it tells you how much Hortus to add (g, mg or oz) to mix.
  • What about computerized irrigation systems? You can control how, what, when and where your plants are watered – all from your home computer while you’re watching the baseball game!
  • As Eric Hammond of Heritage Seedlings in Oregon said, “Social media is business media now. It is just so much simpler; photos, email, websites – all in my pocket and my crew’s.”

Yes, all this technology in some ways points to instant gratification. But that’s the norm for the current – and likely for the future – demographic we’re selling to. But there is a generation gap to contend with. The real work is in convincing the boss you need the technology and the company should pay for it. (Maybe you should let your supervisor read this column.)

When people ask me how I’m doing, I’ll often reply, “I’m dancing as fast as I can!” I hope you, too, have your dancing shoes on, because keeping up with the evolution of innovation and utilizing it to become more efficient and effective in production, marketing and customer service is one way you can score perfect 10s from your clients.

Maria Zampini is the president of UpShoot LLC. Her company’s focus is “living, sharing and supporting horticulture” through new plant introduction representation including LCN Selections. She can be reached at maria@upshoothort.com, and her website is www.upshoothort.com.