Looking back 40 years to 1971, we find that many of the hot topics of the day reflect what’s on the minds of green industry professionals today. In the March 15 issue, the second part of a new series was published. Titled “POINT: AAN committee eye the industry’s future,” the occasional report provided a summary of discussions among a committee of seven men selected by the American Association of Nurserymen – now the American Nursery & Landscape Association – convened to “analyze the economic, social and philosophic changes which were buffeting the U.S. nursery industry – an industry largely unprepared for and unused to rapid change.” Sound familiar? The “POINT Committee” was charged with making recommendations for improving all nursery productions, labor, transportation and marketing methods.
Members of the committee included S.B. Hutton Jr., Conard-Pyle Co.; C. Edward Scofield, Ra-Pid-Gro Corp.; Harold R. Nickel, Greenleaf Nursery Co.; Joseph H. Klupenger, Klupenger Nursery & Greenhouses; Joseph A. Abrahamson, Mount Arbor Nurseries and Greenleaf Nursery Co.; Lawrence W. Bachman, Bachman’s Inc.; and Dr. Richard P. White, a past executive vice-president of the AAN. Having addressed a number of retail concerns in the first installment, the group turned to the outlook for the nursery industry. What follows is a summary of their discussion.
Hutton: We’ve been talking about the future prospect of our industry – good and bad – for several hours. What amazes me during all this is that, in spite of our problems, things look pretty good. Here we are, in the middle of a serious downturn in the economy, with inflation, crime and all the rest, and the nursery industry, with the exception of just a few areas, has hardly felt it! Why this apparent immunity? Is there a national trend back to the kinds of values our products represent?
Abrahamson: I’m amazed too. The nursery industry in our area had plenty of reasons this spring to have a poor year: Construction strikes in St. Louis, a trucking industry strike, building strikes of all kinds in Kansas City, large layoffs in the Boeing Co., Witchita, Kan., etc. In spite of all this, nurserymen in the Midwest have had their best year. Industry people in Wichita are talking about some of the large ($1,000 to $3,000) contracts that are coming in. These are the jobs which they don’t expect to sign up at this time of year.
AAN Staff: We have a couple ideas to throw out that may have something to do with this situation. The first is that that past eight years of beautification efforts coupled with the current concern with our environment have definitely created a real concern – a changing national mood – with respect to our products. Perhaps Americans are beginning to view our product not as a luxury, but as a real basic commodity.
The second idea is that the American people seem to be experiencing a definite change in philosophy. There seems to be a rising conservatism, a yearning for the days when life was simpler and a rejection of the rapid changes which seem to occur for the sake of change only. Perhaps this is causing the continuing demand for our products in the face of declining sales of other products more connected with the “now generation.”
Hutton: An interesting concept. We know that seed companies which specialized in flower and vegetable seeds did not even feel the depression of the 1930s. This was because people did not have the money for anything else, and it was cheaper and, I suppose, more rewarding to grow one’s own food. I was talking to a seedsman this spring, and he said that same thing was happening all over again.
Bachman: This may be very true, but I think we’ve lost sight of one very important factor. Beautification and environmental concern have had a fantastic impact on us. Ten years ago, there was virtually no legislation on the books concerning the use of our products. Now, however, every village, county and metropolitan area has developed “landscape ordinances.” Municipalities legislate greenbelts around apartment complexes, industrial parks and shopping centers. This wasn’t true 10 years ago. We’re being legislated into prosperity, and this situation is causing a continuing demand.
Nickel: The earlier remarks about a simpler life – I don’t think people actually want to return to the old days, but they are beginning to realize that maybe we shouldn’t give up those things we cherished in the past to gain the things we want in the future.
Another thing: I travel a lot, and it’s getting damn difficult to get out and enjoy these new things, particularly in suburban areas. Traffic is always bad, and there are lines everywhere. There are just too many people wanting to do the same things. National parks, beaches, movie houses and other forms of entertainment are all crowded. I think people are beginning to stay home more, and this creates the desire to improve their home surroundings. Whether they make the improvements themselves or have it done for them is irrelevant – the fact is that people do have the money today to spend on our products, and they are spending it.
Hutton: Just look at what we have going for us: (1) A continued climbing of the gross national product, increased leisure time, increased disposal income, etc., (2) the fact that it is almost a human instinct to want to make something grow, (3) new national concern and awareness of total environment, (4) an attrition in production of nursery stock that has made it more in line with consumption and (5) better business methods within the industry – an awareness that profits are the difference between all the costs and the selling price.
I am optimistic about our future.