Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Catch ye breath while ye can

March 1 is coming. That to me is really when our season kicks into high gear. With a little luck, hard work and creative advertising the phone will start ringing more often, the website will see more traffic and the mail will bring orders.

But this year?? How can anyone predict what is going to happen this season. It's not a normal year for anyone out there; not just us. So I tentatively put my forecasts down in MS Excel and now I sit back - and don't wait.

The worst thing to do at anytime is sit around and wait for business to come to you. Instead you have to go get it. After all it's called marketing not entitlement. But how do you do that after two years of weirdness and your finances are stretched thin.

I thank my lucky stars part of my upbringing was about finding a way to make things happen. My Mother says I am the eternal optimist and I take after her late little brother, my Oom Lex. Oom is Dutch for Uncle by the way. I also know she says this with affection as she was very fond of him; as was I. He loved thinking outside of the box. Me, I don't think I ever got in the box in the first place.

The Internet is literally handing small businesses like us incredible ways of reaching people without burning through a lot of cash. Even when I started Ashdown some eight years ago an ad in a decent magazine ran upwards of $1500 and reached maybe 100,000 people who forgot about it two months later. We now have a page on Facebook that costs nothing and could potentially reach 175 million. Well it doesn't cost nothing. Just my time and hey, that's free as far as I'm concerned.

Forums, Blogs, Facebook pages; this list goes on and there reaches a point where you have to focus on what you can (sorry Twitter) but all together these things bring folks to our little nursery and they begin to add up.

What prompted this thought was watching President Obama's speech last night to Congress. While he has programs to jump start the economy he also let us know there is no such thing as a free lunch. We have to do our part too. So off to Facebook to update our free page.

Are you listening Wall Street?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A simple little thing.

Turn on the news these days and it seems all you see are stories about people like Bernie Madoff, R. Allen Stanford and all kinds of other people whose only goal in life seems to be taking what they can from whomever they can. It's enough to make your faith in people disappear like so many billions of dollars investors trusted those thieves with.

Then along comes a small gesture that makes you realize those people splashed on the nightly news are the exception and not the rule.

We had one of those gestures last week. I was working in the office with the door closed because it was cold so I obviously didn't hear the customer drive up. I may have been on the phone when they knocked or simply distracted by something. Trish was out so I was holding the fort on my own.

Towards the end of the day I went outside into the barn and found the note in the picture sitting on the table we use as a desk out there. Just a few simple words:

"Please call me: I took one potted sombreuil and need to pay for it. Thanks"

When Trish came back she called the customer who cheerfully gave her their credit card and paid for the Sombreuil.

A simple, little gesture but how immensely uplifting - particularly in these times.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy To Be Me

I am a very lucky person. In my spare time I am a cross stitcher. I belong to a number of different forums and groups. As with rose growing there are all walks of life out there that share my passion. I was reading a post this morning by a woman who is very unhappy and stressed about life. She hates her job, hates her co-workers and counts the hours to the end of the work day. By the time she gets home she has no energy left for herself, her family or her craft. It would be easy to say, well quit your job! Find something new! However, in this economy that is just not likely now is it? So she suffers. Her husband suffers, and her children suffer. It makes me want to cry.

And here I sit. Blogging on company time, listening to Lyle Lovett on my cd player next to my desk. I have a cat in the in-box on my desk and the sun is out. I have a wonderful boss who is also one of my very best friends.

Last Saturday was one of the best days of the year so far. My friends came from near and far to give us a hand. As you know from reading Paul's blog on the subject they worked hard! Saturday is a normal work day for me so while I was answering phones and doing the emails and paperwork they were all out digging, planting and pruning. They did this all out of the goodness of their hearts, and for us. Paul and I saw this daunting task and wondered if we were going to be able to do it. They came in and finished in record time. What would have taken us days took them hours. Plus they brought food! What a life I lead, almost as good as the cats. No one offered to scratch my belly but I'll get over that.

Now you all just sit back and be jealous. I truly have one of the best jobs in the world and certainly the best of friends. I am so happy to be me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our First "Red Clay Day"

Last Saturday morning in a slight rain I found myself surrounded by 7 of some of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure to know. Here's how it happened.

We have close to 3600 rose bushes in the ground. Some have been there for close to seven years now and they are quite happy and firmly rooted where they are thank you very much. They don't want to move but since I have no plans to leave them behind they haven't much say in the matter. There comes a point where you have stop talking to your plants and start barking orders.

There is actually plan in place to move them. We'll accomplish this by cutting them back very short and "dig" them out of the ground with a bare-root rose lifter. This is a simple device pulled by Jethro with a blade going about 12 inches into the ground that severs the deep roots and then a short ramp on the back that heaves the rose out of the ground accomplishing two things. Getting the rose out of the ground with your back intact and further dispelling that "roses are delicate plants" crap.

This works for mature plants but not for small ones. They just get sucked into the rose wake as Jethro and the digger work their way up and down the rows. So this means first the small roses need to be dug up and planted in pots - by hand - one by one by backbreaking one.

And that's how I found myself surrounded by 7 eager volunteers who also happen to be dear members of our rose family this past Saturday. They brought shovels, gloves, clippers and most of all an energy and spirit that cleared the rain from the skies. Did I also mention they also brought a great pot-luck lunch? Including vegetarian chili for yours truly.

We hit the fields and 7 hours, countless bags of soil and pots and a great lunch later some 500 roses had been lifted from the ground and now rested in their pots in one of the cold frames.

I was perhaps more exhausted than any of them but not because I worked harder. But because each passing hour of laughter and rose camaraderie further put the past behind and reminded me why I do this for a living. So while they lifted some 500 roses those Magnificent 7 also lifted two years of weight from my shoulders. I suspect Trish felt the same.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I thought I was just going to work with roses...

I really did think that. We'll set up a rose nursery, grow our plants and ship them to customers. Along the way we'll put in a garden, have customers come visit us and even have time to stop and smell the roses.

What was I thinking I thought to myself this morning as I was pouring over Google Analytics trying to figure out how it worked. For those of you not familiar with Google Analytics just think of it as an Orwellian creature lurking in the background of every Internet site you visit. It tracks everything you do on a website from what website you came from, to where you go on our site, to search terms used, to what you spend; to even how long you are on our site. All this is made available to us, the web-site owner, so we can Analytic ourselves to greater profits and live the capitialist dream. But hey, the Google smiley face is on my Analytic page so how bad can it be?

But in these economic times even your small rose nursery has to be creative to stick around, so hence this morning. Ultimately what I'm looking for is information that lets me know what ad campaigns are working and what ones aren't. We have a few running that cost very little but only if they produce results. So now I can see what ad campaign you came from, where you went and how much you spent - and I will admit that does mean I am using my ad budget more wisely.

So apologies in advance for following you around on our website but since I don't know who are, only what you are doing I can live it. But if you want to do some rose stuff without being followed come browse our rose garden. I don't have time to follow you there!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Now I Am Excited

So this morning I finally went over to the new property. I mean, I have been there before- lots of times. But I was able to look at our new cozy little office and see what Paul has done as far as clearing the back. It will be fun to actually have others to talk to during the weekday. Not that Paul can't carry on a conversation, trust me, the man can talk when he wants to. We are actually going to share an office for the time being. That should be interesting. Thank goodness we have roughly the same taste in music!

The back half of the property is still a little rough. The potential is there. The gardens are going to be so pretty. Plus we have all kinds of places to plant up close to the little buildings. There are even a couple of ponds, one with fish. I just hope we can keep the cats out of that one. I can see Duchesse "fishing" in my minds eye.

I really have to start packing. Anyone who has seen my corner knows what a packrat I am. I have saved every single card our customers have sent me. Not to mention photos! Then add the coffee cups, stuffed bears, books, my massive pen collection, and just your average crap. I am tired just thinking about it. And don't try to tell me that moving is a good time to clean out. I moved across country with some of this junk, you think I can get rid of it now?

More to follow later, my train of though just left the station.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I'm a meet the deadline kind of guy.

I was really getting worried about meeting the deadline for all the good folks who are coming in a few weeks to help us move roses. Worried because the place was not going to be ready for the roses to be moved and also ready for them. And "them" were in some cases driving hours and taking time off from work.

I spent the day up there Monday with John, a great guy who is working with me to get the property ready. We got a lot done but ran into some snags moving a huge pile of old brush that had been stacked when the place was logged a few years ago. This put us back in getting to the other areas where the new planting would go. I know what you are saying right now. Why not start with the planting areas first - and you'd be right.

Except I'm a meet the deadline, visual kind of guy.

I need to see the space before I can really see what goes where and when. And that big pile of brush was in the way of my mind's eye. So it had to go. John worked his tail off and moved mountains of brush in short order until we got to the backside of the pile.

There we encountered piles of rotted branches turning to soil bogged down by the rains that finally broke the drought. It was not going to be moved quickly even with Jethro hustling in after John to smooth areas down so he could come in without losing his kidneys on a Norman Bates roller coast ride.

The next day I went back with Ray who is the clear set of eyes at Ashdown. He's the kind of guy who can see the rose nursery for the trees and pointed out that if we started planting where I wanted we'd lose a lot of property we were renting and also would most likely end up not have buildings and greenhouses where they would best serve the overall picture. So why not wait until we can get in a big ol bulldozer and push the big stuff out of the way. This was not easy for me to admit and took far too much of Ray's time for me to come around.

You see I'm also a meet the deadline, visual kind of, do it now kind of guy.

After Ray talked me down from the trees I knew we had to postpone moving day. So the next morning I timidly emailed the dear Rose Family members organizing it and let them know. Their response?

"And your point is what? We're coming anyway to do what we can and we'll schedule another day for all of us to move the roses."

You see I'm a meet the deadline, visual kind of, do it now and very, very blessed kind of guy.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jethro and Me

Spent a good day clearing the new property. While the location is killer, the 5 acres we are leasing needs more clearing than I wanted; as you can see from the photo at left. But life is about trade offs and while it's extra work now, in the end we'll be glad we're there.

But at the moment we feel like we are in two places. Probably more for me than the others because so far I'm the only one prepping the new property. You see it's all tractor work right now and so that means I'm working over there on my own.

Which I enjoy, actually. There is a joke at the nursery that if I go climb on a tractor, fire it up and start to do something; leave me alone. It's means either I have something to think out or I just need a some time not talking to anyone. Jethro, our large Kubota, is usually the one I jump on. He's real good about just getting on with job and leaving me be. I swear when someone approaches me he raises his engine noise as if to say, back off; he doesn't want to talk to you.

Tomorrow I'm back over there, but this time with a buddy who has a skid steer with a grappler attachment. That's like a giant set of claws that can rake and pick up logs and all kinds of stuff so we'll see some real progress and not a moment too soon. We have a great group of volunteers coming in two weeks to help move roses and I've got to get the areas where they are going to be planted ready for them. I knew they were coming but the date is sneaking up on me.

Stuff at the old property is starting to be broken down. You can see in the photo at right two of the large cold frames coming apart. Since we've haven't sold the property yet I'm reluctant to take everything apart so we are starting with what we don't need. These two cold frames are huge and with the newer smaller pots we no longer use them so they can come down now.

I also spent a great day this past week throwing away all kinds of stuff that not only I don't need, but I don't even know what it is! I can't believe how much stuff we've gathered. I was looking at bits of metal with no idea what they were or what they were for. If nothing else the move is a good house cleaning!