(Turn and face the strain)
You should know by now that I like music, and this time I have turned to David Bowie to lead us in to this installment.
I grew up in East Texas near Tyler, the self-proclaimed Rose Capital of the Nation. The rose is right up there with Earl Campbell (The Tyler Rose) and Sandy Duncan as the most famous things to come out of Tyler. Beyond just being from Tyler, I have a special connection to roses. My grandfather, Frank Goldwater, was a nurseryman. He like many others in Tyler, grew and sold roses as a living. His business, Lone Star Rose Nursery, is still in the family today.
Like most agriculture-based operations it was not a glamorous business. While I never officially worked in the fields or warehouse (my older brother did for a summer or two), I saw first-hand what was involved. I remember getting up at the crack of dawn and having an artery clogging breakfast before tagging along with my grandfather as he made the rounds to the numerous rose fields, checking out things at the warehouses where plants were processed or riding in his El Camino as he made some small delivery in the area. While it was cool to see, I knew early on that life in agriculture was not for me and that I was destined for a cushy office job.
As I mentioned, Lone Star Rose Nursery which was founded in 1951, is currently owned and operated by my uncle, Sam Goldwater. This past weekend there was a big article in the Tyler Morning Telegraph about the rose industry that focused in on Lone Star Rose Nursery. It was really cool to see the “family business” in the spotlight. Much like it is cool to walk into my local HEB store and buy a rose bush from Lone Star Rose Nursery.
This (company) represents what the business in Tyler is now,” Goldwater said. “It’s a changing industry. I used to grow a million roses, but I don’t grow them anymore. The rose industry is alive and well — we’ve just transferred from growing to distributing.” Goldwater said his transition from grower to distributor did not unfold because roses are falling out of favor with customers. It’s mostly because East Texas weather can be wicked, creating challenges in growing consistency and quality. In the 1930s, Tyler was prime peach country, but after disease wiped out a sizeable number of fruit trees, many farmers switched to growing roses.
Eventually, many rose growers became frustrated with finicky weather conditions that prevail in East Texas and opted for change. “There used to be about 150 growers here (in Tyler), but there are less than 10 now who actually grow,” Goldwater said. In spite of the shift, the Tyler area retains a heavy presence in the industry, processing and shipping millions of plants annually, according to Texas A&M University. “About 75 percent of the garden roses in the U.S. find their way through Tyler and are distributed throughout the U.S.,” Goldwater said. Most of the nation’s roses are grown in Arizona and then shipped elsewhere, many to Tyler. Goldwater buys bare-rooted plants from suppliers in drier states, packages them and distributes them for sale in garden centers across the United States. In this mobile society, it’s not uncommon for Lone Star to receive bare-rooted roses from Arizona, package them and ship them back to Arizona, the nurseryman said with a grin.
“I thought I would grow roses my whole life,” he said. “Things just evolved.”
“Our business has been growing every year,” said Goldwater, who was educated at Texas A&M University. “I remember when I didn’t have a forklift — now we have five.”
I will admit that over the years, I have not kept close ties to what is going on in Tyler and more specifically with the rose business. As I read the article, I was actually surprised to read that my uncle’s business was no longer actually growing roses. How could this be? How could a rose business still be a rose business if they did not grow roses?
That business I remembered having hundreds of acres of rose bushes with workers planting, grafting, and digging bushes is no more. The business, in order to eliminate the risks of unpredictable weather causing damage to the plants and to open up new growth opportunities, has changed from being a farming operation to being a processing operation. An operation that now provides rose bushes to stores like HEB, Menards, and other large national and regional home & garden outlets around the country. Once I was over the shock, I was impressed that a country farmer (and an Aggie no less – those of you in Texas will get this) had the foresight to change the business model from what he really knew (growing roses) to what was needed (processing roses) to ensure the long-term growth and success of the business. By the sound of it, the decision has been a good one.
I think we can all learn from this story. Businesses must continually change. Change the mix of products and services offered to the market. Change the markets in which they sell. Change the technology used in creating and delivering products and services. Change is inevitable in business and also critical to long term survival of the company. Just ask former employees of Blockbuster or Kodak about the need for change. But change is not easy. I can only imagine the resistance my uncle faced, and perhaps even resistance from himself, in ceasing the “farming” part of the rose business.
Leaders at all levels of a business must constantly be on the look-out for new opportunities to improve the business and have the courage to recommend and implement those changes. If leaders are not thinking about better ways to manufacture products or deliver services, assessing what products to add or discontinue, evaluating new markets, and overall evolving their business, then they are failing to be good leaders. Note that I use the term “leaders” and not “executives” or “managers.” This is intentional. Leadership in business (and other parts of life) is not synonymous with management. Leaders can and are at all levels of an organization. It is not something that is reserved only for certain levels of a company hierarchy. Every person in a company is a leader through their daily tasks and activities. What we do and how we do it, impacts the people around us and even those not right next to us. As I attributed to Kip Tindell (Container Store CEO) in a recent entry : we must be aware of our “wake” and how far it extends beyond us.
So this week, I take my hat off to Uncle Sam and say “thank you.” Thank you for keeping the “family business” alive and well and thank you for showing all us in the business world that change can be a good thing.