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Commercial Nursery Increases Profitability with The Great Game of Business

Commercial Nursery Increases Profitability with The Great Game of Business bloVan Belle Nursery is a commercial supplier of trees, plants, and shrubs based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. The company, which was founded in 1973, ships to a variety of retailers in western Canada as well as in the northern U.S. vanbelle_r

Business Challenges

One of the biggest challenges that the nursery faces is finding a way to build a cohesive company culture for its 100 associates, most of whom are immigrants from companies like Mexico, Iraq, Sudan, Zimbabwe, China, Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, and India, and even a few from Canada.

Another hurdle is the extreme seasonal nature of the business, where some 75% of all shipments occur over just four weeks in the spring, which places enormous pressure on the nursery to get the right mix of products ready at the right time.

Open-Book Solutions

While Dave Van Belle literally grew up working in the business his parents started, he never intended to run it. “I didn’t want to do what my dad did,” he says. But, when his dad offered him a job after college back in 1995, Van Belle couldn’t say no. He took over as president in 2007 and, in 2012, bought out his parents and sister to become the firm’s sole owner.

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Van Belle has long been interested in implementing best practices into the business,including lean manufacturing principles and Verne Harnish’s Gazelle concepts. He also believes in sharing information with his associates and finding ways to help them overcome hurdles in their jobs. “I believe in heavily investing in people,” he says.

While his managers held quarterly meetings that helped produce a one-page plan with the firm’s quarterly goals, it wasn’t until he embraced the GGOB that Van Belle says he found a way to get all of his associates, including those with little or no English skills, on the same page.

“We have had to go above and beyond in delivering intentional teaching,” says Van Belle. “Many of our associates are shy about asking questions in a big group, so we also try to break out into smaller groups so they get a chance to speak up.”

All associates now attend a daily huddle, which is conducted in both English and Spanish, as well as weekly forecasting meetings. To help everyone keep up to speed, scoreboards have also been put up at the three different farm sites the nursery operates – all of which has helped drive significant cost savings throughout the company.

“The difference that GGOB has made is that it brings everyone into the full picture,” he says. “Everyone knows what we are making, and most have an idea of what can be done to improve the financial picture.”

One of the big changes that the GGOB has helped bring about in the nursery is that it has led to a change in how they compensate their sales team. Rather than tying the bonus to the amount of a sale, rewards are now tied to the profitability of each order placed. “We’ve created an incentive to not over order or increase inventory,” says Van Belle, “which has boosted our overall profitability.”

Next up for Van Belle is to get more of his associates working on the front line involved in their High Involvement Planning process. He’s particularly interested in generating ideas about how the nursery can diversify and begin to generate revenue beyond its peak season in the spring. Ideas currently on the table include everything from aquaponic growing to licensing their sophisticated in-house inventory and ordering software to other nurseries.

“I know I can’t come up with all the ideas on my own,” says Van Belle, who wants every one of his team members to think and act like an owner in the business. “But if my associates came come up with them, they will own those ideas and run with them. I don’t want to be a one-man band. I want to build a company that will outlast me.”


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About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.