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Willoway Nurseries Case Study


Company Background

Willoway Nurseries is a wholesale grower of trees, shrubs, perennials and seasonal color crops that ships to retailers and contractors in 26 states. The company was searching for a way to operate leaner and to get its workforce, employees in the field and in the back-office, on the same page.

Founded by Les and Marilyn Demaline in 1954, the second generation oversees current operations. The third generation has also taken an interest in the business - granddaughter, Emily Showalter, oversees the HR department and grandson, Eric Demaline, is a foreman in operations. During the past 61 years, the company has transitioned from landscaping to a wholesale nursery, growing more than 2,000 varieties of plant material on 1,000 acres. Willoway is currently the largest wholesale grower of nursery products in Ohio, with a customer base of more than 1,200 independent garden centers and landscape contractors in the Midwest and East Coast.

Great Game Solutions

After learning about the Great Game from nursery owner Dave Van Belle of Van Belle Nurseries in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Tom Demaline, Willoway’s president, decided they needed to jump all-in as well. The company began preparing in November 2014 and rolled out the entire system to its fulltime staff of 150 employees in February 2015. They then gave their frontline workers, who work in three different locations, an overview of the company’s financials as well.

Playing the Game Together

One obvious challenge Willoway faced in playing the Great Game was figuring out how to coordinate huddles among its 375 employees in three locations 130 miles apart. This was accomplished by the use of technology. They installed communication equipment in their conference room and a 65-inch TV with webcam and remote speakers in the offsite locations in the winter of 2015. Using WebEx communications, they can now interact with the entire team. Another challenge was the fact that many seasonal workers had limited education and English-speaking skills. To be sure everyone who is involved understands the full team huddles, Demaline and staff utilize tag team translation in the weekly message, both in English and Spanish.

But the company decided not to lower its expectations for anyone and, after first running through a financial literacy program with its full-time employees, Demaline began a series of briefings this February for the seasonal workers that were translated into Spanish. “I went through the financials and explained how income and cash minus expenses equalled profits before taxes, or PBT, which was our critical number,” says Demaline. “When I explained that 35% of the money we took in went to taxes, they were all like, ‘Really?’”

“I think they are shocked at the numbers and that we are teaching them how they can affect every line on the scorecard,” says Showalter. “At first they were shy. But now they are opening up and asking questions. They understand the numbers. That helps bring everyone together.”

The company has also rolled out a series of 20 MiniGames this year, which, in total, are on target to save the company an astounding $1 million in cost savings by the end of the year.

Rapid Financial Results & Lasting Cultural Change™

With the implementation of daily leadership and department huddles, as well as a weekly “All Team” huddle, communications at Willoway have significantly improved. Recognition for achievements and MiniGames have developed excitement in the work place. Having everyone involved with the numbers and understanding the “why” has improved efficiencies and helped reduce operating costs. The company is also receiving suggestions on how to improve operations and reduce costs from employees at every level of the business. “The phrase ‘PBT’ or profits-before- taxes is used on a regular basis by the people that can affect the changes,” says Demaline. “The GGOB has become a way of doing business at Willoway.”


  • Communications have improved significantly and each department is working together as a team toward achieving their shared goals – something that has helped reduce overtime expenditures and keep labor costs under budget.
  • Costs in 2015 were already 3% below budget – which was 7% below their 2014 levels.


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