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2020 Case Study - Willoway Nurseries

Avon, OH

2019 Revenues:

Employees: 375

Critical Numbers™: Profit Before Taxes


Organization Background

Founded in 1954, Willoway Nurseries is a third-generation, family-owned wholesale grower of trees, shrubs, perennials and seasonal color crops that ships to retailers and contractors in 26 states. Willoway is now the largest wholesale grower of nursery products in Ohio and a leading supplier in the United States, with a customer base of more than 1,200 independent garden centers and landscape contractors in the Midwest and east coast.


Margins in the landscape business continue to shrink—and it’s harder than ever to grow the top line as well. To confront these challenges, Willoway needed a way to gain efficiencies and improve quality. They also needed a way to communicate the realities of operating a business to their team and what it takes to be profitable.


The team established a regular huddle rhythm with a focus on tracking results through scoreboards in all seven locations the business operates in. The team also embraced technology like WebEx to help connect all of those locations for all-company huddles and to facilitate inter-company communications.


The Great Game of Business® (GGOB) has had a huge impact on the financial side of Willoway’s business—the company paid out maximum bonuses to all employees in 2019—but it’s also changed the company’s culture in a positive way. “We have created a positive culture with more people understanding the Why!,” says CEO Tom Demaline. “Having an engaged team has made my job easier in managing the tactical part of the business and trying harder to stay ahead of the wave.” In March 2020, Smart Business Magazine awarded Willoway its prestigious “Smart Culture Award,” which recognizes organizations that have developed a culture that bolsters productivity, enhances job satisfaction, and creates a competitive advantage in the marketplace. “At Willoway, we have put a focus on ‘Brand Harmony’ and creating a positive image of the company in every customer interaction,” says Emily Showalter, Chief of HR. “It would be very difficult to create this culture without open-book management and the ability to communicate and teach supported by the foundation of GGOB.”

“GGOB has allowed us to collectively know the condition of the company on a weekly basis and shown our employees how each and everyone of us can affect the critical number. We've show that collectively we can drive this number through our actions.”

~ Tim Cullinan, Chief of Operations, Shops & Physical Plant

Spotlight on the Pandemic

The coronavirus hit close to home at Willoway in April, where several of their workers contracted the virus right at the onset of their busiest season. As an essential business, Willoway continued to operate while also supporting their quarantined employees—many of whom speak Spanish as their primary language. But Willoway was able to rely on its strong foundation of communicating through its huddles—some of which were videotaped and broadcast to its multiple locations—to explain to all of the employees what was going on and what was being done to keep them safe even as the business continued to operate. “There was a lot of trust built up with our staff because we were communicating often and being honest,” says Mary Moyet, Willoway’s Lead Translator and HR Supervisor. “And we never missed a huddle.” The good news is that all of their employees safely recovered and, thanks to the surge in demand from people tackling home improvement projects, the business has seen record sales in May and June.

MiniGame™ Spotlight

Willoway credits playing MiniGames as a way to help the team in their Huron facility stay focused on meeting their Critical Number goal—which ultimately leads to bonus payouts. One example was a game called, “Build Your Assets,” whose goal was to reduce the amount of scrap or shrinkage of crops while also helping employees understand how they could directly impact that number. To add an element of fun to The Game, the head grower dressed up as the children’s character, Bob the builder, and they played the show’s theme song each time the goal was met. In the end, the Huron team reduced scrap by $197,000.

“GGOB has affected everything tremendously. The communication and transparency are great.”

~ Steve Szuhy, Maintenance Supervisor

What’s Next

One area the leadership team at Willoway has identified to “level up” as part of their 2020 strategic plan is the continued implementation and redesign of their succession plan. They began by adding an advisory board to allow for additional input, while also redesigning their org chart to update all the position descriptions. “Using the GGOB process, we were able to easily communicate what we were doing and teach why it was important to the longevity of the company,” says Showalter. Another area they are focusing on is getting more involvement from their departmental teams in setting the strategic direction of the business through the High-Involvement Planning™ process. “We review our strategic plan’s three to five-year targets and annual goals to be sure they are in line with the current economic and cultural environment,” says Showalter. “After these are reviewed, we set KPI’s to measure the results and discuss progress in our weekly management meetings to ensure we stay focused on the objectives.”

“GGOB has created an atmosphere where not only everyone has increased awareness of what is going on in the company but has also gotten everyone to work together and strengthen internal and external communication.”

~ Katherine Tompkins, Sales Account Manager/Sales Operation Supervisor



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