Excellence University Blog

Keys to Success at Skinner Nurseries

by John Spence

August 27th, 2006

In another entry on this blog you’ll see a list of key business strategies from a CEO I admire a great deal, Carl Rapp of Philadelphia Gear Corporation – an absolutely super company, very successful, with incredible employees. Now, with all of the praise I just heaped on PGC, let me introduce you to another leader and organization that I am truly impressed with. Skinner Nurseries is one of the country’s leading suppliers of green goods for the landscape industry – they sell trees, shrubs and plants – and they do it extremely well. The COO of the company is a very talented guy named Kevin Van Dyke, who is nearly obsessive in trying to understand and improve the business. Again, he has surrounded himself with a deep bench of the very best people in their industry and he works for great owners, but I also must give a ton of credit to Kevin for the culture, focus and success of Skinner Nurseries – he is definitely a driving force in the operation.

I asked Kevin to give me a short list of the key things he thought were fundamental to them running a great company. Some of the things are very specific to their operation and their unique industry, but other things Kevin lists are applicable to any business. I believe there are some incredibly powerful ideas here:

Skinner Nurseries Keys to Success

  • Great Game of Business – Use open books to allow for the people closest to the action to make decisions that are aligned with the interests of the owners. Provide timely information and feedback so the decisions improve over time. Create a stake in the outcome of decisions using incentive pay and recognition.
  • Branch Centered – The strength of the Company is a function of the strength of the individual branches. Customers buy from the team at the branch. People join our Company because of the environment at the branch. We succeed because of our ability to keep the customer experience feeling small and intimate at the branch level while using our size to create scale and advantage without sacrificing the personality of the branch.
  • Right People and Right Values – Lead people with values that create life purpose. Have a robust selection process that ensures people joining our team share our values. Have a candid evaluation process that provides timely feedback.
  • Learning Organization – When faced with constant change, our key tool is the ability to learn and adapt faster than the competition and be prepared for customer. Often times our ability to learn and change gives us the advantage to anticipate customer needs in advance of the general market.
  • Supply Chain – Low cost always has an advantage. Have a clear strategy on the flow of product and information that eliminates waste and ensures the lowest cost. Never forget the value of information when considering the structure of the supply chain.
  • Models and Performance Standards – use standards to measure results and offer opportunities for multiple winners. Internal rankings are fun, beating standard is what counts. Create measurements that are relative to all participants and challenge people to exceed standards rather than to compete internally. Benchmark against the best, wherever the best are found.
  • Blue Ribbon – Use a method to communicate clear expectations for the behavior of your leaders. Get to the point with what is important and let the people have freedom and flexibility to fill in the gaps. Managers must be able to say to their leader what counts and what doesn’t.
  • Sales Management – Treat the sales process as a science and utilize tools to manage the results of your most precious resource, the salesperson. Demand discipline and organization from the sales process regarding specifically who is the customer and what are you selling. Understand that before you can have great salespeople, you need great sales management.
  • Information Systems – Automate tasks when practical, eliminate opportunity for human mistakes, redundancy and paper everywhere. White collar rework is the enemy.
  • Customer Service – Total commitment to serving the customer with reliable and practical solutions to their request. Reinforce and recognize that service is an individual choice and that people serve people. Use process to create simplicity and speed. Never forget that simply keeping your word is primarily what customers want. Set expectations accordingly.

You are what you tolerate.
People buy from people.
Kill bureaucracy immediately.
If you are not serving the customer, you better be serving someone that is.
If you are going to share information, you might as well share the decisions. Otherwise, why bother.
Take care of your employees first.
Truth over harmony

Go to the similar blog I wrote about Philadelphia Gear

Article Filed under: I. WATER (Team/Group Excellence)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Brian Higley  |  December 26th, 2006 at 11:55 am

    All of this sounds so right on – and I believe most leaders would agree with many of these points. I think the next article might be why these keys are so often left un-executed!

    This is a great article – and it’s very nice of Kevin to have spent the time and energy to help make it happen.

  • 2. Kayla Milburn  |  October 29th, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Although still a college student, I find this information extremely useful. I have worked in for a business that has been very successful, as well as one that has hit rock bottom. In each situation the factors listed above were the key for the future of the company and, in my opinion, are some of the best building blocks to branch off of.

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