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Lessons from the Farm

The Agricultural Approach to Small Business Management

Anyone who works for a small business knows they must be prepared to wear many hats, sometimes in unison. As the Operations Wiseapple for ORCHARD At The OFFICE, I am at times required to take charge of logistics, customer service, marketing, vendor management, and accounts receivable – all in the same phone call.

Much of the practical experience I can share in business management I’ve gleaned from those who operate the original small business: the farmers throughout the world. Whether it’s “sixty acres up on the Caprock” James McMurtry sang of or a massive, county-sized ranch near the Rio Grande, there are certain basic principles a successful agrarian must adhere to. I have found that adhering to those principles has helped shape our success and make ORCHARD At The OFFICE the largest office fruit delivery service in Texas.

Here are some of the basic principles I can share:

Know The “Shelf Life”. In our business, we deal with fresh fruit: bananas, clementines, JAZZ apples, avocados and more. Fresh fruit is, of course, perishable. It’s not going to maintain its freshness, or indeed the ability to be eaten, beyond a few days. This means our business processes are geared around purchase and distribution of fruit within the parameters of perishability – which means we can only be as “flexible” as our product allows.

This idea has broad applicability. A wedding photographer has a very specific window – the actual event – in which they absolutely must get their work done, regardless of time allotted for pre- and post-production. A restauranteur must keep careful track of the ingredients that comprise the items on their menu. “Use It or Lose It” – this is the understanding that nature creates deadlines. As a result…

I have found that adhering to these principles has helped shape our success and make ORCHARD At The OFFICE the largest office fruit delivery service in Texas.

No Excuses. When the cotton is ready, it doesn’t care if the harvester is broken down, or if the farm is shorthanded or the landowner doesn’t really feel like “adulting”. Either the work gets done or the crop gets lost, which means a successful farmer, even one bereft of mechanical acumen or a line of credit, must devise creative solutions on the spot.

I cannot overstate how important this principle has been in practical application. Whether it’s being aroused from a lethargic moment with the thought of “those bananas need delivered by tomorrow!” or taking the time to work out how to get fruit delivered to Fort Worth in a timely fashion, it has helped me immensely to picture a farmer with a broken tractor part, looking at a field demanding urgent attention, and think “I’d better come up with something”. Necessity truly is the mother of invention and creative problem-solving is a source of self-confidence at any age.

You Can’t Force The Corn. Genetic modification notwithstanding, crops will grow at their own pace. All the self-will, teeth-clenched determination, or plucky “can-do” attitude on earth won’t turn an apple seed into an apple tree overnight.

A billion dollars in funding will not turn a first-time entrepreneur into a success without a commensurate amount of experience.

As someone involved in marketing, I must always remember that no matter how determined I am to grow the business, I cannot convince, force, manipulate or cajole a person into eating more fresh fruit than they’re hungry for. When I remember that, instead of trying to squeeze water from a stone, I can focus my energy on spreading the word – in our case, Workplace Wellness Through Fresh Fruit. People who run businesses in the service industry understand: a person only wants so many haircuts, or guitar lessons, or high-bandwidth multi-channel digital receivers. Give your customers as much as they want, but don’t spend 50% of your time trying to get another 5% out of them…because you can’t force the corn. It will be ready in its own time.

Memories of the Elephant and the Goldfish. This could be as accurately described as needing the memory of the football coach and the kicker, or a hundred other analogies. Simply put, the idea is this: learn the long-term patterns and see trial-and-error as your most valuable instructor…but put mistakes immediately out of mind rather than dwell on them.

The hospitality industry has been known for being on the leading edge of the former for decades. Since the early 1980s, some hotel chains have been maintaining records of guest preferences, so that when that person checks into a hotel in Albany, there’s already an extra comforter and two hand towels in their room because that’s what they requested last time in Albuquerque. Medical and automotive centers will send out reminders of when service appointments might be made. Identifying patterns beyond the day-to-day, and taking action on them, requires the memory of an elephant.

Yet at the same time, the operator of a lawn service may mess up on a hedge trimming. If they decide that they “suck at life” and need to go home and nurse their self-pity with large quantities of wine, they won’t operate a lawn service very long. They need to accept responsibility, make appropriate amends with the property owner immediately – and move on. Self-doubt will sabotage their ability to be effective with their other jobs, so they need the memory of a goldfish. The moment has passed; focus on the present.

While I could enumerate other examples, I don’t want to run the risk of drifting into Poor Richard’s territory. There is no doubt operating a small business in any sector is demanding, difficult, and not for the faint of heart. However, the rewards that come with it – the fruits of our labor – are as enjoyable as an apple orchard…and we are proud to put agrarian effort into bringing that orchard to your office.

ORCHARD At The OFFICE can be contacted at 972.295.9091 or at [email protected]

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