February 15, 2010

LO member Curtis Frederick of Frederick Horticulture in Phelpston, wrote the following letter to LO’s executive director Tony DiGiovanni. We present this letter in an unique manner, having Frederick’s comments (in bold type) followed by an answer from the LO executive director.

Hi Tony,
This is a short letter to ask a few questions and making a few comments pertaining to articles in the last Horticulture Review (December 2009 issue). First I would like to comment that I was pleased to see a survey regarding membership recruitment and retention. I am pleased to see the findings and think that, for the most part, the committee is on the right track.

This committee is headed by fellow Georgian Lakeland member Warren Patterson.  He is one of the best chairs I have seen in my 20 years. There is a real desire to get it right and to generate value and relevance.  

The chapter meetings have become repetitive and lost their interest. Some members enjoy the get-togethers, but others, such as myself, will only resume participation when the meetings become more relevant and provide new information and interest.

As an association, we enjoy 24,000 face-to-face contacts with our members. Over 1,000 of these happen at nine chapter meetings across Ontario.  This means that the chapter meetings are underachieving. By comparison, we receive over 2,000 visits at our home office in a three-month period. I am sure that that the topic mix can be improved, however, there must be other reasons. I personally think that one of the reasons is that members are starved for time. The demands of business and family life make it difficult to attend a night-time meeting. Our most successful chapter is Waterloo. Their chapter meetings are informal affairs. The atmosphere is like meeting friends in a pub, unwinding after a long day of work. Ottawa is hosting day meetings. Local relevance will remain a huge priority, however, we need to find other ways of delivery. One of the ideas is to host meetings at supplier open houses. This way the supplier members integrate better and non-members are more exposed to the value of the network.  

The survey finds that LO members believe non-members receive the same benefits. I was surprised that the committee recommended that LO needs to articulate the value/differential of being a member. I think that perhaps LO should look at that feedback with more thought and understanding that the membership may be sending a message. Perhaps LO should act on that concern, rather than preach that the membership needs to understand what LO offers. I don’t think many members would question that there are benefits to being member, but this feedback may suggest that there is unrest and improvements could be made.  

Please explain this a little more. Many members feel that non-members receive the same benefit. To us this means that we should improve benefits to members and communicate benefits better. In many cases, there are many benefits that members will not understand until they participate. In other cases, they just don’t know about them. Perhaps we are saying the same thing.

My one suggestion for the committee would be that the Georgian Lakelands Chapter is just too big. I understand that it is impossible to have another chapter to divide this area up if there is no interest, but separating the far north (Huntsville north) from the Georgian Lakelands Chapter may increase interest in LO in northern areas as Georgian Lakelands really caters to only Barrie and immediately surrounding area.

You are right. Ontario is big. Our bylaws say that 10 members in one area may request a chapter. If there is interest, we will help form other chapters. The problem is that chapters need to be a certain size for sustainability. It seems to me that with today’s communication tools (webinars, online groups, forums, Skype phone conferencing, etc.), we should be relevant to anyone, regardless of location. There is nothing that beats face-to-face communication, but we certainly can improve relevancy without it. We tried starting a chapter in Owen Sound, but it only lasted three meetings. The present chapter is trying some remote meetings. We need more ideas. The will to improve is there.

Are we allowed to send an employee to the chapter meetings?

We encourage employees at chapter meetings.  Some chapters even host meetings focused on employees. Employees working for an LO company member are considered members.

Next, I would like to address some points in your annual report. In regard to professional development, I would like to see LO give greater recognition to certifications from other organizations such as ISA certified arborist, ICPI certified stone installer, etc.

We encourage all designations. Designations are a symbol of competency. At the heart of what we are trying to achieve is a professional industry that is competent and cares about their customers and community. By promoting our own designations, it in no way takes away from other programs. We also encourage all other associations to participate in our activities as education partners. Since we have no way of tracking designations from other associations, we encourage members to use their free member profile on the website to communicate their credentials, experiences and values.  

I would also like to see greater care taken to ensure that the material taught in LO seminars follows industry and LO standards of practice. In interlocking stone seminars, I have twice had an employee tell me that the instructor recommended the use of limestone screening as a base material, contrary to industry standard, ICPI standard and my standards.

This is very difficult to do because standards vary in this business. I too have questioned the limestone screenings specification and was told that under certain well-drained conditions, it works well. Horticulture is not like math. Sometimes the end point of quality can be achieved by different processes.  Sometimes there is disagreement regarding standards. When things like this happen, it is important to have a dialogue. I would love to hear these items discussed in an article or forum.  

In a pruning seminar, I was also told by an instructor that the best time to prune any plant is when the customer is ready to pay you for your services. Mistakes will be made, so I just ask that LO ensure that instruction is professional and accurate to industry standards.

One of the reasons we have an evaluation form at all seminars is to receive comments about member experience. We have fired teachers because of what they have said to students. In most cases, we have great (not perfect) instructors who would love to receive positive feedback.  

Your ideas on a green infrastructure movement are spot on! You mention Canada Blooms and the Garden Inspiration magazine. I don’t know if this is included at Canada Blooms and in the magazine or not, but it would be great if there was an article (or hand-out upon entry at Canada Blooms) promoting the benefits of hiring a LO member. We should push the benefits of hiring a LO professional as much as possible, and not just the LO brand or logo.

Over 50,000 copies of Garden Inspiration were distributed free-of-charge to everyone entering Canada Blooms. The magazine featured new plants, award winning landscapes, a directory of members and articles on how to choose professional members of Landscape Ontario. I have always felt (like you) that there is no reason to promote LO as an association. We sell the benefits of the industry and the professionalism of our members. This year I was proved wrong. Members felt a great deal of pride in the Landscape Ontario garden. It reflected their professionalism. They told us to push the LO brand, so that it becomes recognized and they can co-brand with it.  

A certification program for low-voltage lighting is a great idea and we need more of these outside of CHT, as well as greater recognition of certifications provided by other organizations. CHT is a good idea, but it is a general knowledge that tests several areas of competence and ability. I’m sure many of us prefer other certifications that apply to a specific skill or installation.

Agreed!  We are pushing all competency-based programs. Since there are so many programs and designations the certification committee has come up with an umbrella brand to bring them all together. It is called Landscape Industry Certified. This will be the only one that will be promoted in the future.  It will then be up to the members to promote their specific designations to their potential clients. This idea is causing a lot of controversy.  

I read that you are trying to convince the Ministry of Transportation to green our highways. I would love to see this collaboration happen. I would appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate what we can do to make roadsides and right-of-ways attractive, cost effective and environmentally responsible. If the opportunity should present itself in our area, I would gladly participate.

We were fortunate this year.  A demonstration/research project is currently underway at 401 and 427 and another at 401 and Allen Rd. (Yorkdale Shopping Plaza). The ministry has allocated $1-million to this project.

Preparation started this past fall. Planting will be done this spring. The ministry is handling the tender process. I am hoping that this project will lead to many more. Thanks for your offer. Hopefully, we can do something in the near future. One of our grower members wants to try a bare-root planting on the 401 in front of our building. I will keep you informed about the idea.

I guess it wasn’t such a short letter. And I hope it doesn’t sound overly critical. I think overall LO does a great job, but there is always room for improvement and I look forward to seeing that happen.

I guess my response was not short either. Frankly I get inspired when members care enough to offer opinions. It is energizing! I always tell our staff that you can say anything, as long as it is in the spirit of mutual benefit and mutual improvement. Your note follows that format. Thanks for taking the time to write. Please consider participating on one of our groups. Your contribution is welcomed.

I would like to thank you and all the staff at LO for all your hard work.

Curtis Frederick