The Horticultural Research Institute recently published a new book, Back then to Right Now: The Horticultural Industry Comes of Age, as part of its 2015 fundraising efforts. Local Plant Source spoke with author Bob Dolibois, the former executive vice president of the American Nursery & Landscape Association, about the project, the work it entailed and why and how those interested in the future of the industry can purchase a copy.
LPS: What caused you to write a book about the history of the horticultural industry, specifically, as a topic?
Dolibois: A book was published in 1976 that recorded the history of the nursery & landscape industry from 1876 to 1976. The book, A Century of Service, was authored by a predecessor CEO of the industry trade association for which I also worked from 1991 to 2012. With my retirement pending in 2012, industry leaders asked me to write a “sequel” history of the industry covering the period 1976 to 2012.
I agreed to do so as long as there was also an editor. The leaders recruited Sally D. Benson, a long-time and widely respected editor of American Nurseryman magazine. She ended up also co-authoring some chapters covering areas of interest in which I had less personal experience. She was terrific in assisting this first-time book author.
LPS: What sort of research did you have to do to write this book? Where did you have to go, who did you have to talk to, what was the most pressing question you wanted to answer?
Dolibois: I gathered association records, industry newsletters, and related materials covering the period from 1976 to 1991. It was more of an undertaking than I thought, but it was intriguing history and confirmed that some of the challenges the industry faced in later years were not without precedent.
For the period 1991 to 2012, I reread similar documents as well as my own correspondence and bi-weekly updates that I sent to association leadership over those years.
I had a book committee of past industry leaders who helped me identify about 25 people who influenced the industry in this era. I then interviewed most of those 25 using a standard set of questions that I provided to them in advance. It was interesting to see the similarities and dissimilarities in their answers. Their insights were incorporated into the text with attribution and, in some cases, direct quotes from them were included in “callout” boxes scattered among the pages.
Part of my agreement to write the book included a book purpose statement. The book is intended to layout significant industry challenges and opportunities the industry experienced in the time period and record how the industry responded. It is not a chronological history of events, though some events are reported. The book is meant to be read by people who lived in these times, but also for younger, rising business leaders, to help them understand why things are being done the way they are done.
LPS: What's the most interesting or surprising thing you discovered in the course of writing this book? What do you think will surprise readers the most?
Dolibois: The industry is very diverse, geographically, culturally and in its business practices. As a leader of an industry national organization for more than two decades, I had the privilege of seeing this wide diversity. I was most interested in conveying this diversity in a positive and optimistic fashion, while not pulling any punches.
I hope that there will be something interesting, even surprising, to each reader who learns something new that happened somewhere else or to other industry businesses.
LPS: How did writing this book impact your thoughts about the future of the horticultural industry? What are your thoughts about what needs to happen next, or where the industry is headed?
Over the years I developed tremendous respect for the grit and integrity of our industry’s business owners and their staffs. Revisiting the significant moments and trends that developed over these decades confirmed the reasons for being optimistic. The first of two major conclusions is that the basics for future success are in place, but the industry must change its view of itself and our customers because this is truly a new era. I focus on those changes in the book.
The second major conclusion has been around for a long time: We must raise prices. Period. Full stop.
LPS: Why did you decide to partner with the Horticultural Research Institute in publishing this book? How can interested readers get a copy of the book?
The Horticultural Research Institute is the industry's research foundation with the mission to provide answers to industry challenges in horticulture practices and to industry business management. The book's purpose fits within that mission. Some long-time HRI donors contributed additional funds specifically to jumpstart the publishing of the book. Books are exclusively available as an appreciation gift to donors who contribute a minimum of $100 to HRI. Contributions to HRI are tax deductible. Visit www.hriresearch.org for details.