Friday, May 17, 1996

Murphy's Law. The Poster.

Years ago, I had a cool poster called "Murphy's Law". Somehow it was lost during the move from Princeton, NJ to York, PA in 1990 when I opened this Garden Center & Nursery in Felton, PA. If I hadn't moved, the 175-mile each way commute would have been a whacker!
Anyway, I was bemoaning its loss in my Journal entry of April 26th, Murphy's Law, when my friend Janice, of JANCO Publishing (717) 227-9720, and who will have a company page soon on The Web, found one for me. She did some serious searching before finding it right here in York: she tried to call a New York City poster store where I originally got it; no luck there, no store there anymore. She called several other places around the country trying to locate one, all to no avail. Then she found it in a York mall store. Bingo! She had it framed and brought it by last Friday. It now proudly hangs right above my 586 Pentium PC in this office. Very appropriate. What a wonderfully sweet thing to do. Many, many thanks Janice!

No Rest For The Weary.

The search goes on for help. And there's still no one on the horizon who could provide the relief we need here. There are many people applying for "greenhouse jobs" though; they seem to think it's a cushy job, watering plants all day. It's not. There's a lot of physical work involved and most people can't handle it for very long.
Some real quality candidates for the landscape crews are now showing up to sign on for the season; we've lost several of the "freshman newbies" through attrition and other reasons, so we're down to 8 workers now. These new faces will be a welcome addition for moving customers' jobs along more quickly.
My secretary now helps at the front counter on Saturday and Sunday, in addition to her regular Thursday and Friday duties. And the young woman who has been with us on weekends for three years has gotten a weekday job, but will still continue to come in on the weekends. They're both a great help, but I need sales people now to work with the customers in the Nursery and Greenhouses.

Mother's Day Weekend.

The crowds are even greater this weekend; traditionally in the garden center business, this is the high point or watershed for the spring, since the business for most places tapers off after these two days. For us, it's just another very busy weekend like all the others preceeding it and the many to come until the season's over with in December. No real peaks and valleys, just a constant flow of people and business.
The weekend was unusually cold and windy; in the low 40s with 30-40mph winds. A wind chill of 19F. In mid-May. Hah! It didn't stop the crowds though, just slowed them down a bit until the sun came out.
Saturday afternoon at 5pm, I heard on the NOAA Web Weather Page that a severe tornado and thunderstorm warming was posted for the area until 10pm. The sky sure looked funny; a greenish gray with very fast moving, billowy black clouds. Then it hit me: the last time I'd seen anything remotely like this unfolding scenario was in 1968, in Des Moines, Iowa, when the very same type of skies rolled in overhead and a tornado dropped out of the sky. It hit the women's dormitory at Drake University that spring, destroying it and Killing 26 students and faculty. A horrible tragedy.
I raced outside and checked out the skies; sure enough it was coming fast. The temperature had dropped 25-30 degrees in as many minutes, large hail started falling and the driving rain followed quickly. I shut down all greenhouse electric fans and other systems and closed the four 30'x100' production greenhouses, the very busy 100'x200' main greenhouse and locked down the storage buildings and equipment. On my way back inside, a customer and his 7-year old son were wandering around looking at trees and flagged me down, wanting me to show them some fruiting varieties. Politely, I told them of the storm warning and quickly ushered them inside. Pickles The One-Eyed Cat was waiting for me; he was hiding under my desk, safe from the booming thunder outside. About 40 customers and staff were trapped inside the main retail building and greenhouse; the rain, wind and hail were so fierce that no one wanted to chance it outside.
I assured everyone that all was OK, and that the brunt of the storm was passing north of us. I logged onto the Web and quickly checked into several weather forecasts for the area, only to find that 40 miles to the north, Harrisburg was hit with a tornado that demolished parts of several city blocks. As I listened to the live-feed weather reports come in from WHP 580AM Radio in Harrisburg, I felt lucky for us and sorry for those people at the same time. Suddenly, it was over and a gentle rain continued throughout the night. All that destruction and damage so quickly; then peace and quiet. The culprit was gone.

Water Gardens.

Over the past 6 years, we've designed and installed 85+ Water Gardens of various configurations and sizes for people throughout Central Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland. They bring real enjoyment to those owners who become "Pond Managers" and learn to relax and enjoy their newfound hobby, instead of worrying about what's going on in the Pond.
Take a few minutes to read two of my ads on Water Gardening. Clear Ponds is for those of you who have a Water Garden and (needlessly) panic when it starts to become filled with algae and looks like 'split pea soup'. Read it, sip some iced tea and relax! Healthy Ponds is a collection of the humorous, bald-faced lies that have been told to our customers and others, which we've heard directly from them. The tellers of these lies will recognize their own words quite readily. Have a good laugh at these erroneous statements with us! And if you hear them again, tell the misinformed individual(s) to read these two ads to find out the truth, for once in their sorry lives.
With all the Water Garden questions flying around and no quality information on the Web to answer them, I've now built a set of Pages that gives examples of both materials & labor costs for construction, FAQs and 10 color pictures of unique Water Gardens that we've constructed over the years. The Pages are completed, awaiting only photos. They'll be ready very soon, after the initial photography and color photo scanning chores are completed. Watch for the new section soon on my Main Page at the bottom navigation links.

What Else Can Happen?

Sorry I asked. Sunday night after the last customers left, I was ready to go out for some Chinese food to take back to my parents for a Mother's Day dinner, but my 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee V8 wouldn't start; the automatic burglar system that disables the vehicle for thieves was stuck in the "security" position, thereby disabling the car for me. I tried talking to it nicely, swearing at it, promising it super-premium gas for the rest of it's life, wash and wax jobs every week, a vacuuming twice weekly, and finally tried jumping it with cables. Nothing. The battery is non-functional, lights and horn flash and howl and nothing else works. So here I sit waiting for the car's battery to finally die so I can drive one of the 5-ton dump trucks home at midnight. Oh joy of joys!
I had taken the Jeep to the dealer for service last week, and one of the items on my checklist was this very problem. However, the problem wouldn't even show itself when at the dealer's, so the service techs bypassed it as an "owner hallucination". Don't you think that Murphy's Law applies here? Take a guess at what it would be. I'm so positive that it does apply, the "Law" probably goes something like this:

All automotive-related problems will immediately disappear prior to inspection and road test by any dealer service personnel and instantly re-appear for the owner after leaving the service facility. The embarrassment factor for the owner will be inversely proportional to the initial claim of the problem with the vehicle.

Winter's Back.

As if it wasn't cold enough this past weekend, it's even colder this bright and sunny Monday morning; of course when I get in at 5:30am it isn't very bright or sunny. There was 1/2" of ice on the water in the wheelbarrow next to the Propagation House. This is May 13th! What gives? The weather forecast is for frost again tonight and temperatures in the high 20s to low 30s, which will set new cold records if it happens. Lots of tarps and sheets will be all over Central Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland tonight protecting their annuals and vegetables from impending frost. And despite the precautions people will take, many will have to re-purchase annuals and vegetables to re-plant if they hope to have anything of any consequence in their gardens this year. I hate to have to sell the same plant material twice to the same people.

Between The Raindrops.

Trying to schedule all the landscape jobs in between the rain showers is a major headache; I've been doing it for 6 years, so I should be used to it. But I never get used to the amount of people who want it done yesterday. Hey, life is a big, long queue; get used to it!
Some even get nasty and arrogant on the phone, and that's when I tell them to go elsewhere. I don't take that kind of abuse from anyone and simply hang up. The vast majority are very understanding about the weather, though. Bringing in lots of people and machinery on to their wet property grounds does real damage and we're liable for it. I'd rather wait until the ground has a chance to dry out a little. Persuading them to be patient is but one large facet of my job here. They know that we do good work and the wait will be worth it.

Other Web Pages.

In the past few days, I've had some unusual visitors on my WebSite and their messages in my Email bin: other people in the horticultural industry wanting both my opinion and some criticism on their Web Pages. They said they had been to visit my WebSite after being told about it by other people.These people are both competitors and allies in the industry; they have large Horticultural WebSites that were around long before my Pages went up. I'm flattered that they asked.
Actually, it's difficult for me to offer criticism of anyone's WebSite. I'd rather offer constructive suggestions that, as a visitor, I'd like to see implemented for my viewing enjoyment. Simple things like Email; a must for being out and doing business on the Web these days. Easy-to-use Navigation Bars or Icons. Links that don't work or go nowhere. And a bunch more things that many WebSites have left out, which are SOP (Standard Operating Proceedure) for a quality operation.

Hi-Tech Stocks.

I usually leave investments pretty much alone after initiating them with my brokers, but back in March I went semi-ballistic. After seeing what paltry sums the Money Markets were returning as dividends, I issued a sell order and got rid of them all. I bought US Robotics, Sun Microsystems, NetScape Communications and Microsoft to add to the several telephone companies and local stock (Harley-Davidson, York International etc) offerings around York, PA, that I hold.
Little did I know that USRX, NSCP and MSFT would also go ballistic in the following weeks, returning a sweet 190% combined investment. SUN has now dropped by 40%, but will make a profitable return soon, when another cooperative announcement comes jointly from NSCP and them. The same thing happened in February and both stocks went over 100 and split 2-1.
How do I keep track of what's going on an hourly basis with my investments? Simple; get InterNet Stock Tracker from StockCenter; it's the coolest way I've found to update on-line without all the usual problems of logging onto a very busy Dow Jones site. Just download and install it. The other leading edge site for quotes, charts and graphs is StockMaster, where each quote comes with a progress history chart and graph. This is USRXs...

Quotes on both these sites are delayed 20 minutes, as prescribed by the New York and NASDAQ Exchanges, but what's 20 minutes unless you're an "insider trader"? Actually, not much can happen in that short of a time when you are buying on-line. Check out the two stock tracker sites; you'll be impressed.

In The Public Eye.

With all the traffic that comes to my WebSite daily, there are some people who don't and can't understand what it's all about. They read certain sections - the FAQs or John's Journal or the Advertising Pages - and because of a completely different set of opinions, flame (bash) me for things that I say. That's cool. With my visibility and position, I have to have a thick skin: I'm a convenient target. So I answer their concerns as best I can and thank them for their visit.
Others offer comments or suggestions on what I've put up. Some offer the same on the way I've written things. And still others oppose everything with radically different viewpoints and theories. All fine in and of themselves.
I don't get paid to write innocuous please-everyone stories; these are my Pages and I put up what I want to. I write unusual ads to accomplish specific marketing tactics, thereby gaining marketshare for my business, which it does. The ads educate, inform and entertain. The feedback from phone calls and walk-in customers is absolutely phenomenal; hundreds of people come in who have collected all the ads over the past 6 years and kept them in 3-ring binders. People enjoy reading my ads, they learn from the information presented. They have them in notebooks! Even suprises the hell out of me. Our advertising draws people in because they identify with what I say and how I say it. Something must be working right.
Unless you take a position on something in life, I believe you don't have a chance of ever being famous. If you're ultimately wrong on that position, then make a change. But if you don't take some kind of cogent position, you have absolutely no chance in hell of making it to "The Big Show". And whether that's a worthy goal in your life is another question alltogether, but it's impossible to ever get to center stage unless you do take a position. Fame can be a positive tool or it can be a distorted-image mirror that only mimics who is in front of it for as long as the person's there.

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