Have You Hugged Your Plant Techs Today?

Remember that old ad campaign? We don’t want to get anyone in trouble for harassment, but metaphorically speaking, there’s a good chance your techs could use at least a pat on the back.

A little respect goes a long way. And you, as employers, feel the rewards in better looking accounts, happier clients, and employees that stick with you.

I’ve spent many years, at big companies and small, as a tech; and I hate to say it, but often I had the feeling that my employers felt there was nothing special about me, and that anyone off the street could do my job. That sounds kind of whiney, doesn’t it? But let’s be honest, everyone wants to feel special, and everyone needs to be acknowledged. Bonuses, raises, and awards at the end of the year are great, of course, but sometimes it’s the little everyday things that mean the most.

Things like asking the service people out in the field for some input on scheduling, or the performance of a new plant variety, sharing experiences at meetings, or calling someone during the middle of the day to ask for their secrets of success for a plant with which they do especially well.

Contrary to what some interior landscape owners seem to think, this is not an easy job, and everyone can’t do it. Plant techs, those who have been in it for years and whose success can be judged by their generally excellent results, are truly craftsmen, and sometimes they can be artists. Once I had a large takeover account, and by the time I was able to spend extra time on the bamboo palm in a man’s office, it had grown wild all over the place. He was working at his desk and said it was okay to come in, so I began cleaning, trimming, tying, and generally shaping. It didn’t really take long and when I was through, I turned to find the man watching me. He said “Thank you. I wouldn’t have believed that plant could look so nice. You’re a real artist.” I’m sure most seasoned techs have had similar incidents. We all experience a lot of gratitude, interest, and ­dare I say­ it – love from our clients. It would be nice to feel the same thing from our bosses.

I heard of a fellow once who had come to owning an interior landscape company as a retirement occupation when he left his earlier profession. He had no experience in anything plant related. After he ran the company for several years in the normal way (seven or eight techs, a couple of install people, a service supervisor, and a manager), he decided he could save money by getting rid of all his experienced techs, hiring people from the labor pool at minimum wage, and leaving his supervisor to run around from account to account and anoint all the plants with Truban. No one will be surprised to hear the company began to fail, and was sold a few years later, much reduced in size.

Some people have said (right on this blog, a few posts ago, I believe) that service techs are your most valuable asset. Truly they are. In a successful interiorscaping business, maybe even more so than most industries, management exists to support the techs, not the other way around. Most techs I’ve known are intelligent, talented, interesting people with resources that can only benefit their companies, if management has the wit to tap them.

Techs aren’t in it to get rich. Mostly they’ve come from other professions. They need to be able to move around, to use their hands, to be creative, to see the sky rather than sit at a desk all day. But they’re smart. And energetic. Before they start in the field and all the way through their careers, give them the tools they need and the best training you can. No one ever finishes learning about plants.

And a hug every now and then can’t hurt.


Photo courtesy of Engledow Group

Marlie Graves, known as The Ficus Wrangler, has been keeping plants beautiful, training techs and relating to clients at half a dozen companies for 30 years. She studied creative writing and psychology in college and went on to start an independent film company with her first husband. She decided to focus on plants full time after completing the NYBG Horticulture School interior landscaping course. Marlie is retired, operates "The Ficus Wrangler" YouTube channel, contributes regularly to several houseplant forums, and is working on a plantcare book based on professional methods.

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