In the past, finding long-flowering Pennisetum that wouldn’t reseed has been a challenge, but no more. We’ve looked high and wide for infertile fountain grass varieties and working with the University of Georgia’s acclaimed ornamental grass program, we finally found them. We’ve selected five P. alopecuroides that complement any palette with their vigorous growth and long-lasting blooms.

‘Cayenne’ features big, dark-red bottlebrush plumes that rise above mounds of rich green arching blades. It won’t self-sow and offers a long bloom time. ‘Cayenne’ prefers full sun to partial shade and is hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

‘Hush Puppy’ has long-lasting pink plumes that spray high over rounded mounds of slender foliage. It is a long-flowering infertile selection that won’t reseed. ‘Hush Puppy’ prefers sun to part shade, reaches 30 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

‘Etouffee’ features light pinkish brown foxtail plumes rising over graceful arching mounds. It is an infertile variety that flowers spring to fall and will not reseed. It forms a lovely mound that’s excellent in containers and landscapes alike. ‘Etouffee’ loves sun to part shade, grows to 42 inches and is hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

‘Jambalaya’ grows in a lovely, tidy mounded habit to about 38 inches tall. It produces large, long-lasting silvery-pink plumes that rise above slender, upright foliage from late spring to mid-fall. ‘Jambalaya’ is a long-flowering infertile variety that won’t self-sow. It prefers sun to part shade, reaches a height of 38 inches and is hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

‘Praline’ is an infertile variety that won’t self-sow in the landscape. It features lovely soft taupe, gently upright seed heads above mounds of slender, arching green leaves. A sun-lover, ‘Praline’ is hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

Pot up from a 38-cell tray into 1-gallon pots for spring sales in eight to 10 weeks. Consider a preventive fungicide drench at transplant.

pH & EC: Aim for pH at approximately 5.8 to 6.2 and electrical conductivity (EC) at 1.0 to 1.5 mS/cm using the 2:1 extraction method.

Light: Provide full sun or at least 5,000 footcandles, along with at least 12 hours of photoperiod supplemental lighting.

Fertilizer: Fertilize with a constant liquid feed of a balanced fertilizer at low levels of 100 to 150 ppm nitrogen.

Pests and diseases: Watch for aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, root and crown rot. Follow a standard program of preventive sanitation and ventilation. Space plants adequately to encourage airflow and discourage moisture buildup. Scout and monitor regularly. Follow a monthly broad-spectrum fungicide control program.

An automated weather-based irrigation system helps Florida’s Hibernia Nursery save water and labor.

Hibernia Nursery is a 70-acre wholesale container nursery located near the Central Florida town of Webster. Hibernia produces landscape plants in large containers (trade 7 and 15 gallon) with micro-irrigation and small containers (trade 1 and 3 gallon) with sprinkler irrigation. Hibernia is under the jurisdiction of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, one of five districts regulating water use in Florida. The district supports technologies that can help agricultural producers be efficient with their limited supply of water. In this article, we describe a cooperative effort between the district, the University of Florida IFAS (Institute of Flood and Agricultural Sciences) and Hibernia Nursery to test a new irrigation technology that had been 10-plus years in the making.

Containers have a limited volume for water storage so that irrigation water is applied frequently, typically daily or several times each day. With little buffer between under-watering and over-watering, frequent irrigation places a priority on applying the correct amount of water that will resupply water loss through plant evapotranspiration (ET) without excessive container drainage. Excessive container drainage, or leachate, not only wastes water but can decrease agrichemical effectiveness and increase the potential for negative environmental impacts of runoff. The purpose of this article is to describe a new weather-based system for making real-time irrigation decisions and how it was evaluated at Hibernia. We discuss the results of the evaluation and how the system is changing the way Hibernia manages irrigation. Before we get to the system though, we need to describe an irrigation leachate fraction test that together with weather will help determine irrigation run times.

The leaching fraction (LF) is defined as the amount of leachate divided by the amount of irrigation water applied to the container. If routinely measured, irrigation can be adjusted to maintain a target LF that will resupply substrate water loss by ET without excessive leaching. Based on results from several years of trials, we currently recommend a target LF of 10-15% for sprinkler-irrigated crops and 20-30% for micro-irrigated crops. These values may be lowered or raised as a nursery becomes experienced with LF testing and crop productivity.

The LF test requires two separate measurements — the amount of leachate or drainage and the amount of water applied to the container. The LF test procedure is different for sprinkler-irrigated crops than for micro-irrigated crops. For sprinkler-irrigated crops, the test container is placed in a tight-fitting pail leaving enough space below for collecting container leachate without the leachate being reabsorbed by the container substrate. The container and pail are weighed before and after irrigation with the difference in weight gain equal to the amount of water applied. The container is then removed from the pail and amount of leachate determined by weighing. The weight of leachate divided by the weight of water applied is the LF.

The LF test method for micro-irrigated crops is different than for sprinkler-irrigated crops. The test container is placed on an aluminum pizza pan while resting on two 1-foot pieces of 4-by-4 inch lumber. A one-half inch hole punched in the pizza pan near the rim allows collected leachate to drain into a lasagna pan for weighing. If needed, minimal slope can be created with shims to improve drainage from pizza pan. To measure the amount of water applied, an unused spray stake emitter is placed in a 4-gallon pail with a slot cut into the rim to prevent the tubing from being crimped when the lid is on the pail. Both leachate and water applied are collected over all irrigation cycles in a 24-hour period and LF calculated as described earlier. Unlike the sprinkler LF-test, the pizza pan setup remains in the field and the emitter used to determine the amount of water applied can be plugged and kept in the pail until the next LF test. This makes LF testing less labor-intensive in micro-irrigated areas than in sprinkler zones.

Routine LF tests are conducted approximately once every 2-4 weeks with more frequent testing during periods of rapid growth and/or seasonal changes in the weather. For example, LF testing frequency ramps up in spring and summer and declines in late fall and winter in Florida. To “stay ahead” during these periods, it is often recommended to increase irrigation rates 5-10% each week so that LF testing will not result in zero leachate. To account for variability (plant and irrigation delivery) in the field, it is recommended to test three to four plants per irrigated zone. To be conservative, we often choose larger plants and plants along the borders of the production area that may have higher water requirements. Also, plants along the border are easier to access.

The irrigation system has two components that can function independently but work best in tandem. One component is a web-based irrigation scheduling program called CIRRIG (Container IRRIGation) that outputs real-time irrigation run times based on weather and grower inputs for each irrigation zone. The second component is an automated irrigation control system that interfaces with CIRRIG to implement the output run times by automatically controlling solenoid valves in the field. Each will be briefly described before we get into how the new system was evaluated at the nursery.

CIRRIG (www.bmptoolbox.org/cirrig) is a web-based, irrigation scheduling program for container nurseries in the Southeast United States – its use in other regions of the U.S. has not been tested. One function of CIRRIG is to collect and manage weather data from one or more weather stations on site. At Hibernia, two weather stations were installed, one at each pump house. Both stations were the cabled (not wireless) version of the Vantage Pro 2 Plus (Davis Instruments), which has a solar radiation sensor and a day-time aspirated fan for accurate temperature readings. An optional data-logger (Weatherlink USB Data Logger; Davis Instruments) with a USB output was programmed to record weather data at 5-minute intervals. The USB output of the data-logging console was connected to a microcomputer (Raspberry Pi 3 Model B; Adafruit Industries) that uploaded the data to the CIRRIG server located at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Besides being used for real-time irrigation calculations as described later, historical weather data are available to be viewed on an hourly or daily basis.

A second function of CIRRIG is to output real-time irrigation run times for each irrigation zone created by the user. Each valve in the nursery has a corresponding CIRRIG zone. The user inputs certain parameters that remain constant or are infrequently changed such as zone type (LF sprinkler or LF micro-irrigation), crop name/identification, container diameter, irrigation rate and uniformity, number of irrigation cycles per day and minimum run time. A second section of inputs is for inputting the results of LF tests conducted routinely. LF-related inputs include LF test date and time, LF test run time (minute), average measured LF (%), and target LF (%).

Here is how CIRRIG uses LF tests and real-time weather to make real-time irrigation decisions. When the results of a LF test are input for a given zone, CIRRIG calculates two reference values that remain constant until the next LF test is input. One reference value is an LF test irrigation run time, which is the LF test run time adjusted to give the target LF (see box at the bottom of this page). A second reference is an ET value (inch/day) calculated using the past 24-hours of weather data. Essentially this provides a reference ET value associated with the first reference value. For each subsequent day, a new ET value is calculated just prior to irrigation and compared to the ET reference value. Based on this comparison, the reference irrigation run time is adjusted upwards or downwards accordingly to give the present day’s irrigation amount. Rain can reduce the irrigation amount depending on the amount and time of the day the rain occurred relative to the last irrigation cycle.

The output from CIRRIG could be manually entered into a traditional irrigation controller, but this becomes very labor-intensive if done daily. An automated system is needed to take advantage of the real-time technology. For our system, we used programmable logic controllers (PLC) commonly used in non-agricultural industries. These brick-sized, specialized computers can receive digital information to control switches that can activate irrigation solenoid valves in the field. In our case, the PLC receives run time information from CIRRIG and sets timer values for each valve controlled by the PLC. Each PLC (Direct Logic D0-06; Automation Direct) can control 16-64 valves depending on the optional output modules used. The PLC has a communications module that allows the PLC to be controlled and monitored remotely if the PLC is on a local network connected to the internet. At Hibernia, we established a local network at each pump station using a router (MBR95; Cradlepoint) and USB cellular modem with a static IP address for the internet connection. We found a “1-bar” cellular signal was sufficient for running the irrigation system. The microcomputer described previously that served to upload weather data to CIRRIG also ran programs that allowed the user to manage and monitor one or more PLCs on the local network. A program was developed that allowed the user to create zone groups for each PLC and add one or more zones to each group. The program allows the user to select a maximum number of valves to run at one time. Because each zone in a group will have a different run time and run times will change from cycle to cycle, a queue is established so that as one zone turns off a new zone in the queue is automatically turned on. Certain features that you find on a traditional time clock are also available such as a manual on/off with or without a timer and a system water check that will run each valve for a specific time to allow staff to check irrigation systems in a methodical manner. The program outputs run times (RT) in an HTML table for checking locally or remotely and output is also uploaded to CIRRIG where the irrigation history and accompanying input data are stored for historical record-keeping.

Seven side-by-side trials were conducted comparing automated CIRRIG technology with the nursery’s traditional irrigation practice (Table 1). The same crop was grown in each of the two irrigation zones being compared in the side-by-side trials. Overhead irrigation was applied with Wobbler (Senninger) sprinklers that were on 5-foot risers with 25 feet between sprinklers down the production bed in an offset pattern. Micro-irrigation was applied with spray stake emitters (Spot-Spitter Black High Flow or Green Medium Flow; Primerus Products, LLC). The container substrate was either a 60% pine bark: 40% compost mix (Trials S1, S2, M1, M2) or a 70% pine bark: 30% sedge peat mix (Trials S3, M3, M4) both with incorporated controlled-release fertilizer. Additional fertilizer was top-dress applied as needed. All production activities were conducted by Hibernia staff.

Hibernia’s traditional irrigation practice was intensive. Twice each week staff took cores of substrate from containers in each zone and rated soil moisture on a numerical scale. As a group, staff decided on necessary changes to irrigation run times which were then manually entered into their traditional irrigation controller (Sterling 8 Station; Buckner Superior). We were surprised to find that for sprinkler irrigation, times were adjusted to the nearest 5 minutes several times per week, if not daily. Micro-irrigated areas were irrigated 2-3 times per day and sprinkler-irrigated areas once a day predawn. CIRRIG zones were managed by Hibernia staff. Staff conducted LF tests and entered results into CIRRIG. Start times for CIRRIG-controlled zones were the same as for Hibernia’s traditional practice.

For evaluating each trial, we measured irrigation water use with flowmeters and monitored plant growth by measuring the height and width of 20 plants at the start and every 2-3 weeks throughout each trial. For Lagerstroemia (crape myrtle), we measured stem caliper 6 inches above substrate (five stems per plant). We considered growth to be the change in height and width from the beginning to the end of each trial. Each trial was ended when plants were being sold out of one or both of the test zones.

Hibernia staff quickly learned how to conduct LF tests and became familiar with some of the glitches that can occur during testing. For example, it was important to have an easy-to-use weighing method to eliminate taring mistakes that can give erroneous results. Another example was to plan ahead and conduct LF tests on days unaffected by cloudy or rainy weather. This can be frustrating in summer months when frequent afternoon rains can spoil a prepared test. A third example was to increase irrigation rates 5-10% prior to running a test to ensure that leachate will be collected. In general, this is especially true during the spring months when plants are rapidly growing and ET rates increasing with longer days and warmer temperatures.

CIRRIG had less effect on water use and plant growth in sprinkler-irrigated trials than with micro-irrigated trials (Table 1). In two of the three trials (S1, S2), plant growth and water use were similar for the two irrigation practices. In the third trial, CIRRIG applied 24% more water than Hibernia. The finding that CIRRIG increased plant growth 23% and LF tests during the crop averaged 15% and never exceeded 27% throughout the 370-day trial indicated that Hibernia was likely under-watering this crop.

CIRRIG reduced irrigation water applied by an average of 19% in the four micro-irrigated trials. For the holly (M1) and Leyland cypress (M2) crops, water use was reduced by only 12% and 3%, respectively, with similar growth and plant quality. Greater irrigation water savings (30%) were observed with the second holly (M3) and crape myrtle (M4) crops. Plant growth in these two trials was reduced 3% and 7%, respectively, with CIRRIG even though plants were marketable-sized and of similar quality as plants produced with Hibernia’s traditional irrigation practice.

Potential water savings from using CIRRIG at Hibernia Nursery can be estimated from the trials. If it is assumed that CIRRIG was not over-watering the S3 trial, then CIRRIG had little effect on irrigation water use in sprinkler-irrigated crops. The average reduction in water use in the four micro-irrigated trials was 1,270 gal/acre/day or 464,000 gal/ac/year. Hibernia’s pumping cost rate based on electric bills and flowmeter readings at each of their two pumps was $0.20 per 1,000 gallons. At this cost rate, the potential pumping cost savings for 35 acres of micro-irrigated production would be $3250/year which was equivalent to $0.03 per container at a plant density of 3,000 containers per acre. Clearly there was little monetary incentive to conserve water with CIRRIG when each plant in a trade 15-gallon container was selling for $45-$65.

For Hibernia Nursery, potential pumping cost savings using CIRRIG were not as important as the potential labor cost savings of substituting a LF testing program for the traditional substrate moisture sampling practice. Hibernia staff estimated that implementing an automated CIRRIG system including an LF testing program in their nursery will save them in labor alone approximately $35,000-$40,000 per year, which was equivalent of reducing their water staff from four to three with one staff assuming other duties at their labor-challenged nursery. Hibernia noted that the new irrigation technology also improved the quality and skill level of the employee’s managing irrigation. Towards the end of our cooperative project with Hibernia, the nursery installed PLCs to control all 156 valves for their 70 acres of production. The hardware cost for installing the system at two pump locations was $8,000, which included two weather stations, two router/cell modems, two microprocessors, six PLCs and miscellaneous cable and electrical accessories (Table 2). The cost associated with LF testing materials is approximately $15 per setup in micro-irrigated production. For 80 micro-irrigated zones at Hibernia and four LF setups per zone, this fixed cost would be $4,800. As this is a new technology that to date has been supported with research funding, we are unsure how the CIRRIG system and service will be monetarily supported in the future. Our best estimate is that a contract for service would be entered into between the nursery and the University that would initially include installation of hardware (provided by nursery), training and service at $10,000 per year and decrease over time.

Author note: We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Southwest Florida Water Management District, Project B404. Trade names, products, and companies are mentioned for informational purposes only and are not endorsements.

About the authors: Jeff Million is a research and development manager and Tom Yeager is a professor in the department of environmental horticulture, IFAS, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

At The Garden Center Group’s 2019 Fall Event, Jean Seawright of Seawright & Associates Management Consultants spoke with the attendees about her six biggest HR issues she anticipates horticulture businesses to have in 2020.

Changes are happening to the “white-collar” exemptions that allow businesses to exempt certain employees from overtime. These exemptions are for employees in jobs classified as executive, administrative, professional, computer and outside sales. However, to qualify for an exemption, the employees must pass a variety of tests and meet the requirements described in the Department of Labor’s definition of each job type.

One constant in each of the exemptions is compensation level. Currently, to qualify for the exemption, an employee must be compensated at a rate of no less than $455 per week — an annual salary of $23,660. The new rule increases that level to $35,568.

The second major HR issue businesses should watch out for in 2020 is the proliferation of paid sick and parental leave. This is when an employee receives the same wages as if they worked. Currently, there is no federal sick leave law. However, 11 states and Washington, D.C. mandate paid sick leave. This is often paid through an employee-funded payroll tax.

These state laws establish minimum requirements for paid sick leave, but an employer may provide sick leave through its own existing sick leave or paid time off plan. Businesses can establish different plans for different categories of workers. Each plan must satisfy the requirements of the new law.

The third issue to watch for in 2020 is salary history and criminal inquiry bans. More states and cities are legislating “ban-the-box” rules. In October, 13 states and 14 cities have a private employer criminal inquiry ban in place.

The "box" refers to the question on job applications that asks applicants whether or not they have ever been convicted of a crime. Ban-the-box laws require employers to remove this question — as well as any other queries about criminal history — from job applications.

These laws were designed to prevent discrimination against applicants with criminal records. Typically, employers are restricted from inquiring about criminal history until later in the hiring process. Some ban-the-box laws restrict how employers can use information obtained in a background check or when the checks can be done, but still, background checks are a must.

These letters are issued by the Social Security Administration indicating that information on a wage and tax statement (Form W-2) does not match SSA records. Horticulture businesses may remember these letters. They stopped in 2012, but the administration restarted the program in March 2019 for digital filers. In October 2019, SSA began issuing no-match letters for employers that filed paper W-2s.

While receipt of a no-match letter does not mean the employee is in the U.S. illegally and is unauthorized to work, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely asks employers as part of the an I-9 audit whether they have received no-match letters. Failure to correct a discrepancy could result in violations or fines under immigration laws.

The mismatch could have nothing to do with the immigration status of the employee in question, Seawright says. Often, these no-match letters are the result of administrative or transcription errors.

However, employers cannot use the letter alone as the basis for taking adverse action against an employee.

The fifth HR issue to watch for in 2020 is minimum wage and market pressure. There has been a high-profile push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour. This has created an expectation and prospective employees don’t care if the “industry average” is less than that. However, Seawright says that local market rates are what matter most. Employers who do not or cannot increase their wages to keep pace with local market rates will struggle to attract and retain workers.

“You’re competing with local companies,” she says. “There is a lot of pressure on small businesses to pay $15/hour. If you don’t, you’ll be considered a bad employer, not paying a living wage.”

Compensation rates do not exist in a vacuum. Companies feeling the pressure to increase starting rates for entry-level jobs must consider current workers in the same position or job family. Otherwise, they leave themselves open for morale problems, lost trust, discrimination complaints and a perception that their pay is not “fair.”

Seawright has several solutions for companies facing this pressure. First, obtain current local market compensation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or another reliable source. Next, adjust start rates for entry-level positions to align to market rates. Third, adjust rates of pay for current workers in the same position or job family, taking their length of service into account. She notes the importance of calling this a market adjustment and not a merit increase.

She suggests developing a formula to ensure employees with more longevity should earn more than new hires in the same job family. For example, employees with 1-2 years of experience could receive the market rate plus X%. Employees with 3-4 years of experience could earn the market rate plus Y%.

The final HR issue for companies in 2020 is the cannabis conundrum. The decriminalization and legalization of marijuana — whether medicinal or recreational — is changing the landscape for employers. Many states have strengthened workplace protections for medical marijuana users, so employers are unclear on how far they can or should go.

If your business is located where marijuana can legally be used for medical or recreational purposes, you could eliminate drug testing entirely or remove cannabis specifically from pre- or post-hire drug panels. That eliminates the risk of a discrimination or retaliation complaint but increases other risks.

Seawright recommends a balanced approach. Keep cannabis in all drug test panels. But in the event of a positive test, use the same procedure you would for other medical conditions. Require the employee to provide a doctor’s note confirming that he or she can safely perform his or her job duties and outlining any limitations. If the business would have to make accommodations, determine whether they are reasonable or would impose a hardship. If there is reasonable suspicion of impairment, you may be able to terminate the employee or take other disciplinary action.

“You have the right to take action if an employee comes to work impaired,” she says. “Train your managers to recognize signs of impairment.”

Consider some of the most popular myths: Lightning never strikes the same place twice — it does. There is no gravity in space — there is, just less. Humans only use 10% of their brains — actually, a lot more — yes, even men. Pigeons blow up if fed uncooked rice — they don’t.

Which myths or half-truths have permeated your organization and what effect have they had on your business? Running a business on myths, flawed business principles and baseless assumptions creates needless confusion and a lack of strategic direction. A study of 10,000 senior executives showed that the most important leadership behavior critical to company success is strategic thinking at 97%. As good strategy is at the core of any organization’s success, it’s important to understand the strategy myths that may be holding back your team from reaching greater levels of success.

“We get our strategy from the brand team/upper management.” This is a common refrain when managers in other functional areas are asked who develops strategy. It’s also wrong. The strategy that you execute should be your own strategy. Why? Because each group’s resources are going to be different. For instance, the sales team has different resources — time, talent and budget — than the marketing team or the IT team or the HR team. How they allocate those resources determines their real-world strategy. It’s important to understand company, product and other functional group strategies to ensure that your strategies are in alignment. However, their strategies are not a replacement for your strategies.

In a recent webinar presented to more than 300 CEOs entitled, “Is Your Organization Strategic?,” the question was posed: “How often do you and your team meet to update your strategies?” The percentage of CEOs that meet with their teams to assess and calibrate strategies more frequently than four times a year is only 16.9%, with nearly 50% saying once-a-year or “we don’t meet at all to discuss strategy.”

A study of more than 200 large companies showed that the number one driver of revenue growth is the reallocation of resources throughout the year from under-performing areas to areas with greater potential. Strategy is the primary vehicle for making these vital resource reallocation decisions, but as the survey showed, most leaders aren’t putting themselves or their teams in a position to succeed. If strategy in your organization is an annual event, you will not achieve sustained success.

A landmark 25-year study of 750 bankruptcies showed that the number one cause of bankruptcy was flawed strategy, not poor execution. You can have the most skilled driver and highest performance Ferrari in the world (great execution) but if you’re driving that Ferrari on a road headed over a cliff (poor strategic direction) — you’re finished.

A sure sign of a needlessly myopic view is that everything is an “either or,” rather than allowing for “and.” Strategy and execution are both important, but make no mistake that all great businesses begin with an insightful strategy.

Your products and services are not better than your competitors. Why? Because “better” is subjective. Is blueberry pie better than banana cream pie? It depends who you ask. “Is our product better than the competitor’s product?” is the wrong question. The real question is, “How is our product different than the competitor’s product in ways that customers value?”

Attempting to be better than the competition leads to a race of “best practices,” which results in competitive convergence. Doing the same things in the same ways as competitors, only trying to do them a little faster or better, blurs the line of value between your company and competitors. Remember that competitive advantage is defined as “providing superior value to customers” — it’s not “beating the competition by being better.”

Since strategy is an abstract concept, it is often interchanged with the terms vision, mission and goals. How many times have you seen or heard a strategy that is “to be No.1,” “to be the market leader,” or “to become the premier provider of...?” Mission is your current purpose and vision is your future purpose or aspirational end game. Goals are what you are trying to achieve, and strategy is how you will allocate resources to achieve your goals.

Misusing business terms on a regular basis is like a physicist randomly interchanging element’s chemical structures from the Periodic Table. You can say that the chemical structure of hydrogen is the chemical structure for gold, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. Starting with an inexact statement of strategy will derail all of the other aspects of your planning and turn your business into the equivalent of the grammar school volcano science project with red-dyed vinegar and too much baking soda.

A 10-year study of 103 companies showed that the number one cause of business failure is bad strategy. Arm your team with the strategy myth busters, and your business will soar higher than a pigeon with a belly full of uncooked rice.

Rich Horwath is a New York Times bestselling author on strategy, including his most recent book, "StrategyMan vs. The Anti-Strategy Squad: Using Strategic Thinking to Defeat Bad Strategy and Save Your Plan." He’s also CEO of the Strategic Thinking Institute. www.StrategySkills.com

I spent a recent weekend performing a long overdue purge in my office. I found things that made me smile (nice notes from growers and hand-made cards from my children), a few things that made me shout, “So that’s where it went!” and a few completely useless items (one being a piece of obsolete photography equipment from 2002).

In my focus to start 2020 with as little clutter as possible, I went through each and every business card in my collection. It seems a bit ridiculous, but I categorized them to help me find the best source for my needs, and the exercise jogged my memory about people, places and ideas. However, out of all those business cards collected throughout the years, there were at least 50 that gave zero indication of the nature of the business. Is it a nursery? A consulting firm? A retailer? I threw the cards in a pile with an initial intention of Googling the business names. Well, in the immortal words of Internet memes, ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead of being in my files waiting to become a long-term, trusted source, the cards are in the recycle bin.

It’s almost prime trade show time. When is the last time you reviewed your business cards? Do you have a tag line or a call to action on the card that makes it obvious what you sell or what services you provide? If not, it’s time to add one STAT.

Patricia Schaefer from Business Know-How (businessknowhow.com) suggests adding a selling proposition to your card. “Your card should state at least one very powerful reason a customer should do business with you,” she says. (For example, an auto service center's business card that reads in part, "complete automotive repairs" and "all work fully guaranteed," lets people know that the center handles all types of repairs and builds trust by mentioning the guarantee.)

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She also warns against small fonts. I agree with that assessment. I’ve reached a certain age where my arm isn’t long enough to see small print.

Forbes asked its “agency council” (a community of PR, ad and media execs) if they thought the business card was dead. Some gave a resounding yes, but several thought business cards are still relevant. Leila Lewis says cards are still the quickest way to exchange information, but she adds, “there should always be a follow up via email or social media.” Aiden Cole told Forbes, “A business card is a physical reminder of who you are. It can also spark a memory of the time and place you met, separating you from others.” Kristopher Jones believes cards “can still make a powerful impression on prospective clients.”

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