Name: Scott Longfellow

Age: 63

Title: President

Company: Longfellow’s Greenhouses, Manchester

About: Independent garden center and gift shop, open year-round

Website: longfellowsgreenhouses.com

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Labor is by far our greatest challenge. So much of what we do requires labor. Finding enough labor has become very difficult during our busy spring season. We’re very fortunate to have the great employees we have, and we spend a great deal of time and effort to find the perfect employees when hiring for our very demanding work needs. We have approximately 90 employees working at Longfellow’s during our peak season. Thirty are new seasonal employees hired every spring season, 30 or so return as seasonal employees, and we keep about 30 people employed year-round. The cost of our labor has gone up dramatically this past year, and we expect it to continue to spiral upward over the next couple years. All employers are looking for employees from the same pool, and everyone is raising their wages to compete for those workers. What was once a $10-an-hour job is now a $12-an-hour job. When the minimum wage increase goes from $11 to $12, it will have (another) impact on the expense of labor. I don’t feel it’s not justified, but it has gone up a lot in a short period of time.

Along with substantial increases in the hourly wage, health insurance provided to our employees is one of the bigger contributors to our labor expense, and we are expecting another large increase in the upcoming year.

What’s the best advice anyone has given you?

Treat your customers and employees the way you’d like to be treated. I learned that from my parents, Lawrence and Mavis Longfellow, in my childhood years, and I worked with them for 10 years. That was very much their bottom line. Whether it’s the delivery person dropping off supplies, our employees who make it all happen, or the customer who buys our products, I feel it’s so important to treat them with the utmost respect.

How do you foster creativity in yourself/your staff?

For myself, I try to attend as many educational meetings and trade shows as possible, and belong to several trade organizations both in Maine and nationally. We belong to two different garden center groups with members located around the United States and Canada that work together to share ideas and help each other become better business people. With employees, I try to give them the tools and knowledge they need to succeed. Once they understand the goals, I try to stay out of their way and allow them to make their own decisions. Occasionally, I will check in with my managers, and give some constructive suggestions — at least I feel they are constructive.

What is your biggest fear?

Fortunately, I don’t have any fears, but I occasionally wonder what things will be like with our type of business in the future. So many different types of businesses have seemed like they would be around forever, but surprisingly, many have succumbed to the changes brought on by the next greatest thing. Sears, then K-Mart, Walmart and now Amazon are all examples of how retail has changed.

The internet is old news now and yet it’s not that old. Anything we want is at our fingertips. One of our saving graces is that it’s not convenient for (internet retailers) to get into selling plants.

I feel secure right now, but I can’t help but wonder what will be in the future. We were worried about gardening becoming less popular but now there’s a resurgence. Millennials are getting into it, and it’s fun to see. The threat is what’s bigger and might take our business away. Big box stores were a concern of the independent garden centers — how do we compete against their buying power? There are a few changes we have to make to compete, but there is a good solid place for an independent garden center.

How do you make sure your workforce is ready for the work it has to do?

We’re very fortunate to have several employees who have been working at Longfellow’s for many years. Our turnover is very low, and this helps our staff stay knowledgeable about all that needs to be done. If a new employee starts working here, our veterans are very eager to share and coach them with the skills needed. All our employees are very dedicated to the success of Longfellow’s and take a great deal of pride in their work. We also try to educate and train our employees throughout the year.

Five Questions is a new feature in Central Maine Sunday. If you are a local business and would like to be featured, contact reporter Jessica Lowell at [email protected]

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