By Jacki Hart CLP

Prosperity Partners program manager

Every business needs a bright future in order to keep all the players inspired. A shared, common vision will help drive the best teams forward to consistent success. But, what happens when for the owner (or leadership) decides enough is enough? A common question I am asked in the Prosperity Partners Program, is “How do I grow my business toward the next owner?”

Although succession planning is a complicated process, there are some basics to understand. One of the hard realities is that if you are the heartbeat of your business who guides the major decisions (and the often micro-managed minor ones), the real value of your business without you is most likely a lot lower than you think, or hope. Without YOU, would the business operate as profitably? If not, what specifically do you contribute, that a new owner would have to commit to and be capable of, in order to ensure similar profits and customer loyalty? What is your brand and would it survive without you?

These are tough questions, and the answers often unfold a harsh reality for some who have passionately built a business through his career, which can last 20, 30, or 40 years. he or she always planned to retire comfortably, that is, until the decision is made to sell. Often, ‘solopreneurs’ and small businesses will wind down rather than be sold for a healthy nest egg. Selling a business is not like selling a piece of real estate. A business is a tough entity on which to place a monetary value. The owner’s contribution, along with key staff (and the likelihood of them staying through an ownership transition), is part of the successful formula.

We are working on developing some comprehensive resources for those wondering about how and when to retire, and with what return they can expect to receive.

This month’s feature company, Peter Knippel Nursery in Ottawa, is currently navigating its way through the challenges of a transition between parents and children. Both new owners, Marty and Kennedy Johnston, are participants in the Prosperity Partners seminars. They have each brought something a bit different from the program to the table in their business development. These two brothers are working hard to strike a balance between honouring and adopting the success the previous generation have had establishing an excellent and solid business, while trying to incorporate fresh ideas, innovation and technology along with their own style. It’s a tough process for parents to see kids wanting to change things in ‘their’ business, and it's tough for kids to follow the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ adage – what is it specifically that has contributed to the success and foundation of the business (that shouldn’t be changed), and what would benefit from change to take the business to the next level.

Company profile: Established in 1978 as a retail garden centre, Peter Knippel Nursery specializes in outdoor plants, annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and vines. It offers a free garden sketch service, free seminars, and an e-mail newsletter. The company serves the Ottawa area, and has 25 employees at peak season.

Here’s how Ken and Marty have answered my questions about what they learned from the Prosperity Partners seminars:

Kennedy Johnston

Q. What is your company vision?

A. To be the best garden centre in Ottawa. To provide the best plants, the best service, the most knowledgeable staff and to make each visit to the garden centre a great time.

Q. What are the core values that are ‘non-negotiable’ in your everyday business dealings?

A. Honesty, fairness, precision, hard work.

Q. What kinds of things keep you awake at night most often?

A. Keeping and building the image that Peter and Joan (my parents) have created for the garden centre.

Q. What stuck with you the most from the Prosperity Partners introductory seminar?

A. We all learn differently and must respect that about each other. Common sense is information plus experience. What is common sense for one person, isn’t necessarily for someone else.

Q. How have you been able to apply the things you learned to improve your business?

A. We have a little bit more structure now. We have regular meetings with agendas and a time limit. We stay on task and focus on getting things done.

Q. What are your next steps to improve your business, and did the program help you to clarify those steps?

A. The program makes you realize that it doesn’t matter what personality type you are, you can still be a success. What it really drives home is that you had better understand your core values, and where your natural talents lie, so you know where you are really strong, and where you have blind spots that may need help in order to achieve your business and personal goals.

Marty Johnston

Q. What is your company vision?

A. Peter Knippel Nursery is trying to provide our loyal customer base with excellent plants, advice and a unique shopping experience.

Q. What are the core values that are ‘non negotiable’ in your every day business dealings?

A. Honesty, integrity, happiness, teamwork, ambition.

Q. What kinds of things keep you awake at night most often?

A. Implementing change without sacrificing the core values that established the success of the company.

Q. What stuck with you the most from the Prosperity Partners Introductory Seminar?

A. Identifying change and setting short and long term goals.

Q. How have you been able to apply the things you learned to improve your business?

A. We have created checks and balances in regards to staff concerns, attitude and training, and developed ways to integrate the great ideas they may have. I am really clear now that we are in a business focused on both people and plants.

Q. What are your next steps to improve your business, and did the program help you to clarify those steps?

A. Yes, the program contributed to improved communication amongst the four managers (my brother, parents and me). The program helped push us each to clearly state our personal and professional goals. This way we have an aligned clear vision, clarifying where each of us is strong and how to balance the gaps.

Marty and Ken are not the only business partners to join the Prosperity Partners program. There have been many couples also, who together have participated in the seminars. I recall one spouse calling me on the telephone when she returned home to say that she and her husband, on their two-hour drive home, had their most focused and productive discussion about their business (which they are succeeding from her parents). Whether power struggles and differing opinions are between business partners, business partner spouses, or business partner families, the Prosperity Partners seminars help to clarify whose strengths lie where, and how to define a common vision to stay on track, focused and working TOGETHER toward a common goal.

Check for the upcoming fall information sessions and winter seminar schedule at your local Landscape Ontario chapter.

Jacki Hart CLP may be contacted at