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Re: A moral question

 Hey Glenn!

I'll bet you'll think long and hard before you start something like this


Bill Meyer wrote:

  Hi Andrew,
        I have to say that I find it truly refreshing when a bad guy comes
  right out and stands up for himself in front of everyone. I've really grown
  tired of the endless "Why I'm not really a bad guy" stuff that is so
  commonplace these days. I won't hold it against you that your "out of the
  closet" statement comes as you are leaving the hosta business, when there
  might be no impact on said business.
        The part about not wasting your time with "hybridizers whining about
  someone 'stealing their plants'" when they don't do enough to protect them
  was the most honest statement I've heard yet made publicly. I also liked the
  smirking about "supposedly shared morals". Believe it or not, some of us
  actually do share morals. Even some businesspeople. I never said all
  businesspeople have no morals or ethics.
         I think it pretty much backs up my point about businesspeople needing
  laws to regulate them, because morality and ethics, right and wrong, good
  and evil, and such are no part of the amoral business world in general. In a
  way, they might be considered a handicap. Until, of course, such attitudes
  become public, when they tend to affect sales. You make a wonderful argument
  that very clearly and bravely puts forth the creed of some people in the
  business world - "Get whatever you can unless somebody can stop you". The
  Law of the Jungle - no morals wanted here.
         Of course this is all moot at the retail level, since this happens at
  the manufacturing level. As a retailer, you just buy and sell. But the
  attitude is the issue. You hit it right on the head. As a hybridizer, I have
  no rights other than what I pay for or enforce myself. As a businessperson,
  you not only can but actually should stick it to me as much as you can. Give
  me the business as it were. There is no general "Code of Honor" that
  everyone follows. This same philosophy would also apply to written contracts
  in the following way if I am correct.
          First try to disarm the person you are making a contract with by
  pretending to "share morals" with them so they don't have a lawyer look it
  over. Then try to leave as many holes in there as you can to legally get you
  out of any obligations you agree to. Once signed, take full advantage of any
  tricks or loopholes that you got by them. Then tell them to stop whining
  about your "stealing" from them. That would be OK to do in the "war", right?
  All's fair in a "war", isn't it.  I'm not accusing you of doing anything of
  the kind, but I've heard complaints of such behavior about others. It isn't
  really a "war", though, is it? It's just a business arrangement. It's only
  about making a few dollars, not life or death. You can afford a little
  morality, can't you? Even if it costs a few dollars you might otherwise make
  by trashing your own reputation?
          My arguments about more public discussion affecting business in a
  positive way were not in jest. I know the words "good name" seem meaningless
  on the surface to you, but in reality they affect all businesses in the long
  run. Get yourself a bad name as an unethical businessperson, and you're on a
  downhill slope. Ethical people and businesses will deal with you only if it
  is necessary and then not if there's someone better to deal with. Other
  unethical ones will know better than to trust you, but are at least familiar
  with their own kind. I'm talking about the long run, not the immediate
  future. Business that start off as openly unethical seldom go far. This
  really applies mainly to small businesses, not the big ones that can
  manipulate the market.
          What Bill was talking about was not squeezing some money out of our
  plants before they hit the market as TC's. He was talking about the lack of
  recompense most hybridizers have received for their work in an environment
  where the laws do not require royalties to be paid. Also the dealings of a
  small number of dishonest businessmen who have cheated them with agreements
  they did not fulfill and gotten away with it because the dollar amounts are
  too small to be worth pursuing legally.
          And everybody just stop saying that all nurserymen are dishonest! I
  didn't say that - you did. I don't agree with you that they are, so don't
  include me in that one. Some I've known were scrupulously honest, including
  Chick. Others were about as honest as your average street criminal/junkie.
          One more question if I might......... Does Martha belong in prison?
  After all, you could argue that she was just maximizing her income. Morals,
  shmorals, get what you can.
                                                ......Bill Meyer

    Dear Hosta Open amigos,
    Dan, Chic, and Bill have all done an excellent job, IMO, of addressing

  Glen's original question about protecting the interests of Hosta hybridizers
  who wish to make a little money, or even a lot of money, from reselling
  their "personal" creations.

    My brief sojourn into and, at least for the near future, back out of, the

  Hosta resale business taught me a lot in a brief period of time.  I already
  knew a fair amount about business (with an MBA plus 16 years of small
  business ownership, which was much better than the MBA at giving me a degree
  from the "school of hard knocks"--THE SINGLE MOST valuable degree a SMALL
  business person can earn).  Unfortunately, I did not know a lot about the
  subtle differences that the NURSERY business provides.  I believe those are
  only learned while being IN the business.

    When we look at product life cycles, as applied to Hosta in particular,

  there are two cycles occurring simultaneously, and probably more.  The two
  readily evident ones are, 1) the market for Hostas in general, as a
  shade-tolerant perennial plant, and 2) the market for special flavors of
  this perennial.  In any market, once supply catches up with demand, and
  capacity to produce that supply develops significant excess capacity, the
  price for the product plummets.  All one needs to do is look at what
  micropropagation has done for supply and it's easy to understand why, for
  most varieties, Hosta growers and hybridizers are now pricetakers and not
  pricemakers.  The plant has become a commodity in most of its flavors.

    I believe what Bill is talking about, and certainly legitimately, is, "How

  does a Hybridizer, who invests years and years into producing something that
  is truly unique, do a little "price skimming" before the TC manufacturers
  take the plant into mass production and mega-sales through "price
  penetration"?"  This can only be done by controlling supply.  Hybridizers
  and resellers can do little to actually increase the demand (though what
  little can be done IS being done through advertising, garden tours,
  conventions, WOM, etc).

    Up until the late 80's, it was much easier for a hybridizer to control

  distribution because most plants were produced through vegatative
  propagation.   Limited supply created some astronomically high prices for
  rare cultivars and the "mystique" of the Hosta was reserved for the
  well-healed.  Probably 90% of the serious Hosta collectors were either
  wealthy or they became good at producing their own cultivars, or at trading,
  to avoid having to pay such high prices.  It was a wonderful time.  I got
  into the market just at the tail end of this "bubble".

    Now that micropropagation is occurring in China, these "rare" plants can

  be mass produced PRIOR to their introduction.  Buyers are now more aware of
  the available supply (e.g. Choo-Choo-Train was introduced with in excess of
  17,000 plants).  The available inventory from Shady Oaks has been published
  for years and now is readily available for all to see on the web.  Add to
  this the Hosta Finder and I believe we have identified the hybridizers two
  biggest enemies--more than adequate supply and relative ease of access to
  any limited supply.

    The market for Hostas is no longer local, or even regional.  It is

  national or even international.  Certainly the supply has gone global if not
  the demand.   When people know where to find rare plants, and there is some
  competition, the price adjusts accordingly.   Now that a goodly portion of
  the mystique is gone, a fair amount of the hybridizer's ability to "price
  skim" has disappeared with it.

    I think if Bill, and those many other hybridizers who, like myself, cannot

  cost justify spending the exorbitant amount of money to patent a plant would
  enter into a limited distribution agreement, reduced to writing, they MIGHT
  be able to control the supply, at least for a little while.  I think Mary
  Chastain did this recently with at least one distributor.  I don't know how
  well this worked out.  Unfortunately, other than patenting the plant, this
  is, IMO, the ONLY legitimate angle that a hybridizer can take with the
  market--controlling distribution through legally enforceable agreements.

    This is where Bill is right, IMO, that morals DO play a significant role

  in business.   Most legal agreements are only as good as the people who sign
  their names to them.   The cost of enforcing contracts is nearly as
  exorbitant as obtaining a patent because it involves lawyers.  What a
  business person really wants to do is work with people who honor their
  agreements and even that is very difficult.  Economics and issues beyond
  their control can affect ones ability to perform.  But to not reduce this to
  writing is truly a crap shoot.  I can't remember much of what I said
  yesterday, let alone a year or two ago!  To "hope" that people will somehow
  be altruistic in their business endeavors, guarding the business interests
  of others without being compensated for such protection? ... Bill, surely
  you jest.

    As Dan and Chic have so eloquently pointed out, it's not true that savvy

  business people who follow the laws are "crooks" even if the public
  perceives them to be in some intangible way.  People can't run businesses
  based on what others perceive to be the "moral high ground"--they must run
  them based on existing laws.   We ALL know customers who make unreasonable
  demands of sellers, and many of us know hybridizers who are just as
  cantakerous in making unreasonable requests on their intended, or
  unintended, distributors.

    The moral of the story is, "Business is war, and war is Hell" and, "if you

  can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen".   I did the latter, at least
  for a time, not because of any pressures from customers--Lord knows there
  are gazillions of customers and I'm sure over 98% of my customers were very
  happy--but instead because of the ungodly number of hours one has to put
  into the business in order to work themselves up to even minimum wage.
  70-80 hour work weeks during the season that translate to what one could
  make in just a few hours in other endeavors indicates either intense love
  (of the plant and the people who grow it), or a mild case of insanity.

    My conclusion was that if I was doing this for the love of the plant, then

  I could keep going, but if making a living was important, this path would
  require 5-10+ years of investment before the ball could get rolling well
  enough to call it a real business (one that generates profits).

    During all of the flurry of activity that occurs during the sales season,

  to take time to worry about hybridizers whining about somebody "stealing
  their plants" when they had not taken the steps to protect their own
  interests?-- I think Chic and Dan answered this quite well.  We all see the
  world through different colored glasses but their is only one REAL business
  world and that is the one that is controlled by laws, not by supposedly
  shared morals.

    If hybridizers want to protect a revenue stream, they must either patent

  their plants or reduce to writing their expectations for distribution
  control.  Otherwise, they are fighting a battle they cannot win.    It's not
  the nature of business to protect those who are not savvy (about how to
  achieve even a modicum of a chance at winning the war).

    Get your own family web site at     www.MyFamily.com    !
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