What an amazing experience…. My internship at Ball Horticultural is over and I’m amazed at how fast the 10 weeks flew by. Looking back, it is amazing how much I did and accomplished. I think that perhaps my favorite part was being treated as an actual employee at Ball where people listened to and respected my opinions and ideas.
Presenting on my project to the Executive Committee and upper management was extremely intimidating yet exciting. I was able to present on a real project that was useful to my industry, and I had a passion for a presentation that I haven’t ever experienced in school. It was also very interesting to listen to the other interns presentations regarding their projects. I was blown away by everyone’s presentation skills and fresh ideas for the company.
Perhaps the one thing that I will carry away with me is the hug I received from Anna Ball, the CEO, on my last day. It sounds simple, but I had some very insightful conversations with her over the course of the summer. That hug before I left showed that she wasn’t a hard-to-reach CEO, but a real person who cared about me and the other interns and the future of the industry. She was real, down-to-earth, and showed me that a good business leader should be approachable to everyone in the company.
Ball Customer Day was astounding. All summer, the garden crew and two interns (known as Intern 1 and Intern A) prepared the Gardens at Ball for this event. Thousands of plants and 1,871 containers (as counted by Intern A), filled the gardens ready to great the 1,100 visitors from all over the world. Boy did they deliver!
Since one of Ball’s primary positions in the horticulture supply chain is that of a seed wholesaler and supplier, they open the gardens once a year for all of their customers that produce greenhouse plants. This gives their customers the chance to come to the gardens and see new 2018 varieties, speak to Ball Seed reps, tour the seed labs, and learn new market trends. Sometimes, if they move quickly enough, they may even get the chance to say a quick “hello” to Anna Ball herself–current president and CEO of the company.
As an intern, my task was to basically walk through the gardens and help out as needed with any questions. The weather was gorgeous, and I loved being outside of the office for the day. The sense of joy and excitement of the visitors was infectious as they exclaimed over plants I had seen multiple times this summer. It brought me back to exactly why I’m in this industry: the sense of joy and happiness that colorful plants can bring to the world, one seed at a time.
It’s amazing how time flies and that I am already halfway through my 8th week at Ball Horticultural. I’ve been very busy this past week finishing up my project for the sample program. Most recently, I created a survey for the participants of the program and responses came rushing in!
The survey was kept short to increase the likelihood of responses and consisted of questions related to plant health, growth, and overall performance. It also covered questions about the likelihood of buying the plant they sampled before and after participating in the program. Not surprisingly, most responses conveyed the fact that consumers were not very likely to buy the plant before they participated in the program and much more likely to purchase the plant after they had participated. One result that was very interesting to see was with Megawatt Begonia. Over 90% had said they were dissatisfied with the plant upon arrival and wouldn’t purchase it, but did a complete 180 10 weeks into growing the plant. Now, they would purchase, recommend, and were extremely satisfied with color, growth, and performance. I also included an open-ended question asking what they liked about the particular plant. Color and ease of care were the two highest mentioned traits.
This information will be very beneficial to the companies that participated in the sample program through GrowIt Mobile. They will be able to use the information for future marketing campaigns, advertising at the retail level, and even pricing that consumers are willing to pay. It has been very exciting to work on a project that is actually useful for my industry.
What a week! Ball sent all 11 interns to Columbus, Ohio to attend Cultivate17 (perhaps the largest trade show in the horticulture industry). I got to see the entire workings of a trade show; including set-up and tear-down. Let me just say, it takes way longer and is a much more coordinated effort than I thought. Ball had several booths for the show: Darwin, Ball Seed, Ball FloraPlant, Nature Fresh, GrowIt, Burpee, and Selecta. Setting up Ball’s booths took us a total of two days.
Thankfully, we were able to have a ton of free time during the convention and I took full advantage of it. I had a list of speakers I wanted to attend. One was Dr. Bridget Behe from MSU. She has done extensive research on the consumer and retail side of the horticulture industry. While merchandising aisles and displays is common place within the food industry, it doesn’t occur on nearly the same scale within garden centers. Dr. Behe has shown that consumer buying habits are the same across the board and discussed different floor layouts of garden shops and greenhouses to ensure customers walk every pathway.
I also was able to get some major networking done. My good friend from MSU was one of the elite Hort Scholars at the event, and he was able to connect me with a graduate student of Dr. Charlie Hall. I was expecting just a quick, two minute introduction, but instead Dr. Hall sat and spoke with us for 45 minutes. I learned to always be prepared with questions because I was empty-handed and froze from the panic! I also met major marking managers at companies such as Sakata Seed, Suntory, and Plants Nouveau.
All in all, Cultivate was a huge success. While I was exhausted at the end of the week, I am so grateful to have had the chance to attend such a major conference.
This coming week, Ball Horticultural Company is sending all twelve interns to Columbus, Ohio. For 8 days, we will be attending Cultivate’17. Previously known as OFA Short Course, Cultivate is a trade show and educational conference for the horticulture industry. It is put on by AmericanHort and features speakers from around the world and even boasts a trade show with over 700 exhibitors.
As interns, part of our tasks will be to assist setting up multiple booths for Ball Seed, Darwin Perennials, Ball FloraPlant, and PanAmerican Seed. Additionally, we will be tasked with the care of the flowers as well talking to attendees regarding the company’s products. Thankfully, since Ball wants us to learn while we are there, we are able to attend different learning sessions.
I have a strong interest in the retail sector of plants as well as consumer behavior, so much of the classes I will be attending fall under the retail track. Dr. Bridget Behe from MSU will actually be presenting two different sessions. Both of hers are regarding consumer behavior and how marketing and layout can in the greenhouse can affect their buying habits. Additionally, there will be a networking session one evening for “emerging professionals” in the industry. I am looking forward to meeting some recent college graduates and other young professionals in this industry.
My internship is at a global company, yet it often feels like a large, extended family. There is an openness here that I wasn’t expecting. You might be wondering what I mean by openness. For example, I am able to freely knock on the door of a top executive’s office and know that, if they have the time, they will gladly speak to me for a few minutes and answer questions. Last week, I reached out to the president of Ball Horticultural and asked her if it was possible for us to meet. Thankfully, I had already met her in the café when I was less than 5 minutes into the official start of my internship. Anna Ball was more than happy to meet with me, but it didn’t go quite as I had expected.
I was actually prepared for our meeting with several questions. I wanted to ask her how she prepared to become president of her family company, what challenges she has dealt with that she wasn’t expecting, and even the impact she hoped to leave on the industry. We actually never touched on any of those questions! While our conversation was limited to thirty minutes, we discussed many things such as my studies at MSU, my plans for the future, and the recent purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon.
The purchase of Whole Foods led into a really intensive discussion. We discussed how Amazon is testing their cashier-less stores and how the acquisition of Whole Foods could lead into a totally new enterprise of online food shopping and quick and easy shopping. The world online has led many of today’s generation to become accustomed with rapid delivery, and Anna brought up the idea that Ball Horticultural’s current next-day delivery policy may one day become too slow. She and her board are already considering ways to deliver plants to consumers in a matter of hours!
Even though my meeting with Anna Ball didn’t result in any of my prepared questions being answered, I love that I was able to have a relaxed, normal conversation such an influential woman in my chosen industry.
With everything that has been going on, I feel like I should be further along in this internship than just three weeks. I’ve attended multiple lectures on the background of Ball, their supply chain, the history of production horticulture, and most recently Darwin Perennials Day.
Darwin Perennials is a subsidiary company of Ball Horticulture. They are a supplier of cuttings, young plants, and seed to partner growers of Ball. Yesterday, they held their annual even in the trial gardens. Darwin invites greenhouses, suppliers, and other companies to view the new or improved perennials within Ball Seed Gardens. It gives growers the opportunity to see a plant in person before purchasing it December for the next year’s season.
Ball Seed Gardens
Aside from viewing the plants, there were multiple companies of greenhouse supplies in attendance. There was a plant tag provider, growers and other trial gardens of Ball’s products, production machinery, a plastics company that made pots, and irrigation companies. Multiple Ball Seed sales reps were also in attendance for the training meetings being held in the office center. It was a great networking opportunity for me, and I even scheduled a future job shadow with the sales rep back in Michigan.
The vendors at Darwin Perennials Day
Ball Horticultural Company has a very large focus on education. This is education of youth, their suppliers, growers, and employees. It also covers their interns, so all 12 of us were involved in several tours and meetings this past week to educate us on different aspects of the company. My favorite tour of the week was when we got to tour their production and research facility in Elburn, IL.
Ball Horticultural owns several other business and one of those is PanAmerican Seed, a supplier of ornamentals and vegetables. PanAmerican Seed, perhaps best known for CoolWave Petunias, in Elburn also conducts research, in house breeding, and field trials. They have several ongoing field trials that we were able to tour as well as a trial with hydroponics.
Aside from learning about their recent research, we learned how the discovery of the genetically modified orange petunias have been affecting them. If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to, a Finnish company discovered that a particular variety of orange petunias that had been released onto the market unknowingly had come from GM origins. This causes an issue within the EU where GM products are not allowed as well as the US which requires a permit when selling a GM product. Ultimately, the government came to the decision that the orange petunias must be removed from the market. Greenhouses, suppliers, and breeders are now in the midst of testing and removing every variety of petunia on their grounds to determine if they are related to the orange petunias.
At PanAmerican Seed, the petunias are currently sitting in a greenhouse where they are waiting for a break in the planting of ground trials in order to dispose of them. Disposal requires either burning or burial a foot under ground as well as paper and photo documentation as proof. It has been interesting to hear of the GM orange petunia discovery from the marketing and sales side and now to see it first hand from the research and supplier side.
After I received the phone offering me an internship with Ball Horticultural Company, moving to West Chicago was at the front of my mind for weeks, so it’s hard to believe that I have been here for just over one week already. My position is officially titled Market Research and Product Development Intern. However, from my very first day, upper management made it clear to each of us that we were not “just an intern,” but were considered an employee of the company. This statement, rather than terrify me, has actually given me a boost of confidence in my position, myself, and my project. My official project for the summer will begin next week, so I’ll keep that quiet for now.
My internship at Ball is with the GrowIt! phone application. Its main goal is to connect plant enthusiasts with one another through sharing photos of their plants, let users see what plants are being grown in their area, as well as get plants identified. GrowIt! is also branching out with Bluetooth enabled tours in local botanical gardens, and this was what I spent my first week working on.
The Toronto Botanical Garden’s tour will be rolling out next week. As a user walks through the garden with the app, the area they are in will light up on the map and they can then click the section to see what plants are growing as well as information regarding those plants. I was tasked with ensuring that all of Toronto’s plants were entered into the database in time for the tour. While it was mundane, I enjoyed learning many of the binomial names of the plants since I have not taken a plant identification class like most horticulture students.
My first full week was rather slow since I spent most of my time learning about my project and working on the Toronto tour. However, I am settling into my role quickly and have made many connections within the company already. I am certainly ready to hit the ground running next week to begin working on my official project!