An Apple A Day

The idea of an apple a day was great, but an apple a day, every day for thirty years was better . . .

This editorial originally appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Industrial Distribution. To view it in its original format, click here.

We moved into our house in July of last year, and at that point the summer weather was made up of those wavy lines of humidity that produce nothing more than dry grass and sap your ability to do more than unpack a few boxes.

Since we missed the entire “growing season,” I was unable to utilize much of our long, narrow overgrown lot for the garden I’d been longing for in the years of apartment living that preceded this.

Being rooted in Madison, WI means that many fruits are eliminated from contention; our winters are cold enough to break spirits, so you can imagine what they’d do to a peach. Therefore, I was pretty excited when we came across some young nursery apple trees at our local gardening center a few weeks back. We asked a few questions and discovered that apples need cold weather for their period of dormancy. They might like it here! My head filled with visions of beautiful Galas everywhere, enough that I could ditch my fruit bowl and go straight to the backyard. The idea of an apple a day was great, but an apple a day, every day for thirty years was better.

As it goes with any major project, I was quickly cut down to size after doing some cursory research. Looking into this further, I learned that growing apples can take years and years, and even then the seeds may not germinate. The related websites cautioned the amateur gardener on things like water drainage and “animal damage”; they mentioned soil tests and described “scaffold training,” a method for spreading the branches to prevent breakage from the weight of the fruit down the road. Now, as we looked at the prospect of this apple tree, I had my doubts. What if we do this wrong and this thing dies? What if we move away in five years, just as the fruits of our tedious labor start to show forth? The process just seemed so hard; so subject to failure. But as my mom always pointed out to me over the years every time I was poised to quit, “If it were easy, everybody would do it.”

Despite this great advice, I still couldn’t see past the time, patience, research, and luck that would all contribute to whether my long term apple project would be a success. It’s here that I began to think about all of the investments readers like you have made into projects within your own businesses — ways you wanted to see your business grow, while knowing that it might take years for the seeds to actually sprout. By the time the fruits of your labor would actually come, who knows where you’d be? But many of you tried anyway, and that’s because good strategic planners don’t shy away from initiatives they want and are pretty sure they can support.

And just like gardening, the cyclical nature of the business will always make everything something of a crapshoot. In fact, it’s so hard to look at this industry, its initiatives, and sales cycles as a snapshot, frozen in a time vacuum. This is why we hope you find value in the 65th Annual Survey of Distributor Operations and its ability to track relevant data and compare it over the last decade. It's inspiring to see where trends start as small seedlings and grow over the years to the point where they bear fruit.

I still haven’t made my mind up about the apple tree, but I think if I take a season to think it over, I’ll be putting myself a year behind. While this opportunity still requires some critical questions be asked, it won't be due to fear that I don't move forward. Some of the most inspirational results of this year's survey reflect the industry's ability to embark on the path to new goals, whether the weather out there is great, or bleak and cold enough to kill a peach. Either way, some things are just worth a shot. Thirty years worth of apples is a pretty good incentive, after all.