Data Gandalf's Growing Revolution, w/ Gordon Rowe III

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Gordon Rowe III's nickname among his peers is The Gandalf of Data, and for good reason-he's truly a wizard when it comes to the unconventional tools that he uses. What he does with the 2010 version of PowerPivot will blow your mind! He works in the nursery and horticulture space with North Creek Nurseries. Gordon knows his woody plants...and his DAX!

References in this episode:

The Excel Addict

Longwood Gardens Highline Gardens in New York Rob's Scatter Chart Blog Post Episode Timeline:
  • 4:50 - Gordon's plant-based journey, the wonder of discovery through PowerPivot and DAX, and how Gordon was (and still is) excelling despite using older tools
  • 29:30 - Why NOT Power BI for Gordon? More problems for Gordon to solve, and the cannabis industry
  • 48:25 - North Creek Nursery history, the state of P3 Adaptive, the nursery industry during COVID, and data artistry
Episode Transcript:

Rob Collie (00:00:00): Hello friends. Today's guest is Gordon D. Rowe, III. GDR III, as we call him sometimes. I've known Gordon for at least eight years. We met over the internet during the earliest days of my blogging. And there's something truly remarkable and beautiful about this human being. I'm going to say something that sounds dramatic, and I do not say it lightly. I don't think anyone personifies the Power BI spirit more than Gordon.

Rob Collie (00:00:30): On one hand, he has this distinctly every man quality to him. He's in the trenches. He's humble. He deeply connected to the human beings around him. And at the same time, there's this can do spirit to him. This ambition, this powerful idea that we can do better. No one ever gave Gordon a badge that said leader on it. He was on the front lines and he just rose to the occasion. It's been super gratifying for me to watch Gordon over the years, how much he's changed his own life, but also how much he's changed and improved the lives of people around him.

Rob Collie (00:01:11): I really just don't think that stories get better than this. And there's a punchline. This person who personifies the Power BI spirit as well, or better than anyone doesn't even use Power BI. Gordon has been stuck for almost the entirety of that journey with the 2010 version of Power Pivot and he's been killing it. This poor guy doesn't even get to use Power Query. He is finally just now getting access to the more modern tools and it's like, "Okay, stand back." I think everything I've said in this intro will shine through when you listen to the conversation. The chat takes some very interesting turns.

Rob Collie (00:01:52): This guy works in the industrial wholesale horticultural nursery industry. He uses [DACs 00:01:59] to grow plants. Of course I had to ask him about the impact of the exploding cannabis industry in the United States. He doesn't grow cannabis, but spoiler alert, cannabis is so strong. It even impacts people who aren't growing it. I was part of this conversation, but even I am excited to listen to it. So let's push play.

Announcer (00:02:22): Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please?

Announcer (00:02:26): This is The Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast, with your host Rob Collie and your co-host Thomas LaRock. Find out what the experts at P3 Adaptive can do for your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Raw Data by P3 Adaptive is data with the human element.

Rob Collie (00:02:50): Welcome to the show. GDR III, Gordon Rowe, how are you today?

Gordon Rowe III (00:02:55): I'm great. How are you doing Rob?

Rob Collie (00:02:56): Fantastic. You and I talked about doing a podcast a long time ago, and here we are. We're finally doing one.

Gordon Rowe III (00:03:03): Yeah, we did.

Rob Collie (00:03:04): For those listening, Gordon here is one of the OG crew. He's been around the Power Pivot and Power BI thing as far as I can tell, since damn near the beginning. He's one of those early crazies. I was just telling someone today about how the people that flocked to this stuff like in the early 2010s, ironically, I knew that it was a big deal because I had walked my particular path in my career. It was easy for me to understand how I could see something like this as being a really big deal.

Rob Collie (00:03:32): But as I look back years later, I wonder about y'all, the others who hadn't walked that path. How did you guys know? You guys are just crazy. The OG, that first wave, just nut cases. What's up with you?

Gordon Rowe III (00:03:44): How did I find Power Pivot? I was the subscriber way back. The first time I got introduced to Excel, I was working for the [inaudible 00:03:53] pile company, which is the largest. They had the most number of wood plant patents in the world at the time.

Rob Collie (00:04:01): Woody plant patents.

Gordon Rowe III (00:04:03): Woody plants, yeah. Roses. They're a big rose company, and I got my first copy of Excel because I had to publish our availability for the salesman in it, and I didn't know anything and I signed up for this newsletter, The Excel Addict, Francis Hayes.

Rob Collie (00:04:19): Okay.

Gordon Rowe III (00:04:19): I had some problems along the way, just figuring some stuff out and he called me back. I emailed him and he called me back. This would've been like 1998, '99. And then in one of his newsletters, he talked about [Chandu 00:04:37], I believe, and you had like three little sub classes in the Chandu course. It was many years down the road, but I was like, "This would be good. I've taught myself all these little bits and pieces. I should take a course and learn the rest of the stuff."

Rob Collie (00:04:56): Learn all the things.

Gordon Rowe III (00:04:57): Learn all the things. Yeah, exactly. And I had to lobby heavily to spend whatever it was, like probably 600 bucks or something was ridiculous. Because we're dirt poor farmers, making low to no margins every other year.

Rob Collie (00:05:11): You're telling me that there isn't just an absolutely gangbusters intellectual property business around these woody plant patents?

Gordon Rowe III (00:05:18): Oh they have gangbuster. But this was like I had moved on and was at another nursery, and nursery industry is largely like a lot of farmers are, it's feast or famine. They have like bumper crops and bumper years, and then they lose money the next year. So it's like a break even over time kind of detail. And I successfully lobbied to take that course. And in there I discovered Power Pivot, and after that first introductory class, I remember going to Tim, our COO and saying, "This shit is going to blow the effing doors off of data for us. I can't imagine. I can't even comprehend what I'm going to do with this."

Rob Collie (00:06:01): And what did he say?

Gordon Rowe III (00:06:02): And he's like, "Get to it." And I got cut loose because I needed to layer music and smoke freely and do all, yell and talk to myself and curse and there was no way I could do that in the office setting and I went home. And I was buried at home for, I don't know, like two months, two and a half months. I was just like, I'd go to work and be like, "Look at what I got." And there'd be a grid with sales data. And I'm like, "It's not right yet. I got to filter this, this and this out."

Gordon Rowe III (00:06:33): And what really, really catapulted me is that I struggled with calculate and some date stuff, and I was probably like four weeks into it, and I really wanted that time intelligence. That's huge for us. I reached out to you. Your email address was like footnote in the Chandu thing. And I sent you a model and you replied. I still have that email. I cherish it. Because you said this was actually tricky. Your date was coming in from SQL as a text field, so I had to change it to a date value in here. And it should work for you now, and you were like, "That's nursery data. Pretty cool. The first time I've seen that."

Rob Collie (00:07:20): And I think the last, actually. I don't think I've, other than you.

Gordon Rowe III (00:07:25): Yeah, I asked you for plants and ended up sending your dad some stuff.

Rob Collie (00:07:30): Yeah, my dad, you're just like, "Hey, do you like growing stuff?" And I'm like, "Hell no, but my dad does." And so you sent some seedlings, right?

Gordon Rowe III (00:07:36): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:07:37): To my dad. And he planted them. My dad's got a heck of a yard up in Boston.

Gordon Rowe III (00:07:42): That's where it began for me.

Rob Collie (00:07:45): That was back in the time when people would send me stuff like that and I actually had time to respond, oh a new puzzle. Let me get after that. And oftentimes it would turn into a new blog post or something like that. I'd anonymize the data in a way to conceal what the actual business problem was. But just to extract the pattern and stuff. It was actually difficult for me at some point to stop answering those brain teasers people would send me. That was one of the things I enjoyed the most and I just ran out of time eventually. So it's cool that we crossed paths when we did.

Gordon Rowe III (00:08:14): Yeah. It only makes sense that that'd be the natural progression for you. And I just converted, it took us forever, so I've been working on Excel 2010 since then until the last two months, three months.

Rob Collie (00:08:28): You've been stuck in the 2010 version of Power Pivot.

Gordon Rowe III (00:08:31): I've been stuck in the 2010 version of Power Pivot since 2013. My first models are dated this 2013 and-

Rob Collie (00:08:39): Wow.

Gordon Rowe III (00:08:39): ... I've been stuck there.

Rob Collie (00:08:41): So you don't even get the good Power Query?

Gordon Rowe III (00:08:43): No, no. I just got them all converted. I have one left that I'm... because we migrated the servers, everything, so I just have one model left to repoint, clean up and then it's so bad. The shit I did back then was the stupidest, rookiest, worst shit ever. I was trying to get rid of a today table that I created, so that I could have today's tape. And I wrote some form in this one dashboard. I have no idea. I'm like, "How am I going to get around this?" Couldn't figure it out.

Rob Collie (00:09:18): Well, you know that rookie shit you're talking about?

Gordon Rowe III (00:09:20): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:09:21): Was a world beater. That's the weird thing. Is that you can keep getting better and better at this stuff over time at Power BI, or in your case, Power Pivot 2010. You can keep getting better at that for a long time. It turns out eight years and you look back every six months at what you did six months before and go, "I was so cute back then. Look at how clumsy I was."

Rob Collie (00:09:42): But that thing that you did that you're making fun of was amazing and is amazing. It still is amazing. It's a gift that we can keep getting better like that when what we're looking on and laughing about was actually really good.

Gordon Rowe III (00:09:56): Yeah. It's great to see. I had these measures of trees, trees of measures in there that it's... I don't even know what I was trying to do anymore. I'm so far removed from it and trying to figure out, this is what I need to go edit now in this thing. I can't wait to rip this apart and rebuild it. Because I've had a lot of that stuff from home.

Rob Collie (00:10:20): What have you upgraded to? The joke is like, you upgraded to Excel 2011. There is no such thing. This will be the most incremental possible upgrade.

Gordon Rowe III (00:10:29): I got us to drop a bunch of cash, replace 15 machines. We had a Windows 98 machine somewhere still functioning. And so we got Office 365 Business Pro, whatever.

Rob Collie (00:10:46): There's probably about three more words in the names of that license unit.

Gordon Rowe III (00:10:49): Yeah.

Thomas LaRock (00:10:50): E3.

Gordon Rowe III (00:10:50): We're not E3. We're just below the E3.

Rob Collie (00:10:55): E2.9.

Gordon Rowe III (00:10:57): Yeah. Whatever that is.

Thomas LaRock (00:11:00): I want to ask, so why are you stuck? If you're on 365, you shouldn't be stuck.

Gordon Rowe III (00:11:06): Because I've just been in the middle of a two-month implementation, like migrating email, migrating onto SharePoint, figuring that all out, dealing with people that have a tough time changing from, everything looked this way and now it looks this way. And don't like, I can't do my work. Had a lot of that stuff and it's been phased.

Gordon Rowe III (00:11:30): So I'm not stuck. I'm converting the old to keep everyone going. Our nursery, we produce about eight and a half million plants every year, we have 100 employees, we grow, quote unquote, catalog. I think we have about 440 items, perennials, grasses, ferns, that we take cuttings of. We propagate seed, tissue culture, divisional items, and we grow a speculative availability that we forecast out two years now. And so it's like we're going to have a plant at this point in time and I don't just get to luxuriously sit and just data model all day.

Rob Collie (00:12:09): Damn. What a sob story?

Gordon Rowe III (00:12:12): Yeah. Jason came up and visited.

Rob Collie (00:12:16): That's right.

Gordon Rowe III (00:12:17): That guy works for NASA and he was like, "This is the most intense, intricate thing I've ever witnessed in my life. I can't believe you guys do this."

Rob Collie (00:12:27): I just can't imagine the challenge of having to call your shot two years in a advance.

Gordon Rowe III (00:12:32): Yeah, and follow through. And we have a whole crazy amount of systems to pull that off. And we rely really, really heavily on Power Pivot. When I told people like, "Your model's good, your model's good, you're going to have to wait, you're going to have to wait." People were like, "What? Okay, I have to print report and work on paper for two weeks?" "Yeah, you do. And then you're not going to have perfect snapshots here."

Rob Collie (00:12:57): All right, so now you're on the modern, most current versions of Excel. Are you using Power BI or are you still Power Pivot but just in the new version of Excel?

Gordon Rowe III (00:13:06): I'm just in Power Pivot, converting in the new version of Excel. Maybe about six months ago, I plunked down for the Italians class so I could get up to speed and I'm trying to get to where I can sit down for an hour a day and learn all the new stuff like VAR or VAR, or however you're verbally calling it. I imagine it's VAR.

Rob Collie (00:13:27): Yeah, I think I'm pronouncing it VAR in my head. You know it's one of those like, is the dress blue or not, internet things. It's VAR to some people.

Gordon Rowe III (00:13:35): forsythia, forsythia.

Rob Collie (00:13:37): Yeah, for sure. What's the data type in SQL? Or is there one in SQL that's varchar or whatever? How do we pronounce that?

Thomas LaRock (00:13:44): Well, I say varchar but some people do say car.

Rob Collie (00:13:47): How about varchar? Anybody do that?

Thomas LaRock (00:13:48): I've never heard anybody say varchar and if they did, I might slap them in the mouth.

Rob Collie (00:13:53): Yeah, it doesn't sound good. Does it? It doesn't sound cool.

Gordon Rowe III (00:13:56): I might adopt it, varchar.

Rob Collie (00:13:57): Varchar, it sounds too much like Care Bear.

Gordon Rowe III (00:14:00): It's too cutie.

Rob Collie (00:14:01): But then when you take the care or the car off the end, var suddenly becomes var. It's weird.

Gordon Rowe III (00:14:06): Yeah, that is weird.

Rob Collie (00:14:07): The English language is if nerds needed to make it weirder, but we do. So Gordon, I think no one has more of a claim to the following statement than you. There might be people in your class of this. You might have some peers. But no one exceeds you, in that this stuff, DACs, whatever the Power BI engines that happen to also be hiding in Excel, these things have changed your life.

Gordon Rowe III (00:14:34): Hugely. And not only my life but the life of every employee and their families and the web is probably, I'm guessing four or 500 people. Then our customers as well, it just goes on and on and on for me. We have a tremendous, amazing team, but without that tool and the customized tools we've built to manage that process, we wouldn't have pulled off what we've pulled off, which is six years ago when we modernized and built a new 1.3 acre greenhouse under one roof, we did a skew reduction and took that catalog list from 600 plus items down to 450, and made sweeping changes of one-day cutting, sales managers freaking out.

Gordon Rowe III (00:15:26): You just cut $280,000 of worth of revenue for next year and what's going to happen? And we're like, "We're going to grow more of what we're all sold out on that has a higher margin and make crazy money." And we've the last five years, every employee there's gotten two weeks of bonus, which is crazy. We've borrowed later on our operating line every year, paid it off earlier, took huge amounts of product of cash and sunk it back into capital improvements. And the growth has been, we were probably hovering about like 6.5 in revenue then. And we hit 8.2 this year or just came a couple thousand dollars shy of that.

Gordon Rowe III (00:16:16): We're finally starting to hire people, because we realized like, we need to staff now. Because we've just been more and more and more, and it's just been amazing watching people's lives, change.

Rob Collie (00:16:30): So cool. The sales manager going like, "Oh my gosh, you're cutting $280,000 worth of revenue. The defensive mindset is real." That's a bold change. You folks made a bold change. You're not messing around. You were not incremental in this. It takes confidence and confidence comes from being informed. Of course, right? Arrogance and confidence aren't the same thing. It's easy to, sometimes it's easy anyway, to quantify the downside. It's easier anyway. You're like, "Yeah, we're going to win." The offensive mindset. Don't look at what's going away. Look at what's going to fill that void.

Gordon Rowe III (00:17:12): Right. We slashed a total of like 1.2 million that year, based on the previous year sales history. And we fell $100,000 short of that revenue wise, but the profit margin was like [inaudible 00:17:25]. It was just insane.

Rob Collie (00:17:28): A lot of companies have a different problem. The revenues are constantly of going up, but their margin shrinking all the while, margin erosion. You talked about the revenue growth you've seen, but the margin growth that you've seen in that same timeframe is actually percentage wise, quite a bit higher than your top line growth, right?

Gordon Rowe III (00:17:47): Yeah, it definitely was throughout that. And we just started to see it shrink this past year and we're going and repeating those same steps. I just got a huge sheet of stuff I have to analyze. Huge high class problems. Like, holy shit, how am I going to pay taxes was a problem now. All of a sudden, like I got taxes to pay this year and I got to start putting them down for next year and like, whoa, what are we going to do?

Gordon Rowe III (00:18:11): And that stuff, no arrogance at all, but we were having a conversation in mid May, and I was like, "We're going to have a $747,000 bottom line this year. And Power Pivot is what allowed me to do that. And if I put back the CapEx and stuff that we did from November until the close of the year to shrink that, to get down into a lower bracket, that was our number. If I put back the bonuses and all that stuff, I was right there within a couple grand. It was just amazing.

Rob Collie (00:18:41): And you called that shot in May. It's like Babe Ruth pointing to the upper deck. You know?

Gordon Rowe III (00:18:48): Yeah. This is what you need to focus on. And then November was like, holy, I got to do this.

Rob Collie (00:18:52): That's another really cool example. Every now and then, this isn't happening so much anymore, but every now and then, people would talk about BI as a rear view mirror. Well, if you're standing in May, calling your shot for where you're going to land at the end of December and reality ends up pretty close to that, that's also a crystal ball. If you know what you're doing, the past is what we also call facts. Things that have happened, actual evidence, right?

Gordon Rowe III (00:19:16): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:19:17): If you know what you're doing, you take all the right factors into consideration, you can extrapolate pretty effectively.

Gordon Rowe III (00:19:21): You can. And we do. This is like that first model I built. The nursery industry generally does production planning in the winter when things are a little calmer for everybody, and it's like this war room, everybody hates it. They get in a conference room and there's six people, and each person has a laptop and there's a computer and printed reports and just all this stuff. And everybody's just calculating numbers and calculating numbers and calculating numbers.

Gordon Rowe III (00:19:52): And I just, the first thing I set out to build was all of that into one screen, that you got to scroll left and right a little bit to look at all the models, but I just wanted it in one spot so everybody could look at that one version of the truth and see the year over year history, look at the customer segment, look at how that year, current year was performing, have customers with sorted it in descending by grand total so that you'd get that outlier, that one customer that bought up 150 flats because we forgot we overproduced and specialed it.

Gordon Rowe III (00:20:26): I'm trying to just filter out all those exceptions. I remembered The Sarah Problem was the title. There's so many blog articles I could go back to and think about that were hugely altering to me. And whether I successfully implemented that pattern then or not, my thinking changed and the way I needed to look at things changed and how I needed to develop tools for people really changed.

Rob Collie (00:20:54): Mine too.

Gordon Rowe III (00:20:55): It's been amazing.

Rob Collie (00:20:56): I was on the same journey at the same time. And by the way, where we're talking about pronunciation, you mispronounced the name of that article. The name of that article is Sarah Problem.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:09): Yeah, I was going to ask, what is The Sarah Problem? Who is Sarah?

Rob Collie (00:21:13): Actually, Sarah Problem was the roller derby name of I think one of my wife's teammates when she played roller derby out in Seattle. My wife was Natalie Fatality. But there was Sarah Problem and Miss Fortune. Some of the names were just awesome. There's actually, I think it's international. There's an international registry of roller derby names that enforces uniqueness. You can't steal someone else's name. You have to go and register. It's an association.

Gordon Rowe III (00:21:42): Like thorough red horse names.

Rob Collie (00:21:43): Exactly.

Thomas LaRock (00:21:44): Wow.

Rob Collie (00:21:45): It's just like that. Sarah Problem was a DACs technique that would bubble up exceptions from a lower level of detail that you wouldn't necessarily be looking at. Bubble them all the way up to the top level of the report, telling you that you might want to drill down. And I didn't know that technique. The reality of it had to land on me, the need for it. And then the technique to do it came as a necessity. Heady days. Every day I could sit down and feel like I was going to discover something and then share it. It was a great time.

Gordon Rowe III (00:22:13): There was a huge like in kiss the door component.

Rob Collie (00:22:15): Yeah, there you go.

Gordon Rowe III (00:22:17): There really was just like, oh my gosh, what did I just discover? I know people in the nursery just got so sick and tired of hearing me. They were like, "Please just stay at home." Because I was like, "Power Pivot." I'd sit in a meeting and I'd just be like, "Power Pivot, Power Pivot, Power Pivot, Power Pivot. Well, how are we going to Power Pivot?"

Thomas LaRock (00:22:37): And in my world, that word was PowerShell. How are we going to do this? It's just PowerShell was always, that would be their solution for everything. That was their hammer and everything was a nail, right? PowerShell.

Rob Collie (00:22:48): Yeah. Close friend of mine got into one of our most epic, not an argument, a fight. We didn't physically hurt each other or anything, but to call it an argument would be gentle. Over him wanting to use PowerShell for everything and me saying like, "Stop." And we got vicious.

Thomas LaRock (00:23:05): I'm amazed though, Gordon, that you're doing all of that just in Excel. All that analysis is happening just inside Excel or Power BI or what?

Gordon Rowe III (00:23:13): Just old school Power Pivot up until tomorrow or the next day.

Rob Collie (00:23:17): I mean staying in new school Power Pivot.

Thomas LaRock (00:23:19): Right. But still just, it's amazing to me the amount of analysis and the business decisions being made. And it's honestly, it's just a spreadsheet. There's no database involved, there's no analytical engine going on except what's in your head. And it underscores to me how much, I guess things are over-engineered at times. You know what, we're going to do all this now. Let's go build a cube, let's get some reports done, this, that and the other. How many SAP projects have imploded after two or three years of trying to deploy something when in the end it turns out, you could have just done it in the spreadsheet. And you would've been much more effective. Just the amount of over-engineering and waste that probably goes on out there when it's just a simple solution.

Gordon Rowe III (00:24:10): I think the landing page being native Excel that people are comfortable and them having to stop running a flat prebuilt report out of the back end, out of the ERP. That they always had to go run another report afterwards. They had to sift through three reports to get to the data, get the subset, go over here, get the next subset. Okay, there's my answer. And being able to shape that for them, just find out...

Gordon Rowe III (00:24:41): I spent a lot of time walking in my observation oval, we try and practice some lean and I'm a big fan of the observation oval and looking at people work and it's watching them grab their calculator and saying, what are you doing now? Well, I have to take the production of the next three weeks and turn it into 98.6 cubic bales of soil so I can do the soil ordering. Okay, well let me make a measure that's going to convert the number of flats we're producing that week to your bales of soil and let me put it in switch so you can see it in your production plan and like, boom.

Thomas LaRock (00:25:22): Yeah, that's awesome.

Gordon Rowe III (00:25:24): It's just that we have a production forecast that manually took time studies to come up with full-time equivalence for our 12-person production line, so that converts to FTEs, and then I have conditional formatting that if it's over five and a half days, it's red, and then I'm using switch with a disconnected table so they can plug in the number of people so they can figure out if they can get that under five days, if they set up a little sideline for four people. And it's just like that kind of stuff that people are buried in the mundane. So I want to get them out there, making sure the quality's good, get them off that, the less time you're in your seat and the more you're out in the nursery, the better.

Rob Collie (00:26:11): This is the deepest, I know that we're not getting deep at all, really, but this is the deepest we've gotten into DACs ever.

Gordon Rowe III (00:26:17): Is it?

Rob Collie (00:26:18): In this podcast. And it totally makes sense. It's just working. We talk about this show as being data with a human element so we don't get in there and talk about optimizing, whatever. It's not a technical show. It's about the people. But us talking about these formulas and the way that you're using them is still just about the people.

Gordon Rowe III (00:26:36): It is. It is. In there I have it so we can switch between the dollar value of that production based on the start date or the finish date, because we have a huge range of variables and finish times based on crop sizes, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, so you can just watch this money like, how much are we putting down this week? When it finishes, what's that going to be? What's finishing next week? It's like just all that stuff is like, and I love it. It's just fun.

Rob Collie (00:27:04): A couple things, first of all, for those who are listening who are Power BI practitioners and have never used Power Pivot, something that Tom was saying that I want to make sure that is clarified for that segment of the audience. The brains underneath the hood of Power BI. Well, there is an all lap in memory database in there. It's essentially cube building without thinking about it that way, which is really how it should be done.

Rob Collie (00:27:28): And Power Pivot has that thing. It has that beast in it. We were recording the podcast with Donald Farmer, where he was talking about how the original, the MVPs in the analysis services space when they saw Power Pivot were at first scared like, "Oh my gosh, you're going to put us outta business." But once they saw the capabilities of it and the sophistication of it, they realized, "Oh no, no, no. There's a lot of learning that has to happen here." It's not just a spreadsheet. Gordon has been building collinear and memory, all that databases but without having to think about it that way. That's not what it's about. It's about the people.

Rob Collie (00:28:05): The second thing I wanted to highlight is, Microsoft, I hope you're listening. Gordon has been, also in the Donald podcast, he's talking about how this concept called the tool of choice. Tools that people walk forward, step forward and voluntarily embrace. Things that they're drawn to, that they like, as opposed to the things that they're handed.

Rob Collie (00:28:27): In a lot of ways, Excel is both. It is like mandated in a way. But the people who get really good at it develop a real strong affinity for it. It becomes part of their identity in a weird way. And the same thing is true, this wave of folks, the Power Pivot generation, if you will. But just certainly true of you Gordon, just remembering that this happens and remembering, think about all of the success that you've had, all of the tremendous change that you've worked. Not just for yourself but for all these other people that you're mentioning. You were doing that with decade old version.

Rob Collie (00:29:03): You weren't super, super bothered or crippled by the fact that there hadn't been any investment in that for a while. You were jealous perhaps maybe of all the new toys you weren't getting to play with, but you were still getting after it. And I just think that sometimes from behind the scenes, when you're working on software, you can lose sight of the successes like that. Again, it's like a decade ago. We haven't even thought about that stuff, but here you are.

Gordon Rowe III (00:29:28): But I've been at the time capsule, cryogenically frozen.

Rob Collie (00:29:32): Why not Power BI? You're making all of these. I'm leading the witness here. I think I know your answer, but are you going to be trying out Power BI in the next six months in a production capacity? Are you licensed for it?

Gordon Rowe III (00:29:44): Totally. And when Jason visited, which I think was like two years ago now probably, he was like, "You have to do this." And I got IT company to install it on my desktop. When we migrated, I deleted three as a charm, which was this Power BI file that I saved at my desktop, which is my third attempt going in there. That's when I was like, "I need to get some schooling and not spend as much time beating my head against the wall as I did before, because I need to use my time wisely."

Rob Collie (00:30:18): I'm imagining you putting together. I have no idea if this is going to be useful, but the point is it would look amazing. Using one of the custom visuals or whatnot, and producing an overhead map of your greenhouses. Color coding, conditional formatting based on profitability or demand or something.

Gordon Rowe III (00:30:35): It's funny you say that. As we produce crops, we've produced 100 flats and it is a grid from above and I've been pushing for the last four years for us to sign up with this AI company. You knew that's like cameras on rails to hammer out our loss and all sorts of stuff. And the owner of that company and I talk about the crazy game of Tetris we have to play with our space. Because our most valuable space is our empty space and cleaning, there's all sorts of stuff that has to go behind and it's Tetris across five, six acres across multiple buildings.

Gordon Rowe III (00:31:15): We have a 1.3 acre building and a two acre building and then we have all these other little buildings all over the place. And it's like, where can this fit over there and what can we move? And I want the AI to show people what to go do on that.

Rob Collie (00:31:29): That's awesome. We talk about the Tetris problem in our business. We've got all these odd-shaped pieces of project work and mapping it to consultant availability. It's something we talk about it extensively on the podcast with Kellan. But the equivalent is the old BI industry worked one greenhouse at a time. We just dedicate the whole greenhouse to one thing. That's how big the project was.

Rob Collie (00:31:52): But when you're moving fast and you're able to execute projects at a much faster tempo, now you get a Tetris problem. How do you get all of these projects into your team in a way that's efficient so you don't end up, again, with a lot of that empty space? I read a long time ago that for a restaurant, the optimal model in terms of capacity loading for a restaurant, imagine non-COVID era for this, is to always have exactly one table open.

Rob Collie (00:32:19): And that took me a little while to wrap my head about it, why would you ever want one table open? Oh I see, because you're turning people away. And if you had gotten people out of the restaurant a little bit faster, you would be able to take that next person to walk up on the seat them immediately. Is there any parallel? You said that the empty space is your most valuable space. Is there anything akin to that, like you always want one empty spot? Or if you could have your way, you'd never have any empty spots?

Gordon Rowe III (00:32:48): The perfect scenario would be the same thing where you'd have one bay open. Because you'd have no waiting waste, you'd eliminate all that stuff. Just like first thing this morning, there was a big email chain about the amount of materials that's finishing at farm A has to move to farm B before it leaves. And that two-acre greenhouse at 60% capacity right now, so there should be plenty of space, but it's all these little tiny holes throughout this whole thing.

Gordon Rowe III (00:33:20): So we have to physically move stuff where it needs to go. And nobody put into the equation that what's leaving over the next five weeks. It's like, here's what's coming to you in the next five weeks. Well, we can accommodate that but we also have this leaving, and then I was like, "Okay, let me go look at this. These are all at 50% so we could just do a east west move here to open up a clean aisle." This is what's leaving, so these two houses are the houses you should attack first.

Rob Collie (00:33:51): I'm going to have to make it so that Kellan, our president and COO, does not listen to this podcast. Because what's going to happen is he's going to hear this segment of it and he's just like disappear into a beautiful mind type of hole with a scrap board and a chalkboard and he's going to be coming back saying things like, it's the nursery problem. It's always been the nursery problem. But it sounds like such up his alley. Seriously, if he ever came to visit you, he would never leave.

Gordon Rowe III (00:34:23): Anytime. Anytime you want to get rid of him for a while, he can come up and-

Rob Collie (00:34:26): I need to clone him. I want to see what his reaction would be to seeing your operation, but then I want to be able to reel him in because we need him. We have our own problems.

Gordon Rowe III (00:34:36): Everybody has problems.

Thomas LaRock (00:34:38): Sarah Problem.

Rob Collie (00:34:38): Sarah Problem. Yes. And the answer is yes. Sarah Problem? Yes. Always, there's always a problem. Multiple actually. Think about it from an outsider's perspective. You just grow plants. How simple could it be? It's the simplest thing ever.

Gordon Rowe III (00:34:54): We don't get that. We get, it must be so nice there working with all the flowers.

Rob Collie (00:34:59): Oh, I see. It's that version of it.

Gordon Rowe III (00:35:01): It's so relaxing.

Rob Collie (00:35:03): Yeah. It turns out you've got to do battle with some very, very, very unforgiving forces. We call them physics and biology. Those things bring, like you're talking about like, oh yeah, we've got to move them from this place to that place and why. Why do we need to do that? Because of physical constraints or because we need to maintain a different temperature over here or irrigate differently over here. And by the way, different plants might require different things at different parts of their life cycle and oh my God.

Gordon Rowe III (00:35:33): All of those things and the weather. And the weather, even though we're in controlled environment, and the weather. Because cloudy days, sunny days. Getting a plant out of a greenhouse that's been 72 degrees and putting it on a truck when it's 22 degrees outside, we don't even... It's like the machine has to stop then. We can't even do that because we have to make a tunnel to get the stuff. We got heaters and it's like, okay, cross our fingers.

Gordon Rowe III (00:36:04): And then we got to disappoint people and say, sorry, week 22, 21, you're not getting your Flox Gina because they're in a second dormancy right now and we don't know when they're going to come out because we've never seen this before. So we'll cancel your order and we'll call you back. Sorry.

Rob Collie (00:36:22): Bring out the plants.

Gordon Rowe III (00:36:24): Plants sleeping. Yeah. Plants asleep.

Rob Collie (00:36:29): So you're in Pennsylvania. Is that right?

Gordon Rowe III (00:36:32): Yes. Southeastern Pennsylvania. Just a little bit above the Maryland Delaware, Pennsylvania Arc there.

Rob Collie (00:36:40): Has the cannabis revolution come to Pennsylvania yet?

Gordon Rowe III (00:36:43): Yeah, we have cannabis. It really totally messed up our industry with resources. It's shared resources, so it's like it delayed our greenhouse construction. Because we couldn't get greenhouse components and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Rob Collie (00:36:59): Because of again, the gold rush, right?

Gordon Rowe III (00:37:00): Yeah, the gold rush.

Rob Collie (00:37:03): Talk about like keys to doors.

Gordon Rowe III (00:37:04): Even though that plant was a huge part of my life for a long time, I wanted nothing to do with going into the industry. Well, it's going to cost you a lot of money to get me out of where I'm living right now. I'm at home and if you want me to go there, here's what I need. Just say no. I'm going to give you no answers.

Rob Collie (00:37:27): So there were head hunters.

Gordon Rowe III (00:37:29): I had some head hunters, yeah. I have some really good friends who are really successful in the business and they're like, "I need you. I need you. I need you. Come help me." And I'm like, "Here's what I want."

Rob Collie (00:37:39): And they should pay it, right?

Gordon Rowe III (00:37:41): They should. They should.

Rob Collie (00:37:43): They should. They just don't know any better yet.

Gordon Rowe III (00:37:44): And I just said that, and I don't want anything to do with that. That's the strangest world because it's taken a plant and put it into commodity status, and it's no different than wheat or soybeans, except it's in a really high tech environment. Illicitness of it has allowed it to have some fake value associated with it so it can... it's a huge bubble in my opinion. And I just at my age and everything, I don't want to shift gears to have to shift back and just wasn't worth it for me.

Rob Collie (00:38:18): Was you that I was talking about that the AI associated with this, all it does is optimize for color? Is it you or someone else I was talking to, these AI systems that these growers have, they give control of all of the environmental factors to that system and have it just try to match certain known good in the plants.

Gordon Rowe III (00:38:41): Yeah. That's one of those things that they're doing with that system that we've given them a down payment. We have a good faith agreement that we're going to install it. It was going to go into that big greenhouse we had. But those guys are doing really crazy stuff with that and they're even predicting yields based on data and reading bud points on the plant within. It's amazing how close they are to what they're going to get.

Rob Collie (00:39:07): We've joked a few times on this podcast and it's not really a joke. You really only find out what humanity can do, like where there's a will, there's a way. Until we start competing with each other or in professional sports or even worse, like when we're going to war with one another, that's where technology really leaps forward. We might need to add one more category to that. We really find out what we can do when there's weed to be grown, apparently.

Thomas LaRock (00:39:36): It's a license to print money. It just seems like right now, I drive past dispensaries we have and the line has been, before coronavirus, the line was, the place was just packed. Just nonstop flow of business. And it just seems like-

Rob Collie (00:39:54): It's crazy, right?

Thomas LaRock (00:39:55): ... it's just pure profit to me. There's no risk in that industry. If you secure a license, you are going to make money.

Rob Collie (00:40:05): That's like the taxi medallions in New York City until they weren't. What did they think she used to sell for? They were like, sounds like a million dollars each.

Thomas LaRock (00:40:13): Something crazy.

Rob Collie (00:40:14): The right to operate a single taxi was selling for six figures. There were even companies, that their whole business model was to assemble portfolios of these. It was trading as a financial security and then Uber came along. Those things, market for that stuff just crashed, so I tend to agree with you that there's something bubble about it. You'd think that if it was a bubble, that it would've crashed by now.

Gordon Rowe III (00:40:42): That's a good point, but I just don't see, there's a ton of money to be made, but if you got a hold of a bunch of their PNLs, you'd be like, wow, they're not making the margins they were making when they were drug dealers at all. They have all sorts of compliance they have to do and all sorts of stuff that they're doing that they may or may not have been doing. It's just an annual and it's a commodity, and if you could grow that stuff where it's dry in Mexico, let's say, and labor was super cheap and you could mechanically harvest everything and you need lights and you didn't need CO2 generation and you didn't need all these things, you could grow enough in a state, the size of Delaware probably to supply the United States for the year.

Rob Collie (00:41:27): The United States looks at Delaware, looks at you, looks at Delaware and says, "I think we can do better."

Gordon Rowe III (00:41:38): It's just close. It's small. I picked on it.

Rob Collie (00:41:40): Challenge accepted.

Gordon Rowe III (00:41:41): Yeah. Probably who knows what it is, but-

Rob Collie (00:41:44): I wonder if it's like the craft beer of business. Even now it seems like every day there's a new craft brewer reopening. With craft brewing, it's more a labor of love. Were you suggesting earlier that some of the actual illicit distributors and stuff might have gone legit?

Gordon Rowe III (00:41:58): I know they have.

Rob Collie (00:41:59): That just seems like a weird transition, doesn't it? It's like you need a whole different organization to be legitimate versus underground.

Gordon Rowe III (00:42:06): But they loved what they did and that's what they wanted to do. And they just saw, I get to do this at a bigger scale and I'm not going to go to jail. So I'm like, "Wow, I'm going to make that switch." I bet you, half of that in industry has been involved in it before illicitly in some way, shape or form. And not from being a consumer.

Rob Collie (00:42:26): Yeah. Just to give you a data point on that, I, our company, we have nothing to do with cannabis. I don't even think we have any cannabis industry clients. Not that we've gone out of our way to not have them, but my wife was thinking about doing a, some sort of wellness store at one point as a business she wanted to start. And one of the products that she wanted to carry was just CBD. Which almost has nothing to do with the cannabis industry, really. It's like a derivative. Not mind altering, none of the above. Local banks here in Indiana, a lot of them have explicit policies, that if you have anything to do with CBD, they won't make you a loan.

Gordon Rowe III (00:43:03): Totally.

Rob Collie (00:43:04): Even CBD. It's clearly not because of the compound in question. It's got to be because of some sort of cultural association, or maybe it's the knowledge that there's actually a number of shady characters in that business.

Gordon Rowe III (00:43:21): I know that I wanted to grow hemp liners. I have some local friends, farmers, they're putting in nine acres of hemp, 15 acres of hemp. Let's get into some hemp production to take one house and quick turn, make some money, help some local guys out.

Rob Collie (00:43:39): What's a hemp liner?

Gordon Rowe III (00:43:41): Just a rooted hemp cutting that you'd plant in the ground and then finish outside in your field.

Rob Collie (00:43:47): Okay.

Gordon Rowe III (00:43:47): It's what we do. We're the start of the nursery supply chain, so we sell a little inch and a half tall, inch by inch plug. A little, there's 72, 50 or 32 in a tray and I wanted to grow those for some friends basically. And one of the big hurdles was that the bank was like, "No way. No how. No loans. You can't. Not allowed. Not happening."

Rob Collie (00:44:11): Even independent of the laws. It's interesting. That got my attention and you're like something's going on there? I don't know what, but something's definitely going on there.

Gordon Rowe III (00:44:18): Those guys jump through crazy hoops for banking because federally, they still can't do... There's no regulations for them for banking. So they have hemp credit union kind of things taken. And those guys are taking cash to a hemp credit union so they can get their money, because most banks won't take them as customers. If you look into it, it's nutty.

Rob Collie (00:44:45): Sound like Breaking Bad, you've got a storage shed full of a gigantic cube of cash.

Gordon Rowe III (00:44:51): It is, it is. That's what's going on.

Rob Collie (00:44:54): That's scary. Well, I didn't mean to turn this into a-

Gordon Rowe III (00:44:57): Little weed aside.

Rob Collie (00:44:58): ... a little weed aside. I just felt like, this is something that is happening in your industry. I had no idea for instance, that you're now competing against that crazy woosh bubbly industry for basic supplies and construction and all that kind of, that hadn't even occurred to me. Didn't account for that in your Power Pivot model, did you?

Gordon Rowe III (00:45:19): No. No you didn't there, Collie.

Rob Collie (00:45:23): You could have had a slicer like, "Weed legalization." The weed legalization scenario.

Thomas LaRock (00:45:29): Yeah, wow. You really missed that one.

Rob Collie (00:45:32): Put that in your disconnected slicer and smoke it.

Gordon Rowe III (00:45:34): Did you have that one written down already? Was that on the fly?

Rob Collie (00:45:45): No.

Gordon Rowe III (00:45:45): That's great.

Rob Collie (00:45:45): This is my gift, making disconnected slicer jokes.

Gordon Rowe III (00:45:48): That's great.

Rob Collie (00:45:48): It's a very, very, very specific brand of humor.

Gordon Rowe III (00:45:52): This should be on a sticker for the 14 people that are going to really laugh at that one.

Thomas LaRock (00:45:59): Four of them are here.

Rob Collie (00:46:03): That's correct. We'd make those stickers for ourselves, which would violate one of the rules. Don't use your own product. We got other things to talk about, I'm sure. Do you have retail customers or your customers are all like the next step in the nursery supply chain?

Gordon Rowe III (00:46:26): Our customers are wholesale nurseries, upscale retail garden centers that do their own padding. And then we have a landscape plug that's a five-inch deep or three-inch deep plug that you can plant with a bulb drill directly into the ground instead of digging up space for a one gallon. So we have like 30% of the business, 30, 40% of the business goes into the plug market, which are landscapers.

Rob Collie (00:46:58): Give me an example of something that I would plant via this method.

Thomas LaRock (00:47:01): Grass.

Gordon Rowe III (00:47:02): Grasses. Like ornamental grasses. Let me think. The Highline used a lot of our deep plugs in New York, that project.

Thomas LaRock (00:47:12): Nice.

Gordon Rowe III (00:47:12): We have, there's a really nice place called Longwood Gardens here in our backyard, which is pretty world renowned place. They redid their meadow and bought a couple hundred thousand plugs from us. The 9/11 Memorial out near Pittsburgh has a number of our plugs that went into that. So it's when they're doing a naturalistic native planning. It's got that deep root system so it can go direct into the ground. You don't need a lot of irrigation because it's a smaller thing and they finish the following year. You can't really tell the difference and you have a lot less labor going into planting.

Rob Collie (00:47:48): Are there any trees that can be planted like this or is it just grasses and strawberries?

Gordon Rowe III (00:47:51): Ir's actually, the plug came from, it's a forestry tray actually that we adopted to do native grasses and [inaudible 00:48:02] in. But we don't grow trees.

Rob Collie (00:48:04): Not via plugs.

Gordon Rowe III (00:48:05): No, but when they plant where they've cut in Oregon, let's say, they use that plug tray, basically.

Rob Collie (00:48:11): This is something that I'm under direct instructions to ask you about, which is native plants. At our house, we are now on a native plant policy. We're only going to plant landscaping that would conceivably naturally have grown here. Anyway, supports the local insects and things like that in ways that a lot of times plants from different regions wouldn't. Has this started to become at all a trend that you're having to anticipate around the country, or are we the only freak shows that are doing this?

Gordon Rowe III (00:48:45): North Creek was started 33, 4, 5 years ago with the crack smoking idea of growing native perennials. That's what we set out to do-

Thomas LaRock (00:48:55): Wow.

Gordon Rowe III (00:48:55): ... at that point in time. Which was like, you want to grow ditch weeds? You're growing what? The horticulture world was all about pretty uniform, cookie cutter. And the founder, he and Steve, Dale and Steve, Dale's no longer with the company because it outgrew his vision. But that's what Dale wanted to do, was grow natives for the landscape. And it was really, really unheard of and like lunacy.

Rob Collie (00:49:25): I had no idea. Listeners out there, this was not pre-scripted. I had no idea that this just the origin of North Creek.

Gordon Rowe III (00:49:32): Yeah, this is the origin of North Creek. And if you go back and look at our catalogs, we... I said we, I wasn't even there yet, but there were those cookie cutter items that they grew because they had to have this business. But he had all these crazy oddball plants that nobody had heard of, so North Creek's been very crazy being visionaries and trend setting. Not even trend setting, doing the work ahead of time to break into these things.

Gordon Rowe III (00:49:59): Like data too. We were one of the big data... I got data and then there's a group of nurseries, there's maybe like 200 of us and we share all these metrics with each other now on a blind thing. And I gave presentations to those guys on what we were doing and watching heads explode and presentations.

Rob Collie (00:50:17): I remember you telling me that. You sent me a text one time saying, "I'm at this conference. I'm up here. I'm making presentation. I'm just watching heads explode left and right. Just boom, boom, boom."

Thomas LaRock (00:50:29): That's awesome.

Rob Collie (00:50:29): Just like a culture, that's like a society now forming around data in the nursery industry with you as one of the elder figures.

Gordon Rowe III (00:50:41): I've been called the Gandalf of data and I've been preaching. I've been preaching since 2013 and I just had somebody not too long ago call me up like, "Hey Gordon, we're moving to your ERP. I remember those data models you had. Can you help me out with that stuff, Power Pivot?" Writing it down, seeing what I'm doing and I'm like, "It's Power BI now, but you'll figure it out. Just go help yourself out. Call somebody else."

Rob Collie (00:51:02): Well, we know what your gift is going to be now, Luke, the Gandalf of data.

Thomas LaRock (00:51:09): Who makes those gifts.

Gordon Rowe III (00:51:10): I had a much longer beard then.

Rob Collie (00:51:11): Who makes those gift?

Thomas LaRock (00:51:12): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:51:13): Kylie makes those gifts. Our designer animator, extraordinaire.

Thomas LaRock (00:51:17): She does the stick figures for you as well?

Rob Collie (00:51:19): She can.

Thomas LaRock (00:51:19): Okay.

Rob Collie (00:51:20): She was not the originator of the stick figures. Originator of the stick figures is an artist in Australia, and who's done a lot of even custom work for us in that regard. I'm not writing that many blog posts anymore, so I haven't... Trust me, we still a very brisk business in stick figures behind the scenes, our team meetings. And there's others that have taken up the torch. Evan on our team has got a strong stick figure game and he brings it.

Rob Collie (00:51:44): But yeah, like you were saying, Gordon, you're talking about this journey that you've been on, reaching the point where like, "We can hire people now to do things." We've reached the same level in couple of years. We now have a full-time designer on staff. Full-time web dev, a full-time copywriter. We're able to do things now, and it's crazy cool. It's just this feeling of awesome capability compared to the old days where you had to wear every single hat, including the Gandalf hat, by the way.

Gordon Rowe III (00:52:10): How many people are you up to right now?

Rob Collie (00:52:12): I think we could probably get somewhere in the mid 30s together in a room if we needed to. Depending on how wide of a net you wanted to throw.

Gordon Rowe III (00:52:19): And if you went back to 2010, 2011, 2012, whenever your first blog post was when you were going to sit down this road, did you have any idea? What was your target then? Have you hit it? Is this beyond your wildest dreams? Where are you at buddy?

Rob Collie (00:52:38): I've got a nuanced layers of onion type of answer to this question. On the one hand, we're exactly where I wanted us to be. The kind of company that I thought needed to be created to respond to disruption of these tools. The industry's doing everything it can to not make it a disruption. And in some ways, even Microsoft is trying to not make it a disruption. As long as the money flows.

Rob Collie (00:53:02): But it is make no mistake about it. This stuff is a disruptor. You can't put this particular genie back in model. And so, the kind of consulting firm that needed to be built for this stuff, well, we're living that today. In broad strokes, yes, this is where I expected it to be. However, I thought that the world would uptake this stuff much faster than it has. It's the old joke we've made a few times on here. Like the difference between foresight and depth perception, you can be great at one and not so great at the other.

Rob Collie (00:53:30): I'm grateful though, that it has taken the world a lot longer because it's taken us a while too. I think you have to underestimate the difficulty in something to ever get into it. If you knew all the obstacles ahead of you, you wouldn't start. But we did, because we didn't know the obstacles. And so, it's a different place. It'd be really an oversimplifying and humanistic narrative for me to say, yeah, we're exactly where I thought we would be. No, there were so many problems and epiphanies and things that had to be navigated that were just completely invisible.

Rob Collie (00:54:02): In a way, it's more satisfying where we are because it was harder, way harder than I would've anticipated. And it required a team of talented people even just to make that vision a reality. I couldn't have done that by myself. It sounds like a cliche, but we didn't have enough labor power to do it. We also didn't have the right kinds of brains. All we had was my wife and I in the beginning.

Rob Collie (00:54:25): So yes, in some sense we're right where I thought we would be. No, it's been a longer and more difficult road than I ever anticipated. But longer and more difficult just makes it more validating, more satisfying in a way. So the no parts of that answer aren't negative. They're actually part of the positive parts of that answer. More podcast guests should bring their own questions. That should be something we encourage. Why does it have to always be us?

Thomas LaRock (00:54:50): Yeah.

Gordon Rowe III (00:54:51): Because I'm going to turn the tables.

Rob Collie (00:54:52): I'm bringing my own heat. That's great. I appreciate that. We didn't finish the native plants thing. I feel contractually obligated to make sure that I understand. So North Creek started out with a native plants kind of mission.

Gordon Rowe III (00:55:10): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:55:10): Have you retained that mission?

Gordon Rowe III (00:55:12): Absolutely.

Rob Collie (00:55:13): That story could have taken a turn like yeah, that was what we started. It was our roots but we... Oh, see roots, see that joke?

Gordon Rowe III (00:55:19): Yeah.

Rob Collie (00:55:19): But we figured out that was a terrible business and so we got out of it. But no, that's not the case. You've lived up to it.

Gordon Rowe III (00:55:23): No, they retained it. They had to grow some non native. They even had some annuals back then, coleus is a popular thing. They put coleus in because they could sell it. Because I brought up looking at old catalogs over the winter. We should do one of the next five-year anniversary increments. We should grow a couple crops of coleus just to bring it back because we did in the beginning.

Gordon Rowe III (00:55:45): But it's definitely the core of what North Creek is, who we are, what we do. If you came out, you'd see that in the landscape. It's the main farms on 14 acres and we probably have more landscape in Meadows and wet lands and rain gardens and stuff like that around and we do greenhouses.

Rob Collie (00:56:08): So with that native plant mission, do you supply just certain regions of the country? Is it basically like, these are the things that are native to Pennsylvania? Or do you have regional native set of targets for different regions?

Gordon Rowe III (00:56:23): It's a focus on Mid-Atlantic native, but it expands outside of that. And our customer base is, our core is definitely in the Mid-Atlantic, but we ship the whole way to the west coast, all 48 states outside of the country, a little bit here and there, Canada, and we certainly can't grow some native from the upland plateaus of Utah, but we'll consider it on a custom basis.

Rob Collie (00:56:53): Interesting. You mentioned Canada and for some reason that got me thinking about the border and then that led to COVID. The home improvement business boomed, as far as I can tell. If we just went by the metric of number of neighbors that I see with piles of lumber in their driveway, and also, I'm told the price of lumber, we did our basement, finished our basement during COVID. It was apparently the hip thing to do in this neighborhood.

Rob Collie (00:57:18): I could imagine something similar happening in the plants industry. People are just at home and they've got time. But your two-year planning cycle, I don't know how you would, even if that happened, could you even take advantage of it?

Gordon Rowe III (00:57:32): Right now if you went and looked at our availability in the current column, it's got a heck of a lot of zeros in it, which is why you'd also see a heck of a lot of crops that we have projected out for 2022 now. We've always had some of those items, because of process, we've shown two years of crops. Current, the next one that finishes at the end of the summer and then probably the next one as soon as we sell out.

Gordon Rowe III (00:57:59): But this year it's been crazy. We had at the initial shutdown, I think we had like three, $400,000 worth of business that got canceled and/or pushed out indefinitely. And then all hell broke loose. And it was just record after record after record. Normally we'd peak the end of May, June, and then things would slow down in July little bit and start to creep up in August, September, October and then another slump. And it was just like, it just kept going and going and going and going. The shipping crews never got a break. They were exhausted going into the fall this year. It was really, really amazing. We crushed some records.

Gordon Rowe III (00:58:43): And we used to have big nurseries that in the fall would book their spring orders and they might book the following year to make sure they were first in the door and had the material. And now we got Mom and Pops calling up and saying, "Do you have this?" "No, we're sold out." And they're like, "I want it next year." And we have more money on the books next year than we've ever, ever had. It's a amazing.

Rob Collie (00:59:05): I have all kinds of respect for what you do. I always have, but even more so now, you've got a very frantic up tempo day to day. And yet you're dealing with something that you can't make plants really grow any faster than you already are. The world can turn on a dime in terms of its demand, as we've seen. Biology doesn't. So are there new Power Pivot models that have come into existence because of COVID? Where has this impacted you on the data side?

Gordon Rowe III (00:59:33): In my future short term, got to get it done projects, one of the things we have like an availability that we publish every morning that has basically, it's got the plant and stuff, but it's gotten available now column, and then the next quantity and date, and then a second set of quantity and date. And we export that out of our system and into Excel and somebody probably should be running a macro but they might not. We publish that thing. It's a snapshot. I think it's a total waste because it's invalid as soon as we publish it, because somebody's bought a flat and it's no longer true.

Gordon Rowe III (01:00:10): But I'm going to do that with Power Pivot and power update so it's just there and customer service can just print to PDF. That's one thing I've been implementing, is that I always wanted to do. I've had it in folder forever, is dynamic print ranges. It's so simple, but I just started doing it for people so they don't have to highlight their print area. That's the kind of stuff that changes lives for people.

Rob Collie (01:00:36): So you're doing dynamic print ranges with name ranges that adjust?

Gordon Rowe III (01:00:39): Yeah, that adjust.

Rob Collie (01:00:41): Or calculations of where the data ends like the print range?

Gordon Rowe III (01:00:44): Yeah. You just hit print and it's perfect. And you don't have to hit Control Arrow, Left, Down.

Rob Collie (01:00:51): Some artisanal spreadsheeting.

Gordon Rowe III (01:00:53): I do that kind of stuff. It's one of the things you said, the art and the science one time. Something I made.

Rob Collie (01:01:00): The art or the possible so wide. Because of their 2010 being stuck there for so long, are you using Power Query at all?

Gordon Rowe III (01:01:08): I'm not.

Rob Collie (01:01:08): Power Query is so hard to use in 2010.

Gordon Rowe III (01:01:12): I have to get into it.

Rob Collie (01:01:13): We also just recorded a podcast with people from the Power Query team. And it's like a tripped down memory lane from me going like, "Right, there was a time when we didn't have Power Query and it was really hard. Really hard." You've been living in that, Gordon, above everything else, Power Query is where you're going to see tremendous ROI. It's like you've been given this huge gift now that the rest of us have had for a long time, but it's all almost like Microsoft just released this amazing, magical thing just for you and you're going to get to play with it and it's going to make your head explode.

Gordon Rowe III (01:01:49): I can't wait. I'm up for some head exploding.

Rob Collie (01:01:51): And you also mentioned the thing that's out of date immediately. Power BI has real time data. I'm just going to put that there. I'm just going to let it sit there for a moment.

Gordon Rowe III (01:02:00): I'm still using Power Update to refresh data models every day.

Rob Collie (01:02:03): Power Update is still, I think a one badass piece of software. I don't necessarily think that it goes away. Its utility vanishes when you start using the service to run your refreshes. Especially for the kinds of things that you've built, like a lot of heavily intensive stuff. Like you said, if you've got macros, it'll run them as part of your refresh. That's not going to happen in the Power BI service for instance.

Rob Collie (01:02:24): But the macros is what got me started thinking about Power Query. These dumps that you've got. There's also, we need to have Ash on the show to talk about the robotic process automation stuff that they're working on in Power Automate that will literally record your keyboard and mouse click strokes and things like that. And so, you got that export that you got to run from that one system. You can, quote unquote, record a script that will go and click those export buttons for you, drop the file in a particular place and then ideally hand off to a Power Query type of script.

Rob Collie (01:02:58): I've never got my hands on any of that to see if I can actually string it together in that way but I'm sure that's the intent. This is going to be when Gandalf leaves as Gandalf the Grey and resurfaces and the next movie is Gandalf the White. That's going to be you with Power Query.

Gordon Rowe III (01:03:15): I've been looking forward to it for a while. It's been finding the time and I'm at a space now where I'm going to be able to do that.

Rob Collie (01:03:21): It's waiting for you, man. It's waiting for you.

Gordon Rowe III (01:03:23): I don't remember the specific, but I remember when I was watching the train leave the station. The blogs changed and I didn't have the tools. And I would read them anyway. And then I got to a point where it was like, I can't do anything with this. I have no framework, visual framework even to make any sense of this now.

Rob Collie (01:03:45): Yeah, like the article, for example... There's many of these, but the article that I wrote about, making the football passing chart, the scatter plot and all of the Power Query that's involved in that. Even just adding the index column to that table so that every row has a ranked number on it so that I can do the jittering of the dots like your DOA. If you don't have Power Query in a technique like that.

Rob Collie (01:04:12): And by the way, now that you have Power Query and you're thinking about Power BI, I think you should go revisit exactly that article because you could do some version of the greenhouse map, just with that same scatter plot technique. Now, there's other custom visuals out there that will allow you to assign your own ranges. You can put your own graphics and it understands where the shapes are. I think you're going to find some of those visual techniques that are in Power BI are just going to do things for you that you couldn't imagine before.

Gordon Rowe III (01:04:38): As soon as I got into the SharePoint and I got into our first site when I was doing the migration and stuff, and I was reading about it and I was like, "I can embed a little Power BI report here. Right here on that page and every department would have their key metrics right there, knowing if they have to go here and drill into the next thing." And my mind's been and churning on it.

Rob Collie (01:05:02): I hope you get some 25%. I know that's a large chunk, but I think I'm really hoping that you get some 25% of your time at some point that you can carve out for a while, where you can apply some of this new stuff. It's going to go so well with the data models that you've been building. I bet you're going to find things that we've been talking a little bit on this show about the action loop. It's not just about informing people. It's about helping them take the action that's indicated by the report.

Gordon Rowe III (01:05:36): Yeah. Verb reporting.

Rob Collie (01:05:39): Even just hyperlinking them to the right place in some other system. There's so much fun putting together hyperlink columns, just with the concatenate operator in Power BI, and embedding those so that you can click through. You see the problem, you click on it, you click the link that's next to that particular place on the report and off you go. Now you're in that other system and you've already like navigated to the right ID or whatever it is where you would want to take the action. So much there.

Rob Collie (01:06:09): And then there's power apps. We need to send Kevin Overstreet to visit you. That'd be the other person whose head explodes, would be Kevin Overstreet who's also been on this show. Six months, even three months of working with Kevin and he has a day job. He works for Eli Lilly. It's not like he's going to be packing up and coming to see you for three months. But you would revolutionize again, your whole industry with the things that have been added to the Power platform that are like spokes around the data modeling core. Exciting times. Now you just need to go hire some people so you get some of that time back.

Gordon Rowe III (01:06:43): Super cool. I'm just letting go and letting people sink or swim a lot.

Rob Collie (01:06:48): How's that ratio?

Gordon Rowe III (01:06:49): And just going back.

Rob Collie (01:06:50): Sink versus swim, how much are you seeing when you let go?

Gordon Rowe III (01:06:52): People swim a lot. They swim a lot. One of the things, we hired the new IT company to handle all this stuff. Because I middle maned everything with the old people and the new people were like, "We don't want you as the middle man anymore. You got to go do stuff." So when we migrated the email over to 365, I went consulting for the day. I was like, "I'm not even going to be here so people can't even reach out to me."

Gordon Rowe III (01:07:15): And I was driving down the road. It was an hour away and I was looking at my email and I'm like, you'll have to email [Dorset 01:07:22] with that send. I'm sorry, I can't help you with that. It was like really, really liberating.

Rob Collie (01:07:28): I was reading one time about this World War II German general, who knew about the plot to kill Hitler. And hadn't turned them in, but also didn't want to support them, because he didn't want to be exposed if it didn't work, which of course it didn't. He knew when it was going to happen, when they were going to try to do it, so he made a point of just being out on this really long walk, like an all-day walk, so that he couldn't be reached, couldn't be asked for his opinion or whatever. Might not be the best of examples, but there is something to unavailability at crucial junctures, can sometimes be a very powerful tool.

Gordon Rowe III (01:08:07): How else are you going to learn? You got to get rid of the crutches.

Rob Collie (01:08:09): Also there's another example of this. We had a vice president at Microsoft and he had to give some sort of demo at three o'clock the next afternoon. And he'd been strategizing with this engineer, this guy named Kevin during the day before. And they sketched out what they were going to do in the demo and all that. They both go home. And the next day, the vice president is walking around the hallways in the morning going, "Where's Kevin? Where's Kevin? Where's Kevin?" And Kevin's nowhere to be found. Nowhere to be found. It's like Kevin didn't show up until an hour before the VP was supposed to be on stage and it was a real panic that morning. No one could get ahold of Kevin.

Rob Collie (01:08:47): And the demo went off fine, everything went great, and then afterwards Kevin told me like, "Yeah, I deliberately vanished that morning because I knew that if I was available, he'd be grabbing me and making me trying to change everything, and it would just be all this incredible stress and everything and it would just be all just a huge waste of time. And so I just deliberately ghosted." And we had no idea that that's what he'd done, but as soon as he told us, we're like, "Oh my God, that's genius."

Thomas LaRock (01:09:16): It is genius.

Gordon Rowe III (01:09:17): Total genius.

Rob Collie (01:09:18): All right, gentlemen. Well, thank you so much.

Gordon Rowe III (01:09:21): It was great.

Announcer (01:09:22): Thanks for listening to the Raw Data by P3 Adaptive podcast. Let the experts at P3 Adaptive help your business. Just go to P3adaptive.com. Have a data day!

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