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April 2, 2011

Shop Talk: PhytaCell

PhytaCell 1730 County Highway 18, Delhi Owner: Sally Scrimshaw Established: 1996 Employees: Four

Daily Star

---- — Shop Talk is a weekly column featuring locally owned and operated businesses. This week, we talk to Sally Scrimshaw of PhytaCell, a Delhi-based plant propagation business.

How long have you lived in the area?

I grew up in Delaware County and attended (the State University College of Technology at Delhi) for two years before leaving to attend Rutgers University for a Bachelor of Science degree in plant sciences. In 2004, I moved back to this area.

Tell me about your business:

PhytaCell propagates plants for the wholesale nursery industry. Propagation begins with taking tissue culture from a plant and dividing it into many pieces, which are then grown into a duplicate of that original plant. PhytaCell is not anything like what someone might imagine as a plant nursery _ it is a sterile lab setting with many lights and shelves of tiny plants growing in petri-type dishes. My customers can be from anywhere across the country.

Describe a typical day in your business:

The day begins with getting shipments ready, packaging plants up. A large part of my day is usually working on new projects, problem-solving, compliance issues, payroll and customer relations. I am the backup person when an employee needs to take the day off _ I am available to step into any part of the process when needed.

The typical day of business starts with employees arriving and setting to work the steady-handed process of multiplication (or cutting) and rooting of the production stock. I have a person that comes in one day a week or more often if necessary specifically to make the plant medium _ the clear gel that (the plants) take root in it.

How did you get started in this line of work?

It has been a process! I love agriculture and worked for several years in a plant research company before deciding that I wanted to move back to this area. I thought about farm businesses and realized that I don't know enough about farming so I decided to stick with what I know.

I know how to do plant tissue culture propagation and then had to learn about starting and running a business. If I were the sole "bread winner" at the time, I would not have made it. I bought used equipment and scraped together enough to start on a shoestring without loans.

Where do you see this business in five years?

I want to keep my employees working. Expansion is not a plan _ I want to take care of the people I've got working here and make a living for myself.

Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:

There isn't a single moment in time, thankfully, because what is memorable to me are the times when I can give my employees bonus checks.

What have you learned from your work?

Owning your own business doesn't allow you to rest on your laurels _ you have got to keep up with the trends and look for better and more efficient ideas. I have learned that sometimes you have to take risks, go out on a limb. Another important lesson I have learned is to listen to suggestions, be open to ideas.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

I think that scheduling is a challenge since I have busy and slow seasons. I need to keep my people busy and working during the slow times so I don't lose them. Working with live material, there is always the challenge of keeping my quality consistent.

The most enjoyable?

Giving my employees bonuses _ this is an incentive program that I have so when the business makes money, my employees get a share of that success. When they get a bonus, (that) means things are going well.

How do you define success for your business?

Profit is good, but happy customers is first. If they are not satisfied, then they do not return or spread the positive word about my business. Happy customers means that they will not only return but spread the word so that I can make money and keep the business afloat.

What are some advantages as well as drawbacks of doing business in this area?

The main advantage to doing business here for me is that I like it here and my company is not really location-specific.

The drawbacks are the federal government's compliance regulations and the challenge of finding employees. It is difficult because the work that I provide is not for everyone and there are not a lot of people in this less populated region that will fit into this type of workplace.

What sets you apart from your competitors?

My competitors are not local and not even in New York state for the most part, my competitors are a distance away, and I set myself apart from them with very high-quality, precise work.

What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?

My advice for any employers: Forget the praise, give them a raise. This is something that I have learned that has made a big difference in my work, giving my employees a share in the success of the business is a great incentive for positive attitudes and good work. Someone entering this field of work would need expertise at a similar company along with learning how much to charge based on time and expenses.

Shop Talk interviews are conducted by Terry Hannum. For information, call The Daily Star at 432-1000, ext. 217, or e-mail