<b>Trees, Ornamental & Bedding Plant:</b> Improving the supply chain

Features - Supplement

All sectors of the green industry must improve partnerships to boost sales.

August 12, 2010
Kelli Rodda

Garden Gate Landscaping in Silver Spring, Md., forged a special partnership with landscape distributor Manor View Farms in Monkton, Md., to improve supply processes. Photo: Charlie Bowers, Garden Gate LandscapingThe green industry should be a unified, cohesive group. But in too many cases, the supply chain is disjointed, which doesn’t provide a solid base to build a successful industry. And whether the economy is flat or flourishing, every sector of this industry should work as a team, not as thousands of individual units.

From the plant breeder, down to the propagator, the grower, the distributor, the retailer, the designer and the contractor, everyone needs to work smarter and collectively to reach the end consumer.

“That whole supply chain is tied to one thing – the happy customer. And it’s up to all of us as an industry – an interconnection of that chain – to get the end consumer excited about plants,” says Richard Davis, owner of The Ivy Farm in Locustville, Va.

Davis is passionate about plants and their well-documented benefits, and he’ll preach those benefits to anyone who will listen. And it’s those benefits – increased property values, improved health and reduced crime – that should be on the minds of all end consumers, he says.

“We must make consumers aware that plants are not a luxury, they’re a necessity,” he says. “We have to do a better job to impart that value message to the end consumer.”

How? By unifying the industry through a national marketing campaign.

“We’re doing a poor job of marketing plants as a unit,” he says. “There are lots of brands out there, and I don’t have a problem with that. But we have to come together to get the message out about plants in general.

“When consumers understand plants’ full benefits and have success with plants, they’ll come back and buy again.”
Davis sees no conflict between the plant brands and a national marketing campaign.

“It’s for the betterment of the entire industry. How can you not be on board with that?” he says. “I’m willing to help pay for a national campaign. We need a good spokesperson and a series of ads. And not just to people on the home gardening channel. We’re not reaching anyone new that way.”

Davis would like to see organizations like the American Nursery & Landscape Association lead this charge and help pull the industry together.

Research shows that every dollar spent on landscaping equates to $1.09 in return, he said, “and the American people have to make that association.”

Steve McShane, owner of McShane’s Nursery & Landscape Supply in Salinas, Calif., sees joint marketing as an excellent cause. McShane operates a retail and landscape supply and design firm, as well as a small growing operation.

“There is a huge opportunity for the various industry segments in the supply chain to work together. And some trade associations have recognized this. The California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers have worked aggressively to bring together the various segments in order to promote plants via a statewide radio campaign and online advertising,” McShane says. “This model must be the way of the future. When we’re all pulling together it’s an easier feat to overcome in reaching the consumer and keeping them focused on and excited about plants.”

Internal Changes
For the industry to be unified and work efficiently, there are cues to follow from some of your peers. Seems simple enough, but you may be overlooking one of your biggest marketing tools – your company’s website. C.M. Hobbs, a landscape distribution firm in Indianapolis, makes sure its site is constantly updated for the benefit of their contractor customers.

“Keep your website updated. We update ours about every half hour,” says Gordon Hobbs of C.M. Hobbs. Having the latest availability online eliminates a lot of frustrations. Custom growing services can help keep the buying process efficient, and boost sales across the board.

“I have growers that are custom-growing trees for me that I can’t find on the market – not necessarily types but forms, such as Carpinus limbed up 7-8 feet off the ground,” says Joseph Hillenmeyer, owner of Joseph Hillenmeyer & Associates, a landscape design firm in Lexington, Ky.

Education throughout the entire chain is another key to everyone’s success, McShane says.

“We invite installers in all of the time for education, and we have a great program for consumers,” McShane says. “Today’s consumer wants short, quick educational snippets – that’s the added value independent garden centers could offer. Interfacing with consumers goes a long way.”

One-on-One Relationships
Charlie Bowers, owner of Garden Gate Landscaping in Silver Spring, Md., found a way to simplify his business. He implemented a just-in-time plant buying system with Manor View Farms, a landscape distributor in Monkton, Md. Residential design/build landscaping, by its nature, results in gardens that contain a broad variety of plants, Bowers says.

“Economically it was no longer possible for us to buy and store and to work from a typical spring inventory of plants. And wholesale growers were no longer interested in dealing with the rich mix, but small quantity per unit, of our relatively small plant orders. They wanted to sell hundreds of each plant, not one to 25.”

 What’s hot and what’s not

Two or more links in the supply chain can follow a simple but effective strategy – sharing consumption numbers, said Bud Eskola of Next Level Consulting.

“I tell growers to ask their distributors what they sold last year and what they are forecasting this year. I tell growers to incorporate those sales and purchasing trends into their production plans,” he said.

The same holds true for the grower-to-retailer, grower-to-landscaper, distributor-to-landscaper and distributor-to-retailer partnerships.

“It is partnering with your customer, as some Japanese firms have done so well, that eliminates guesswork, waste and inefficiency, while allowing both parties to make a profit. It is based on trust to a great degree, something that even in our ‘we all get along together’ industry is frequently absent.”

For more: Bud Eskola, bud.eskola@nextlevelconsultingco.com

Bowers approached Manor View Farms with a proposition. Bowers offered Manor View all the plant business he possibly could in return for a personal sales representative that would hand-pick plants and deliver them to Bowers on a regular basis. This partnership improved Bowers’ business systems and saved him overhead dollars. Garden Gate sends the plant list for each project to Manor View, which coordinates the tagging and delivery of the plants just-in-time.

“Manor View gets a substantial increase in business volume and we no longer stock any plants,” Bowers says. “We eliminated a plant buyer and the associated overhead of the buyer and the folks who had to water and maintain the plants for months until they were sold.

“Today plants move from our loading dock to the projects within days or weeks. We hold a crew in on Thursday morning to unload plants and we have devised an easily adjustable irrigation system. Today our plant buying and handling overhead is minimal.”

Manor View Farm entered into this special partnership with Bowers 13 years ago. Now Manor View has at least 60 customers with the same set up.

“There are some kinks to iron out when you first begin a partnership like this one,” says Damon Nock, sales manager and buyer at Manor View Farm. Nock is also Bowers’ personal sales rep. “It doesn’t take long for things to start running smoothly. Trust is a big hurdle to overcome. The designer or contractor needs to learn to trust their personal sales representative.”

For more: The Ivy Farm, www.theivyfarm.com. McShane’s Nursery & Landscape Supply, www.mcshanesnursery.com. C.M. Hobbs Inc., www.cmhobbs.com. Joseph Hillenmeyer &
www.josephhillenmeyer.com. Garden Gate Landscaping, www.gardengate.net. Manor View Farm, www.manorview.com.