Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Get Plugged In

August 11, 2010  By Michelle Brisebois

There are two ways to make more money in your business. The first way is
to sell more plants and the second way is to control your business
costs. If you can do both then you’ll have hit the sweet spot but as any
business owner is well aware, it’s easier said than done. Customers are
harder to corral and simply keeping the lights on and the plants moving
out the door takes every hour of the day.

There are two ways to make more money in your business. The first way is to sell more plants and the second way is to control your business costs. If you can do both then you’ll have hit the sweet spot but as any business owner is well aware, it’s easier said than done. Customers are harder to corral and simply keeping the lights on and the plants moving out the door takes every hour of the day. You’ve likely heard of technological breakthroughs that could make your business more efficient but you may have figured that they were too difficult and expensive to implement. It may surprise you to discover that technology is retailing’s best friend and today’s tools are easy to use, cost effective and extremely beneficial. It’s easier than you think.

There are many new forms of technology you can try in your garden centre to make it more efficient.


If we examine the top end of the growth equation first then it’s all about increasing sales. Any retail Information Technology (IT) strategy needs to support the business’s goal to improve footfall into the store and to effectively convert shoppers into buyers. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a genie to tap your customers on the shoulder with offers that make them want to come to your store? Ask and you shall receive. RYCOM are the owners and operators of Canada’s largest payment transaction network and they are currently preparing to pilot a technology called Hip Mobile that allows retailers to send specific offers and notices directly to the smart phones of customers. It’s pretty simple, the customer signs up for communities of retailers that interest them and if they’re in proximity of your store, a message is automatically triggered to let them know that (for instance) rose bushes are on sale for the next several hours. Your customer is delighted to receive a limited time offer and the garden centre gets to clear out some inventory that may be moving slowly. It’s the classic win/win. Dragonfly Flowers in Winnipeg is leveraging technology to make the ordering process even easier for customers with a wizard on their website that gathers additional information about the recipient to allow more customization. The company also updates their blog regularly to notify customers as to what’s new in the shop or to remind them of special occasions. “About five per cent of our sales are through the Internet.” shares Duane McLennan of Dragonfly. “The blog seems to be one of the more effective technology-based tools in terms of generating sales. We’re also diligent about ensuring that a link to our website goes on everything we send out electronically. If our e-newsletter talks about roses then we make sure the link takes the reader right to the rose page on our website,” says McLennan. While much has been written about the ability of technology to market to your customer, less examined is the flip side of this equation – your operations.

Retail technology innovations allow us to control our costs by increasing response time, accuracy and by minimizing spoilage. Your fleet of vehicles is a “mobile asset” and as the costs for fuel and repairs continue to escalate, every kilometre counts!  If your fleet is small then a simple GPS (Global Positioning System) unit will allow your drivers to locate customers quickly and accurately. They’ll also help you to estimate time of arrival more closely and to keep a record of distances for deliveries.  For fleets with a number of vehicles, GPS tracking systems can actually allow deliveries, vehicle speeds and positioning to be monitored from a central location. Some insurance companies are offering discounts to those individuals and companies who allow the information from their GPS units to be used to confirm mileage and positioning as a theft deterrent. Operational efficiency also extends to the amount of rework your processes require. A corporate efficiency expert once pointed out to me that the team of employees at our company processing customer bill-backs was actually engaged in “rework.” It’s a production term often used when something needs to be scrapped because it’s out of spec and mixed back into the bigger batch to be processed again. Double handling means lower profitability. Do it right the first time and you’ll be golden. If your staff takes invoices and order forms to key them into an accounting system – that’s double handling. Many large companies have implemented systems that integrate their entire business process from raw material to shipped order. If you thought such systems weren’t an option for you because your business was too small to warrant it, think again. “Our eBridge system links with 37 different accounting packages,” points out Dave Malda Sales and Marketing Manager eBridge Software. “The eBridge software allows the online store and POS system to be linked to the accounting package so staff doesn’t have to re-enter orders. Those people can be deployed onto more important activities and errors are reduced,” says Malda. A tool like eBridge can update the website automatically as online orders are placed based on inventory levels. Customer service is enhanced because it’s clear as to what’s available or out of stock and often the shipping status can be tracked too.

If iPhones, smart phones or iPads are options for your operation then there are amazing new applications available for just a few dollars that can help your retail team to better assist customers. “Flowers and Plants” by Clever Matrix helps track what’s in a garden or greenhouse, and keep notes and photos attached to each item. The application lets you search a photo filled encyclopedia of plant growing guides. Applications that allow the smart phone to scan an insect such as iPest1 show the actual-size and silhouette in a colour picture. The images are accompanied by text that includes common and scientific names, habitat, biology, behaviour and distribution. The app allows users to enlarge photos and activate links to related University of Florida documents.

During those important months when seedlings are started; greenhouse temperatures are crucial to a successful season. If you’ve ever walked into your operation to be welcomed by an overheated or frosty greenhouse, then a monitoring service may just be worth its weight in gold.  For a small monthly fee, RYCOM offers a monitoring service that can notify you if the temperature has strayed out of the critical range during the night.  This same service can monitor your website and POS system as well.  It simply connects to the Internet to transmit your equipments’ status back to a central location that’s monitored 24/7. For businesses without a strong Internet connection, the monitoring can still be done via a cellular device that can be installed for a few hundred dollars. The service can even tell you if your front door has been left open. A downed can’t take orders or provide your customers with information so these services also enhance your brand reputation within your market.

We’re not supposed to be slaves to technology. The technology is there to serve us. Don’t shy away from it because you’re not an expert yourself or you think it’ll be too expensive. These companies specialize in small and medium sized businesses and they have the support to help you navigate the quagmire. Get informed; get the costs and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that it’s the perfect time for you to get plugged in.

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