Spring Stategies

September 28, 2006
Written by Michael Lascelle
booking strategies always start with spring shipping. This is when all those promises from your wholesale supplier are either fulfilled or broken and the quantity and quality of the plants you are receiving becomes the only thing that matters.
12 booking strategies always start with spring shipping. This is when all those promises from your wholesale supplier are either fulfilled or broken and the quantity and quality of the plants you are receiving becomes the only thing that matters. This is the time when you need to ask yourself some very critical questions but more importantly, you need those questions answered in order to determine where you will be placing your plant orders the following year. Here is a short list of questions that I consider on an annual basis before placing my next spring plant order with any wholesale supplier.

1. Did you receive all the plants confirmed in your order?
While small discrepancies due to crop failures or shipping errors are to be expected, you should still be receiving at least 90 to 95 per cent of your confirmed order. If you are consistently losing more than five to 10 per cent of your order, then you need to seriously consider finding another supplier because those critical spring profits will only be possible if you have the right plants to sell in the first place.

2. Are the plants the same quality and size as those displayed at the trade show or wholesale nursery?
You would think that the old trick of showing a large stock plant at a trade show and shipping a lightly rooted liner (in the same-sized pot) would be a thing of the past but I’m sorry to say that this is still far too common a practice. Specify size (height or width) or a particular plant block (check to ensure that the plant blocks are clearly marked) when ordering, and if you still don’t get what you were expecting, do not accept the delivery and let them ship it back at their cost. Better yet, go out and see for yourself how consistent the crop is at the wholesale nursery before you place an order.

3. Did your shipping cost you more than you expected?
Before you sign off on your spring delivery, you should be verifying that the delivery costs are in line with the prices you were quoted. Too many trucking companies are adding last minute fuel surcharges or charging a “full trailer” delivery price for a shared or split load.

4. Are all of your plants properly labelled and did they come with the descriptive, full-colour tags you were promised?
It’s frustrating to receive a truckload of dormant deciduous trees and shrubs with no labels attached. Not only is it a sorting nightmare but also none of these plants are really salable. If your customers can’t envision what they will look like, they simply won’t buy them. What usually ends up happening in large loads is that several blocks of plants may come unlabelled, simply because somebody forgot to tag them before they were shipped. But if you can’t decipher what they are, then you have every right to send them back. In regards to those colour tags, these are important marketing tools and if they didn’t arrive as expected, simply call your sales representative and have them courier them to you. If the tags aren’t available, then you should insist on a slight discount as compensation.

5. Were your plants shipped to you in a timely fashion?
The pecking order of spring deliveries is often based on the size of the order and the number of years that you have done business with that particular wholesale nursery. But once these factors are taken into consideration, you should still be receiving your spring order within seven to 14 days of your request. If you are anticipating a slight delay based on last year’s experience, then simply make your delivery request a bit earlier.
6. Did your plants arrive in good condition?
Large bark abrasions, broken major limbs and crushed plants are unacceptable shipping damage and you should not be expected to receive your order in this condition. Badly damaged plants should always be returned immediately and you need to promptly contact your sales representative to express your disappointment and arrange for the timely delivery of replacement stock (at their cost). That said, you also need to be sure about who is responsible for the plants in transit as many nurseries transfer this liability to the delivery service once the plants are loaded.

7. Have you paid a visit to your wholesale supplier(s) within the past two years?
If possible, it is a good idea to visit your wholesale supplier in person in order to verify the quality of the stock you are ordering and perhaps find a few other plants (or new introductions) to add to the list. Always be sure to book a viewing time in advance, so your supplier knows when to expect you and has time to prepare an availability list to help assess your current needs. A few things to look for would be:
• Are dead or dying plants being culled or are they just left in the field beside healthy stock
• How is the overall sanitation? This includes adequate drainage, limited site access (to control the spread of disease) and the removal of all plant debris.
• Does this nursery have a good selection of species or cultivars to choose from?
• Are plants in a particular block of a consistent size or have they been mixed in with younger stock?
• Do the plants look like they will be a marketable size for the following spring sales season?
• Is the stock relatively weed-free, or are there indicators of noxious plants such as horsetail or morning glory?
Despite the negative tone of these questions, most wholesale nurseries go to great lengths to assure that their plants are shipped properly and on time but given the incredible volume of plant material being handled, mistakes can and will be made. You just need to be sure that you are not the recipient of those mistakes year after year!

When Should You Book Your Spring Order?
The spring booking season seems to arrive earlier every year. In fact this past 2007 season, there was preliminary booking being done as early as June. Here in coastal British Columbia, the traditional spring booking season used to start in mid to late July, and ran up to the British Columbia Landscape & Nursery Association trade show in September. But if you were to wait until the trade show now, I think that you would find that all the premium stock would already have been sold out. So I make a habit of asking each individual supplier when I need to book my plants in order to secure my spring stock. Most are more than willing to accommodate you, because selling their product as early as possible is in their best interest too.    
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
You should also be aware that early booking doesn’t always secure your spring delivery, as some nurseries don’t allow sales of “booked” stock until they have to put it away (pot tight or in cold frames) for winter protection, at which time they divide what is left between all the interested parties. Consequently, confirmations of spring orders often don’t arrive until early November, at which time you have to assess your losses and try to fill any apparent voids. This is where balancing your orders with multiple wholesale suppliers really pays off because if one nursery experiences a crop failure, you can always switch your order to another one of your suppliers.


A Vested Interest
When it comes to plant sales, the simple truth of the matter is that box stores, supermarkets and hardware chains have no vested interest in the long-term viability of the horticulture industry in Canada. They will continue to sell the most inexpensively priced plants they can find, and if one or two wholesale growers fall into financial difficulty trying to cater to their needs, it is no great loss to them – there always seems to be another nursery waiting in the wings to take their place.
As garden centre retailers, we need to forge better business relations with our wholesale nursery counterparts in order to make the market work for both of us. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that if a wholesale nursery can consistently provide you with the plants you need for the busy spring season, then you should be there to help them sell surplus stock when things slow down later in the year. This way we can avoid the dumping of deeply discounted plants into the box stores and, hopefully, better maintain profitable plant prices. These prices allow both the retailer and the wholesale nursery to make a good return on their product. In the end, we are both in the business of selling plants.

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