Tackling The Tag Room
Overdevest Nurseries manages inventory and reduces costs with innovative tags and a combination of in-house and commercial printing.
September 27, 2012
Ed Overdevest is working toward a solution for a problem that is a thorn in the side of growers everywhere — thousands of dollars of unused plant tags sitting for years in the tag room. By implementing a plan that includes in-house printing for tags that take more than two years to use up and commercial printing for only high-turnover, high-volume plants, Overdevest is slowly whittling down his tag inventory as well as the carrying costs involved in storing many years’ worth of unused tags.
“The cost of in-house printing is pretty significant on a per-unit basis compared with a comparable tag printed commercially,” Overdevest says. “But when you factor in carrying costs, the money invested in tags just sitting there in inventory is pretty significant, and the waste we have in the case of tags that are obsolete is considerable. We also wrestle with relevance issues when tag style or content changes become necessary.”
Overdevest, who with his wife, Gail, owns Overdevest Nurseries, a 60-year-old, 210-acre operation in Bridgeton, N.J., says all these factors are minimized when they print their own tags. This eliminates the need to commit to large print minimums for the many trial varieties they grow. Nor do they have to worry about running out of tags in the middle of shipping. However, he doesn’t claim to have all the answers.
“We don’t have it down to an exact science. We just know given the slow turn we have on the low volume of some of the plants we produce, along with the fact that there’s a decent percentage of plants we ultimately discontinue before we use all the tags, there’s a definite savings there,” Overdevest says.
While Overdevest grows annuals as part of some of their programs, the majority of his material is perennials, trees and shrubs, in containers ranging from 1 gallon to 15 gallons.
“We’re not talking little stick tags,” he says. “In our case, tags are 4- to 6-inch rectangles for some of the larger plant material, and costs can be anywhere from $.08 to $.25 per tag.”
“The Tag Room Is The Enemy”
Bob Lovejoy, president of HIP Labels, which designs and prints custom labels and tags, says, “The tag room is the biggest problem for every grower in America. It’s the biggest problem because it’s probably the biggest chunk of money that goes unused. I have seen tag rooms with hundreds of thousands of dollars of unused tags — some of them ten years old.”
Lovejoy feels it is his company’s job and any responsible suppliers’ responsibility to work with growers on solutions, because excess inventory doesn’t do anyone any good.
“Our enemy is the tag room, not our printing competitors,” he says.
His answer is to offer programs that allow growers to order quantities closer to the time when when they are needed, rather than in the preceding fall when they are guessing what they might need.
“Smaller, more frequent orders that are affordable will allow our customers to a better job of buying not only tags and labels, but wraps and all types of packaging,” Lovejoy says.
Gerry Giorgio, marketing director for MasterTag, agrees that managing tag inventory is a huge problem — especially for large growers. Another big concern is having the tags on hand at planting time. MasterTag offers inventory management as one of its services.
“We say to growers, you do plants really well, we do tags really well. Why don’t you let us manage your inventory? When you need them, we send you the tags,” Giorgio says.
Timing is also an important consideration for Overdevest as they continue to move into their “hybrid” commercial and in-house printing program.
“During this transition, we have come to realize the true costs associated with in-house printing. Equally important, we now have a very real sense of the time that would be involved with printing all our tags in house, especially if we tried to print on-demand as orders are pulled and loaded,” Overdevest says. “All this has shaped our current strategy to one where we purchase pre-printed tags for our higher volume plant varieties and print in-house for the others, where tag inventory would otherwise turn too slowly.”
Platform Tags Reduce Waste, Costs
Overdevest and Lovejoy came up with another solution to help with tag waste and cost — the concept of a “platform” tag. Overdevest compares it to auto manufacturers using a common chassis for several different models of cars.
“We purchase a standard platform tag for our Footprints program (more on that later) and another for our generic program,” he says. “These convey the respective messaging for each program. Then the specifics, including plant name, picture, cultural info, QR code etc., are printed, either commercially or in-house, on a separate tag that attaches into the platform tag to create the uniqueness for each plant. We have some fine tuning to do to achieve a consistent, commercial-quality presentation, but we see this as our best way to build some efficiency and flexibility into the increasing complexity of today’s marketing opportunities.”
Differentiate With Sustainable Tags
Overdevest Nurseries’ Footprints line is primarily herbaceous material, perennials mostly, with some annuals. It is a recently developed regional brand designed to appeal to the emerging interest in sustainability.
“It embodies the considerable commitment we have made over the years to conservation and eco-minded efforts, such as recycling water, energy efficiencies and IPM practices,” Overdevest says. “At the time, those practices were instituted solely with the intent of ‘doing the right thing.’ Now, along with our recent certification by Veriflora, they allow us to truly claim that our plants are sustainably grown.”
The name refers to the carbon footprint, and the labels and pots stay true to the message. Not only does Overdevest use the platform tag with this line, which reduces his costs and produces less waste in unused tags, the tags themselves are made from recycled milk jugs. The plastic is an HIP product called MilkMade, and it is itself recyclable. The insert tags are biodegradeable. So are the pots, which are made from rice hulls.
“It’s a little bit more costly than the conventional option. The tags cost more and the pots cost more. But those people who are concerned about sustainability obviously appreciate it,” Overdevest says. “And once those who maybe aren’t as active from that [environmental] perspective understand the program, they appreciate it as well.”
Along with being open to change regarding his tags, Overdevest isn’t afraid to try other new marketing concepts. The Garden Splendor program, which includes more than 600 varieties of perennials, shrubs and trees is designed to simplify the selection process for not only his customers, but for the eventual consumer. Adopting the tag line, “The Best of the Tried and True and Most Promising of the Exciting and New,” the program was launched 12 years ago. From its inception, the program placed high value on partnering with retailers, and Garden Splendor plants are actually presented as the retailer’s own brand. Each garden center is allocated a territory in which they have exclusive marketing rights.
Initially, pots printed with each retailer’s name were used. But then Overdevest was presented with another option — pot wraps branded with both the Garden Splendor name as well as the retailers’.
“Bob Lovejoy approached us with a new concept he was promoting — pot wraps. We instantly saw this as a great way for our retailers to put their name on the product and present the brand as their own. Coupling this with some other unique Garden Splendor packaging elements allows them to offer a differentiated plant line that separates them from their competitors across the street or down the road. As this helps them succeed, we succeed.”
“Ed has a set of about 40 retail customers who know their name has great value in their local area,” Lovejoy says. “They are not only happy with the product, but participate directly in the cost of the packaging.”
Lovejoy says wraps allow greater flexibility than printed pots. When the plants are gathered before loading, that’s when a sleeve or wrap is put on.
“You might have 10,000 Hosta ‘Patriots,’ and want to put a different brand on them depending upon the recipient. You can’t do that if the plants are in pre-printed pots. With a sleeve you can change it any time you want to,” he says.
Overdevest knows that solutions are not one-size-fits-all, but stresses that growers should give careful consideration to packaging.
“Every grower is different, so I would suggest they focus on their needs and unique circumstances. What works for one might not for another,” Overdevest says. “Nonetheless, we all need to realize how important presentation/ marketing has become in this industry. Packaging helps to bring out the personality of that presentation." GG
Robin Siktberg is Editor of Greenhouse Grower. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org