Cutting Transportation Costs To The Bone

As I have written here many times over the years, transportation and distribution are among your greatest costs. Any cost decrease has an immediate effect on your bottom line, so cutting costs is a compelling proposition that translates to more money – right away!

I have heard from many growers over the years who have followed the advice in my columns, and they have had great success. What I don’t understand is why more growers don’t implement these cost-cutting measures. If growers would merely simplify the fundamental elements of their businesses, they would not only stop wasting money but could focus their time on growing. 

So, here is your chance to cut your transportation costs to the bone. These four things will immediately slice at least 20 percent off your entire distribution costs.

Bid Your Freight Today

The available truck capacity in the market is greater than ever. Freight volumes are down in all industries (over 20 percent year to date) and drivers are plentiful – begging for a load, any load. 
 
In the good old days, if freight volumes were light, a driver would get out of his cab and work construction. Today, that is not an option. This has created an excessive number of drivers and trucks in the market – and so, it is a great time to bid out your freight and to lock in the savings.
 
Doing this is easy. You can hire an experienced third party who will charge you a flat fee for the project. The third party collects your lane data and sends it to thousands of carriers to bid (including your existing carriers). You then get a list of carriers who bid on each lane, from the lowest cost to the highest. For example, you may be paying $1.50 per mile today from Dallas to Mobile, Ala. 
 
But a new carrier needs that back haul and will do it for $1.30 per mile, or 13.3 percent less. These numbers add up quickly. If you spend $1 million per year on distribution and save 10 percent (a realistic goal), then you just put $100,000 back in your bank account.
 
If you have never conducted a lane bid for your business, you can realistically expect savings of 10 to 15 percent in freight costs.

Use A Transportation Management System

Savvy growers must remain informed about technology options that are available for every part of their businesses. Too often, growers will buy complex chemicals to fight disease or promote plant growth and vitality, but resort to whiteboards and paper to run their distribution efforts.
 
Transportation Management System (TMS) technology is affordable, effective and easy to implement. The latest and greatest trend is a Web-based, “on-demand” system. All you need is a Web browser and Internet connection to run the system. The only commitment you have is to convince your staff to use it. Once they do, they will realize technology should have been implemented years ago, and you will realize a decrease in overall costs and human errors.
 
A properly-used TMS will save your staff time, improve accuracy, better your customer relationships, allow reporting for future review and analysis, reduce claims and reduce your seasonal aspirin intake. If you run at least 10 loads per week (or 500 per year) and have aspirations to be a better, bigger company, you need a TMS. 

Don’t Own Trucks If Possible

I have never, ever met a grower who was happy to be in the trucking business. Many are in it, but only out of necessity. The trick is knowing when to own a truck and when not to. 
 
You should own a truck/trailer if your runs are short (less than 200 miles) and regular. Yes, that’s it! Any other reason costs you money. 
 
I can tell you nightmare stories of growers who obtained trucks and trailers because they thought they needed them. Years later, the “trucking operation” is a money pit. It provides more headaches than it is worth, and it detracts attention away from the growing operation. Moreover, the liability associated with a trucking operation is immense and requires mitigation through a complete separation of the trucking and growing operations – a huge and ongoing administrative task. 
 
Yes, in season you could certainly call the shots if you own your own trucks and provide better customer service. However, in the long term, you will lose money. A better solution is to partner with a competent 3PL (third-party logistics company) that can provide trouble-free transportation when you need it.
 
For the record, a local trucking company is often a poor compromise because it has other, year-round clients to protect and its trucks will often be in the wrong locations at the time you need them. 
 
So, choose a 3PL with the expertise and technology to help – and let it be your transportation department. A good 3PL will even help with your cash flow by offering driver advances, settling balances quickly and extending you net 30 terms.

Let Software Route Loads

In the horticulture industry, it is rare to see a “one pick/one drop” load. More often, it is a “one pick/14 drop” load (or more). 
I am amazed at the methods most growers use to optimize the trucks (to be as full as possible) and route them using the fewest number of miles to get the job done. Typically, they plot the deliveries on a map, draw a circle around the drops that appear to be near each other, and count up the amount of freight to see if it makes up a full truck. This can take hours – and is never correct.
 
A simple software solution will run millions of permutations to get the balance “just right.” My own optimization and routing department runs deliveries to hundreds of locations nationwide each day, and it takes mere seconds for the system to spit out the most effective results.
 
One grower we worked with last year provided us with some historical data for a national retail promotion they ran. We took the same data regarding the orders that were delivered and ran it through our optimization system. The savings: $75,224.25 saved in total ($467.23 per load). 

The Bottom Line

The most successful growers truly “get it” and are reaping the rewards of a well-executed logistics plan. 
 
Saving money on your logistics requires a change of thinking. The numbers in the example above are real, not theory. To achieve these kinds of savings requires a little investment in time and money, but the rewards are great.

Tim Higham is the CEO and president of Interstate Transport, Inc., a logistics provider to the horticultural market. You can e-mail Tim at [email protected]. Learn more at Interstate-Transport.com or call Tim toll free at 866-281-1281 x1323.

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Pansy ‘Cool Wave Blue Skies’ (Wave)

September 20, 2016

PanAmerican Seed Settles Alleged Trade Sanction Violations

PanAmerican Seed, a division of Ball Horticultural Co., has been charged with violating trade sanctions to Iran over a number of years. According to a release from the U.S. Treasury department, PanAmerican Seed made 48 indirect sales of seeds to two Iranian distributors. The company shipped the seed to consignees based in countries in Europe and the Middle East. PanAmerican Seed’s customers then arranged for the re-exportation of the seeds to Iran. The release states that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined PanAmerican Seed did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations to OFAC, constituting an egregious case. “We believe that the settlement was extreme; however the alternative was to litigate with the U.S. government, which would take months, if not years,” says Todd Billings, Chief Financial Officer for Ball Horticultural Co. When asked what Ball Horticultural Co. has done to ensure that violations to trade sanctions do not […]

Read More
young-plants

September 20, 2016

The Top Young Plant Growers, And Four Critical Challenges Facing Them

In Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Top Young Plant Growers Survey, growers discuss the latest challenges and opportunities in fulfillment, shipping, labor, and crop protection.

Read More
Cavicchio Greenhouses

September 6, 2016

Cavicchio Greenhouses Wins Inaugural Sustainability Award

The Sudbury, MA, growing operation sustains more than 250 acres of annuals, perennials, and nursery stock, with a number of practices to mitigate its impact on the environment.

Read More
Latest Stories
Pansy ‘Cool Wave Blue Skies’ (Wave)

September 20, 2016

PanAmerican Seed Settles Alleged Trade Sanction Violati…

PanAmerican Seed, a division of Ball Horticultural Co., has been charged with violating trade sanctions to Iran over a number of years. According to a release from the U.S. Treasury department, PanAmerican Seed made 48 indirect sales of seeds to two Iranian distributors. The company shipped the seed to consignees based in countries in Europe and the Middle East. PanAmerican Seed’s customers then arranged for the re-exportation of the seeds to Iran. The release states that the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) determined PanAmerican Seed did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations to OFAC, constituting an egregious case. “We believe that the settlement was extreme; however the alternative was to litigate with the U.S. government, which would take months, if not years,” says Todd Billings, Chief Financial Officer for Ball Horticultural Co. When asked what Ball Horticultural Co. has done to ensure that violations to trade sanctions do not […]

Read More
young-plants

September 20, 2016

The Top Young Plant Growers, And Four Critical Challeng…

In Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Top Young Plant Growers Survey, growers discuss the latest challenges and opportunities in fulfillment, shipping, labor, and crop protection.

Read More
Cavicchio Greenhouses

September 6, 2016

Cavicchio Greenhouses Wins Inaugural Sustainability Awa…

The Sudbury, MA, growing operation sustains more than 250 acres of annuals, perennials, and nursery stock, with a number of practices to mitigate its impact on the environment.

Read More
Charlie Hall Feature Image

September 6, 2016

10 Insights From Charlie Hall’s Green Industry Economic…

With the uncertain current economic climate, Texas A&M economist Charlie Hall says now may be the perfect time to invest — as long as you do it smartly.

Read More
Penn State Plant Bud

August 23, 2016

AmericanHort Is Helping Plant Importers Adjust To New R…

A report from Craig Regelbrugge at AmericanHort says the government is implementing a streamlined system for imports, in which all required data will be submitted electronically through a single window.

Read More
Plug Connection Assortment

August 9, 2016

AmericanHort’s Plug And Cutting Conference Will Feature…

This year’s conference, which takes place Sept. 19-21 in Carlsbad, CA, features discussions on water, pest and disease control, and production inputs, as well as a biocontrols workshop and tour of local cuttings facilities.

Read More
Cannabis In Greenhouse

July 27, 2016

The Top 5 Myths About Cannabis Production Cleared Up

There is a lot of misleading information going around about growing cannabis. Industry insider James Lowe makes sure you know the truth about cannabis production.

Read More
Joe Bischoff

July 26, 2016

SAF Partners With Cornerstone Government Affairs To Adv…

A new partnership between the Society of American Florists (SAF) and Cornerstone Government Affairs ensures that SAF will continue its highly effective work advocating for issues that affect the floriculture industry. “SAF and Cornerstone together provide experienced voices on Capitol Hill to protect our growers’ interests,” says SAF CEO Peter Moran. “We’ll continue to move major policy priorities forward on behalf of small business and agriculture.” Cornerstone is a public affairs firm specializing in government relations, strategic consulting, and advocacy. Its team of more than 50 senior professionals includes former senior professional staff from both authorization and appropriations committees and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as veterans of the horticulture industry. Agricultural and horticultural issues of primary concern to SAF members include access to labor, immigration, crop protection, international trade and other matters related to the day-to-day operations of growers. Before she retired this year, SAF lobbyist Lin […]

Read More

July 26, 2016

AFE Releases New Videos Highlighting Industry Successes

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) recently released five new videos, created to highlight floriculture successes through industry collaboration, support, and participation. “Each video shares real stories from industry members on career development through scholarships and internships, and true examples of research solutions that have shaped how the industry operates today,” says Laura Shinall, President of Syndicate Sales, Inc., and AFE Public Relations and Development Chair. “We’re excited to be able to share some great success stories in an effort to increase industry participation.” The introductory video “Heard of the American Floral Endowment?” helps educate those who aren’t currently aware of AFE’s programs, while other segmented videos (retail, wholesale, grower) share how Endowment programs complement each group and why it’s so important that everyone in the industry participates: Retail Florists Share Why They Turn to AFE New Resources for Floral Wholesalers and Suppliers AFE Helping Growers Profit Ready for a Career in Floriculture or Horticulture? […]

Read More
Briscoe White, Growers Exchange

July 6, 2016

The Grower’s Exchange Unlocks The Secret to E-Commerce

In the Internet era, Briscoe and Kenan White knew they had to adapt or die and specialize to survive. Here’s how they took The Grower’s Exchange online.

Read More
Brie Arthur

July 6, 2016

5 Can’t-Miss Events To Watch For At Farwest 2016

Whether it’s classes on biocontrols and gardening trends, or networking opportunities in and around the trade show floor, there’s plenty happening at Farwest 2016 in Portland, OR, in August.

Read More
Cannabis states 2016

July 1, 2016

Adult Use Of Cannabis On The Ballot In 2016

25 states have legalized cannabis and public opinion is increasingly positive. Here’s where things may be headed as we move toward the fall elections.

Read More
Practical Software Grower Vertical

June 18, 2016

Practical Software Solutions Increases Accessibility, E…

Practical Software will demonstrate Grower Vertical, its customizable and scalable enterprise management system for the horticulture industry, at Cultivate’16 in July.

Read More
Battlefield Farms Company shot

June 14, 2016

Battlefield Farms Is A Finalist For 2016 Operation Of T…

Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, VA, is one of three finalists for Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Operation Of The Year award and winner of the Excellence In Innovation award for 2016.

Read More

June 7, 2016

Ball Seed Offers Full Mobile Ordering Capabilities With…

The latest update for Ball Seed’s WebTrack To Go mobile app now includes full ordering capabilities for the industry’s largest assortment of seeds and plants. App users can also complete order fulfillment via seed count or package size, find product substitutions, get personalized “contact us” information, request plant tags, and more. “Upgrading WebTrack To Go to the full suite of ordering and management tools is where we’ve always wanted to be,” says Mark Morris, Director of IT for Ball Seed. “With this new roll-out, we’re keeping up with our customers on-the-go and providing them the information and access they need –- even while away from their desks.” The Ball Seed WebTrack To Go app lets customers: Check order status and shipment tracking 24-7 Access up-to-the-minute product inventory from hundreds of suppliers Place orders by seed count, packet size, and more Find product info, culture and photos when and where they […]

Read More
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [O…

Investing in technology to become more sustainable “always goes hand in hand,” says Abe VanWingerden, co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses. “If it is good for the environment, it normally is good for business over the long term.” That connection was abundantly clear in the responses we received to this year’s Top 100 Growers Survey. VanWingerden points to three investments Metrolina has made as good examples of how technology can reduce an operation’s carbon footprint and pay dividends financially. Its biomass system burns locally sourced waste wood — a renewable resource; its ozone water treatment system cleans irrigation water, reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and improving plant quality and precision growing; and electrostatic sprayers reduce water and chemical use, and provide more targeted chemical applications. Other Top 100 Growers have found VanWingerden’s theory to be true, as well. Costa Farms’ investment in solar energy panels on three buildings at its […]

Read More
Petunia 'Supertunia Violet Star Charm' (2015 University of Georgia Field Trials)

May 10, 2016

New Southern-Centric Ornamental Production Conference T…

The 2016 Academy of Crop Production is dedicated exclusively to sharing information on advanced ornamental crop production and business management techniques for ornamental producers.

Read More
University of Florida Online Greenhouse Training Courses

April 25, 2016

University of Florida Offering Online Training Courses …

There will be five courses offered, with the first starting on May 30. Courses are available in both English and Spanish and range from beginner level to advanced education.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]