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 thigham@interstate-transport.com. Learn more at Interstate-Transport.com or call Tim toll free at 866-281-1281 x1323.

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Marc van Iersel

September 1, 2015

GROwing Floriculture Research And Extension

Research and outreach efforts help keep floriculture production profitable. With seemingly continuous budget cuts to university and federal budgets, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to sustain their programs and to keep making a positive impact on the industry. So what can be done to ensure that the industry will keep getting the research and outreach support it has come to rely on? There already is a variety of funding programs that support research and Extension programs in our industry. This funding is critical for many floriculture research and outreach programs. What can we do to leverage that funding and make sure it has the biggest possible impact? A program that I was part of in 2010 may serve as a model. LAUNCH was co-founded by NASA, NIKE, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State as a program to help make innovative ideas become a […]

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler Of Bell Nursery USA Leads By Example

Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler is laying a strong groundwork for the industry by mentoring future growers and instilling a sense of pride in growing quality crops.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Head Grower Of The Year Tom Wheeler - Feature image

September 1, 2015

Bell Nursery USA Cultivates New Growers Through Internships

Bell Nursery USA started its internship program two years ago with the aim of identifying and training the growers of the future. Each season, the company’s internships give interns a broad overview of the company, exposing them to everything from growing and production to distribution, retail and finances.

Read More
Latest Stories
AmericanHort logo

August 20, 2015

David Savoia To Serve As AmericanHort’s Interim P…

Following Michael Geary’s announcement that he has resigned as president and CEO of AmericanHort, the association has announced that CFO and Senior Vice President for Operations David Savoia will serve as interim president and CEO while the board conducts a search for a new staff executive. Craig Regelbrugge, the senior vice president for advocacy and research, will support Savoia with the association’s external affairs. Geary announced August 12  that he will be leaving his position after September 30 to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” Geary said in an eMail. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me […]

Read More
Geary-Michael

August 18, 2015

Michael Geary Is Leaving AmericanHort

AmericanHort president and CEO Michael Geary announced last Wednesday that he will be leaving his position at the end of September to serve as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services. “I am writing to share with you that on October 8 I will begin a new professional chapter as CEO of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, an organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the architecture, engineering and construction industries,” Geary said in an email. His last day with AmericanHort will be Sept. 30, 2015. “As some of you know, I grew up connected to the horticulture industry so this was not an easy decision for me,” he said. “I have loved working with our organizations and our talented members, staff and partners. However, my choice to return full time to Washington, D.C. will allow me to be closer to my family and aging parents and to re-engage with another industry […]

Read More

August 15, 2015

Ball Horticultural Co. Buys Conard-Pyle/Star Roses And …

Ball Horticultural Co. plans to add Conard-Pyle/Star Roses and Plants to its family of breeding and distribution companies, according to a press release dated August 14, which announced the company’s recent acquisition of the famous introducer of Knock Out Roses and other perennials and woody plants to the market. Ball plans to capitalize on the expertise of its Ball Ornamentals woody ornamentals division, as well as Conard-Pyle’s market-leading position as a top rose breeder to strengthen its product line. The sale is scheduled to close by the end of September 2015. Conard-Pyle’s in-house breeding division NovaFlora, along with its intellectual properties and the distribution, production and administration facilities of its wholesale division are also part of the acquisition. NovaFlora is the driving force behind the Star Roses and Plants brand. “Conard-Pyle has been the leader in roses in its market and has been actively diversifying its offering with other woody […]

Read More
cannabis, marijuana plant

August 7, 2015

Big Banks A Step Closer To Financing Cannabis — Or Not

A key Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill on July 23 that allows the nation's capital to establish regulated medical marijuana stores and lets banks provide financial services to state legalized marijuana dispensaries.

Read More

July 30, 2015

Spread Your Risk Beyond Spring Sales [Opinion]

Growers who participated in Greenhouse Grower’s 2015 Spring Crops Recap Survey said they have had enough of the uncertainty that the weather brings. They said it’s time to build up sales in other seasons like fall so we’re not so dependent on spring. As a couple of wholesale growers, both from the Southeast, very eloquently stated, our industry has mastered squeezing everything we can out of the spring season. And while this year happened to be a very successful one, thanks to the improving economy and elevated consumer confidence, they said, “now is no time to celebrate.” “Spring is still Christmas in the horticulture industry, but we have done such a good job focusing on spring that we have neglected other seasons,” one grower said. “Having so many eggs in the spring basket is dangerous. Fall will never be what spring is, but having a solid second season is in […]

Read More
Berns_Roberto Lopez_Purdue6

July 22, 2015

Cultivate’15 Greenhouse Learning Tour Showcases G…

Growers took advantage of the Greenhouse Learning tour held Saturday, July 11 at Cultivate'15 to see the strategies and technology two successful growing operations are using to tackle production challenges and come out ahead of the game.

Read More
thermoflor

June 16, 2015

Philip Schaafsma To Represent Thermoflor In The U.S.

Philip Schaafsma is a new sales representative for Thermoflor, a company with a lot of experience building garden centers worldwide. The history of the Dutch construction company Thermoflor goes all the way back to 1877. Since then, the company has been through a lot of changes, from simple conservatories to complex glass and steel turnkey projects. With a new sales representative, Thermoflor is well equipped to service the American market. Previously, Petitti Garden Center (Avon, Ohio), Chuck Hafner (Syracuse, N.Y.), Jacob’s Garden (Ottowa Lake, Mich.), Hicks Nurseries (Westbury, N.Y.) and Holes (Alberta, Ca.) were all built by Thermoflor. After a period of absence, the company is now  represented in the U.S. and Canada by Schaafsma, who has more than 40 years of experience in retail lawn and garden, greenhouse growing and the floral industry, and is a former board member of the Garden Centers of America. Schaafsma is the former owner […]

Read More

June 15, 2015

Hortica Insurance To Become Member Of Sentry Insurance …

Upon completion and approval of an affiliation agreement, Hortica Insurance (Florists' Mutual Insurance Company) will become a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, based in Stevens Point, Wis. As a member of the Sentry Insurance Group, Hortica keeps its name and brand and will continue doing business from its current headquarters in Edwardsville, Ill.

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

June 2, 2015

Cal-Poly Students Seek Continued Industry Support To Sa…

Agriculture students and faculty at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, want industry members to continue to stand with them in their effort to preserve Class 1 agricultural land from being repurposed. The university recently released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential and/or recreational space. According to Joel Leonard of Students For Agriculture, an organization of Cal-Poly students in favor of saving the land, the Master Planning Committee will be meeting over the summer to form a final version of its plan and present it once more to the public in the fall, before it is submitted for final approval to the California Board of Trustees. Students For Agriculture’s goal in the meantime is to increase awareness and rally industry supporters to continue to send their input to the planning committee. Visit studentsforag.com to see more […]

Read More
Cal-Poly fields

May 27, 2015

Cal-Poly Students And Faculty Ask Industry To Help Save…

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has released an update to its Master Plan that indicates that almost all of its orchards, horticulture facilities and field sites could be repurposed for buildings, including residential, and/or recreational space. According to a letter from Scott Steinmaus, the horticulture and crop science department head, the proposed changes directly affect the current orchard plantings and other long term plans for the department. The department is committed to making sure that its facilities remain invaluable teaching environments that enable its students to learn about crop, fruit and horticulture production, food safety and pest protection, in addition to providing sites for externally funded research projects that benefit the industry. Industry members are invited to submit comments to the university. According to Steinmaus, a recent eMail to the Cal-Poly community from the university president indicates that all of the input gathered through the end of May will be studied by the planning […]

Read More
people-of-Battlefield

May 13, 2015

Battlefield Farms Receives MPS-A Qualification

Battlefield Farms, Inc., in Rapidan, Va., has been awarded the MPS-A qualification after becoming a participant for MPS-ABC in 2010. After four years of showing effort and improvement, the company has been awarded the qualification.

Read More
Barry_Sturdivant_columnpic

May 8, 2015

How To Survive Succession Planning And Resolve Conflic…

If you work in agriculture, you most likely work with family-owned businesses. This is especially true within the greenhouse industry. I’m fortunate to work for a company that specializes in financing and supporting such businesses. Family-owned businesses often have a level of commitment and support that helps during lean times. This is important for a company exposed to seasonality and events that are sometimes beyond management’s control. Business owners and management are constantly looking for solutions to the unique issues faced by these small but complex businesses. Specifically, how these issues affect the transition from one generation to the next. There are many family enterprise success stories, cases of harmony, health and longevity. Yet it’s no secret that family businesses can struggle with governance, leadership transitions and even survival. According to the Family Business Institute, only 30 percent of family businesses last into the second generation, 12 percent remain viable […]

Read More

April 30, 2015

North Creek Nurseries Welcomes Nikki Drake As New Finan…

Nikki Drake will fill the role of new financial administrator at North Creek Nurseries, with responsibility for the accounting department. She will also serve on the strategic planning committee.

Read More
Andy Huntington Pleasant View

April 29, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Promotes Andy Huntington to Natio…

Pleasant View Gardens recently announced that Andy Huntington will be the company’s National Sales Manager. Huntington, who has years of horticulture industry experience, will oversee national territory and inside sales departments, while fostering strong partnerships with customers. “Our relationships with customers are central to all that we do at Pleasant View,” Huntington says. “In my new role, I am excited to work with a broader base of broker, grower and retail partners to understand their business needs. Pleasant View’s goal is to be so in tune with our customers that we are able to anticipate their problems before they arise.” Huntington has a history of growing sales and forming long-lasting relationships with a diverse customer base. For the past two years, he has been working as a territory account manager for Pleasant View Gardens, responsible for young plant liner sales in New England and New York. Prior to that, Huntington was […]

Read More
PittMoss on Shark Tank

April 22, 2015

PittMoss Wins On Shark Tank

Mont Handley, president and CEO of PittMoss, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank on April 17 to try to get the “sharks” to invest in his peat moss alternative. Three investors from the TV show contributed $600,000 to PittMoss for a 35 percent stake in the company. Check out this clip from ABC’s website in which Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec discuss getting on board with the product. PittMoss is an alternative to sphagnum peat moss, made up of a mix of proprietary additives and recycled paper rescued from landfill space. Handley founded the Pittsburgh-based company in 1994. What started as a small experiment grew into a full-fledged business with the help of funding provided by an EPA SBIR grant and Pittsburgh’s Idea Foundry. Today, PittMoss is available to commercial greenhouses and nurseries from Michigan to Maine to North Carolina, with plans to grow. To learn more, visit PittMoss’ website, or check it […]

Read More
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More