Moving Plants Without Losing Profits

Moving Plants Without Losing Profits

Pushpins in a wall map may not be the best way to track logistics of perishable products like plants. Rising costs for fuel and drivers, all while growers are trying to cut costs, have led growers and transportation pros to look for new efficiencies.

Packing each truck to capacity is key, according to Richard Martins of Peninsula Trucking. That’s why the company uses a multi-decked trailer system. Shelves are adjusted to plant height and Peninsula trucks sizes from cell packs to 3 gallon pots with this setup. Trucks are loaded last in, first out and the shelves are broken down as plants are offloaded. The shelves also allow growers to ship foliage without boxing, saving packaging costs as well as labor. There’s less waste, also.

Growers Take On Transportation
Masterpiece Flower Company has taken on shipping for itself and other growers through its Peak Transportation division. Here are some tips from the company’s Tim Stiles on building a stable relationship with freight carriers:
Peak Transportation cultivates long-term relationships with owner operators by providing them with weekly income all year. We do this by developing freight sales outside of our own products throughout the year.

Peak pays its drivers a fair market rate on a timely basis.

Regarding fuel, we pay a fuel surcharge that fluctuates with the market each week. This cost must be absorbed by the customer (Masterpiece and our other customers) but insures a stable supply of trucks.

Masterpiece supplies all the specialized equipment (refrigerated trailer, liftgate, carts) which makes it easier to work with whichever driver and tractor are available.

Equipment is maintained in good condition by three full-time
mechanics at Masterpiece.

“In the trucking business, time is money, and being productive is critical to success,” Stiles says. “We try to be respectful of the owner operator’s time by providing services that keep them operating efficiently.”

“We’re able to save the grower some money with the way we ship–with the shelving–as compared to having everything boxed,” Martins says. He says the biggest boost to improved shipping costs would be for growers to work together on combined shipments–shipments from several growers on one truck. For the most part, this isn’t happening.

“If the receiver is large enough, I’m sure it is going on. But in terms of smaller-type people, there’s no one way to hook it all together,” Martins says. “The other thing would be if the growers cooperated with each other. In Florida, that’s a bit odd because everyone competes with each other. They all ship to the same people and everyone tries to keep their information private.”

Customers can order partial loads to be shipped by Peninsula Trucking, and seven or eight partials make up one load. Sharing shipments with different types of cargo can also help ease the shipping costs, trucking wicker and pottery along with plants, for example.

Changing Technologies

The technologies used when shipping have changed in the last five years, too.

“The big thing we’re seeing now is global positioning system (GPS) units and integrating them into vehicle routing software,” says Dan Buttarazzi of MicroAnalytics (www.bestroutes.com), provider of TruckStops software. “People want to see where their trucks are at all times.” TruckStops integrates with GPS devices, sending routes directly to handheld or truck units. Mapping technology has also improved, Buttarazzi says, taking new housing developments, roads, bypasses and highways into account when planning routes.

Delray Farms’ On Common Carriers

Delray Farms ships from Florida all over the United States. Here are tips from Delray’s Spencer Bennet on common carriers:

Develop a relationship with your carrier base so they understand your business and expectations.

Create a score card for your carriers to help them in identifying their strengths and weaknesses to better serve your company’s needs.

Trucking is not an exact science due to a multitude of variables. Honest communication between the nursery and the carrier does allow preparation for the unexpected, aiding in the loading and delivery process.

I have found using select core carriers with year-round pricing will save more money than shopping loads by rates. Typically new carriers don’t understand the perishability of nursery product and the challenges of delivering to chain stores. Not knowing these basic requirements results in a higher claim ratio compared to using core carriers. The money saved by cheaper freight rates is usually lost due to an increase of claims.

Using core carriers aids in driver feedback as the same drivers consistently deliver your loads. A relationship with these drivers can identify problems in loading, packaging and delivery issues. Being aggressive on these issues and seeking solutions ultimately aids in helping your bottom line while giving the customer better service.

Routing software like TruckStops takes a nightmare math problem (10 trucks, 100 stops), works out an algorithm and solves the problem–maybe even cutting down the number of trucks from 10 to eight or nine. The software can also help determine the best routes for picking up empty racks, based on existing routes and space availability on the trucks. Smaller and larger growers use the software the same way.

“There’s no difference between the big guy and the small guy except the size of their problem,” Buttarazzi says. “It’s the same problem, just on a bigger scale.”

Using a software product, over using simple mapping, is a step many growers are still making. The upfront investment can see a quick return on investment and can prevent lots of headaches. Buttarazzi asked a prospective customer recently why he was interested in TruckStops software.”He said, ‘It’s not fun planning the routes for 45 trucks, all making multiple stops. I miss a stop here and there, forget to put a stop on the route and it takes me a long time. I need to speed the whole process up.’ It makes life easier for you and that’s the bottom line. People could still use typewriters, but using a computer is a little better.”

MicroAnalytics also offers OptiSite software, which helps determine the best location in the U.S. for a distribution center. The program can help growers who are planning a new facility or are looking to close one of several distribution facilities, figuring which is best to close and which of the remaining facilities those displaced customers should be served from.

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