Planning Made Easy

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Planning Made Easy

Dan Foster, a grower and site manager for Proven Winners’ Four Star Greenhouse, was receiving request upon request from customers for help putting together their production programs. Foster was already planning Four Star’s production using Excel, and it eventually became too time consuming for him to cater to each of those grower’s needs. In search of a solution, he approached George Strimpel, director of marketing for Four Star Greenhouse.

Strimpel came up with a plan. His knowledge of Excel allowed him to create a software program growers could use themselves to plan production. The user-friendly software, born out of Foster’s original method for planning Four Star’s production, is called PW Plan-It. It runs in Microsoft Excel and is free to anyone who grows PW product. Based on a customer’s needs, PW Plan-It calculates the number of trays necessary and automatically creates an order form based on those numbers. 

How It Works

The program has several tabs users can click on to navigate to the pages they want to access. By clicking on the variety data tab, for example, growers can enter crop times and plants for 4.5-inch and gallon containers and then print a product list for their reference. The software also features combination recipe and combo planner tabs. Clicking on the combination recipe tab lets growers review lists of pre-built combinations and build their own custom combinations, too. In the combo planner tab, growers can enter the combinations they want to grow, enter finish weeks and crop times and tweak percentages to fit their needs. The same can be done for containers.

“We’ve also always put together the combination diagrams, as far as combination layouts and pictures of all the different baskets we’ve produced,” Strimpel says. “We have a couple hundred different combinations between hanging baskets and upright containers that we display at our May open house, and that’s all included on the same CD. We’ve actually incorporated the two together with the newest version of PW Plan-It, so the combos, along with a photo, a layout, what’s in it and how it’s planted, are part of PW Plan-It.”

Every combo is given a three-digit number to identify it. Growers simply have to decide how many of a particular combo they want to grow and PW Plan-It will do the rest.

“The software will automatically determine what liners and everything they need and transfer it right to an order form,” says Strimpel. He also notes that with all the new varieties coming out, it’s nice to be able to offer suggestions to growers who might not know how new varieties are going to turn out or which ones will grow well together.

“I think growers are looking for some kind of assistance to make things a little easier, because I know even for us, as large as we are and as many years as we’ve been using Excel, it’s a lot of work to put together a production plan,” Strimpel says. “This is our way of asking, ‘What are growers looking for? What do they need? Where could they use help?'” 

New Features

The 2007 version of PW Plan-It has several new features, including a pre-filled recommended starting point. For example, 4.5-inch and gallon pots start off with the 50 top selling varieties with pre-built percentages. This feature helps growers determine how many of each variety they’ll need.

Another advantage of the newest version is the addition of an order review page. This feature is especially useful to customers who grow on a smaller scale and may want fewer plants. Rather than ending up with a lot of full trays of product they might not need, the order review page displays how many extra plants above and beyond what they’re planning they’re going to receive. They’ll then have the option to tweak their numbers if necessary.

“It breaks it down into total plants and it also shows them every variety they’re receiving, and how many extra of each variety, so they can either plan on doing something with them, or they can go back into the planner and adjust a little bit to minimize those numbers,” Strimpel explains.

Another new addition is a blank order form that lets customers who just want to order a few particular items simply enter quantities and ship weeks, then print the order form. Strimpel notes this is an easy way for customers to adjust their numbers, because it means they don’t have to tweak all the numbers that are in the prefilled order form. 

Freight Savings

The latest version of the software also links to Four Star’s SuperSaver program, which helps customers get the best possible freight rates. Based on information customers provide on the original page, PW Plan-It knows when the customers are going to receive the product and automatically lets them know when the SuperSaver weeks for their areas are. Because all the rates are built in, the program also lets customers know exactly how much money they’ll save if they move their shipment dates to SuperSaver weeks.

“Freight rates are really a big concern for growers right now, so here’s another area where they can take a look at it and maybe just tweak when they’re going to receive the product,” says Strimpel. He also says he’s seen customers save as much as $2,500 in freight rates by switching to SuperSaver weeks. 

Customer Feedback

Strimpel says customer feedback on the program is very important in helping determine what changes to make for the next version.

“We keep adding a little more of what it does each year, and at our open house this last May, a lot of ideas came out just talking with different people. The more feedback we get, the more we know what they want or what they’re needing. Because we’ve got it so far along already, we can just keep adding little features to it,” he says. “We’re basically out for their best interests.”

Growers can download PW Plan-It for free or request a copy on CD by visiting www.PWfourstar.com.

Ann-Marie Vazzano was managing editor of American Fruit Grower magazine, a Meister publication.

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