The Loading And Unloading Problem

The Loading And Unloading Problem

What is more expensive â€” hiring a truck to drive 1,000 miles with one plant on it or 2,000 plants? Well, for those who are not mathematically inclined, the cost of the transport divided up among 2,000 plants is much less than one plant. Not rocket science â€” right?

So why is there such a debate with regard to how you ship your product, how you load it and how you get it off the truck when you deliver it? This is an easy answer if you have your own truck. Fred, the driver, loaded it, drove to the customer and unloaded it. He then drives back to you, empty (see last month’s column).

However, when using common carrier, you have many choices of loading and unloading. Some good, some bad. Some are more costly than others and some have hidden advantages and disadvantages.

We have seen some interesting ways in which trucks are loaded. One of the most interesting things I have picked up on is how few growers actually optimize their loads using commonly available technology. Computer algorithms (“programs”) can take your entire week’s shipping data and tell you exactly the most efficient way to load and route your trucks. I see every week (no joke) at least one grower reduce his truck needs by 20 percent or more using technology to do this. So for every 100 trucks you thought you needed, you could save 20. Not bad. The computer does it in about 30 seconds and is always right.

Capacity is tight throughout the transportation industry, exacerbated by the seasonal nature and special equipment requirements of live goods. This spells “premium pricing.” Computerized optimization reduces the total number of trucks you need–effectively reducing the total “strain” that your nursery puts on the industry as a whole. The fewer trucks needed overall, the longer it will take for seasonal prices to skyrocket, allowing you to keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket. By chasing these inefficiencies out of shipping, we all help each other keep rates as reasonable as possible deep into the spike seasons.

Live goods (plants, trees, flowering product, etc.) are unique in the transportation industry. I do not know of any other product that can be loaded in the truck in so many different ways. Here are a few that jump to mind: floor loaded, California stacked, decked, shelved, boxed, hanging, racked (with several rack sizes), on rollers–you get the idea. Most for-hire carriers will give you three things–a truck, a trailer and a driver. Anything else you need for special loading needs is a bonus.

Obtaining consistent capacity, especially when your equipment requirements are specialized, is almost impossible if you have any real load volume. Common carriers, generally speaking, cannot drag around decking, shelves or provide lift gates and other special equipment “just in case” they pull a plant load. In fact, many of their other shippers, because they want to maximize the trailer capacity (cube it out), refuse to load any trailer unless it is clean and 100 percent empty.

This has pushed growers to do one of several things to accommodate their specific loading equipment needs. First, more drivers are refusing to take floor-loaded or California-stacked loads. Who can blame them? Tailgating and unloading several thousand plants is hardly fun. Growers have come up with solutions that benefit the driver and the customer by shipping on rental racks or using palletized boxes. This keeps quality high (less material rejected and claimed) and the material “display ready” in many cases. If you use rental racks, you pay a flat, one-way rental fee per rack. The rack company (such as EZ Rack â€” www.ezrack.com) then worries about picking the racks up and getting them to the growers on an as-needed basis.

 

Many growers have been successful in getting the customer to either pay for the rack fees outright or to get higher prices for the product to offset these costs. The benefit is that a driver/client has an easy time unloading the truck, so you can negotiate lower delivery pay for each stop and you have a wider pool of drivers willing to compete for your loads (driving your costs down). Moreover, plants delivered on racks are virtually ready for sale–so everyone wins.

Boxed material is also becoming more common. We are seeing more growers using “pallet boxes” or “bin boxes.” These are, essentially, boxes perched atop a pallet, then stacked two high. Each customer/delivery may get several pallets, all well marked for the driver and consignee, that could contain one plant or be full to the top. This is akin to an ocean container you see on cargo ships–self contained and ready for delivery. Once again, creative loading techniques help you balance the need to load the truck as fully as possible while making it easy to get capacity to take your loads and keep the client happy with a tidy and simple delivery solution. Remember, your customers would much rather unload six pallets or six racks on a busy spring day rather than have to help unload 600 loose plants.

Moreover, unloading is always an interesting issue with live plants. First, nobody wants to do it. The driver looks at the receiver and the receiver looks at the driver, both hoping the other will give in and unload. I have witnessed several hours go by where nobody wants to unload loose plants, especially in the busy spring season when the receiver should be serving customers and selling plants. If a third-party merchandiser is involved, it gets even more interesting. The merchandiser may not know to be at the store when the truck arrives (a very common occurrence) and simply cannot get to the delivery location to help unload at short notice. Now you have an upset driver, an upset customer and an upset merchandiser. 

If you use a third-party merchandiser (such as Retail Plant Services, www.hpsw.net) and a common carrier, we highly recommend you use carriers that provide Internet load tracking capabilities. In addition, a very simple solution (solving 90 percent of your problem calls) is to give the third-party merchandiser the cell number of the driver. Even better, use a third-party merchandising company that has an existing relationship with your transportation source or logistics provider. That way, they can call to get an accurate estimated time of arrival on the truck and be ready to meet the driver to expedite the unloading process. Everyone wins.

My advice to you is simple: Put a little thought into how you load, unload and optimize your loads. I will almost guarantee that if you take this article with you to your next transportation meeting and read it out loud, you will get at least one good idea you can use. Try it. It will save you several thousands of dollars immediately and who knows how much over the long term!

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...
Gotham Greens Atrium Style Greenhouse Chicago

May 23, 2016

What’s Good For The Environment Is Good For Business [Opinion]

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 To Be Held June 12-15 in Georgia

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 For Greenhouse Growers

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
Latest Stories
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
Sanitation programs are essential to preventing and removing food safety concerns.

April 7, 2016

USDA Launches GroupGAP Program For Fruit And Vegetable …

The new certification program is designed to help small and mid-size growers, including greenhouse vegetable producers, comply with new food safety regulations.

Read More
Young Plants Farm North Carolina

March 15, 2016

Young’s Plant Farm Obtains MPS-A Qualification

MPS, an organization that develops and manages certification for companies in the horticulture industry, has awarded MPS-A certification to Young’s Plant Farm in North Carolina and Alabama.

Read More
Charlie Hall Feature Image

March 14, 2016

Dr. Charlie Hall Will Offer Keynote Address At Farwest …

The Texas A&M economist will discuss factors affecting short- and long-term demand driving the future of the green industry.

Read More
Seed Your Future Logo

March 8, 2016

Longwood Gardens And American Society For Horticultural…

Under the direction of co-chairs Paul B. Redman of Longwood Gardens and Anna Ball of Ball Horticultural Company, the “Seed Your Future” initiative is designed to combat declining awareness of horticulture while promoting it as a viable career choice.

Read More
Florida Green Industry

March 4, 2016

University Of Florida Study Shows Green Industry Genera…

According to the study, the rise of large retail chain stores with garden departments has made plants and other horticultural products more readily available to consumers than ever before.

Read More
Great Lakes Growers Expansion

February 22, 2016

Great Lakes Growers Expands Its Production Capacity For…

The Burton, OH-based grower has added 25,000 square feet to its operation, helping it to keep up with rising consumer demand.

Read More
National Garden Bureau Logo feature image

February 16, 2016

New Officers And Directors At National Garden Bureau an…

During the ASTA Flower & Vegetable Seed Conference, National Garden Bureau and All-America Selections elected new officers and directors.

Read More
Katherine Wolper

January 24, 2016

Ludvig Svensson Hires Katherine Wolper As West Coast Sa…

Wolper says she looks forward to listening to growers and understanding the concerns, obstacles, and opportunities they face.

Read More

January 20, 2016

Tips For Overcoming Challenges In Family Business From …

Our industry is run by a collection of family businesses, and every one, no matter how big or small, has its share of management issues. But there are several differences between one that is run successfully as a business and one that allows family politics to distract from the organization’s goals. In this year’s State Of The Industry Survey, we noted that labor recruitment and succession are two areas where growers struggle. In talking with the owners of Costa Farms for this month’s cover story, I thought some of the values they have incorporated into the operation’s management structure really stood out as practices that other family businesses could use. The participatory management approach to business and team building is one that Tony Costa, the second-generation owner of Costa Farms, instilled in his children, Maria Costa-Smith and Jose Costa, and son-in-law, Joche Smith, the current owners of Costa Farms. In […]

Read More
I-9 Form

January 13, 2016

Proposed Changes To I-9 Form Important For Greenhouse G…

AmericanHort’s Government Relations and Grassroots Representative Davi Bowen says growers need to become familiar with the new form and should be prepared to make comments if necessary.

Read More

January 13, 2016

Wenke Greenhouses Buys Zylstra Greenhouses

Two Kalamazoo, MI-based greenhouses have merged after Wenke Greenhouses closed on Zylstra Greenhouses at the end of November. The additional property and facilities will allow Wenke Greenhouses to expand its young plant business, among other areas.

Read More

January 13, 2016

Costa Farms Wins With Its Emphasis On Team, Solutions, …

Based in Miami, FL, Costa Farms has gone global by focusing on strategy, systems, and vertical integration. See how the operation continues to expand through its emphasis on team, solutions, and growth.

Read More

January 11, 2016

New Transportation Funding Bill Is Good News For Floric…

According to AmericanHort, perhaps the biggest benefit of the new bill is what it doesn’t include: a proposed amendment that would have prohibited the use of federal funds for vegetative enhancements.

Read More

December 29, 2015

The Home Depot Says No To Neonics

The Home Depot plans to phase out neonicotinoids by 2018, according to a recent statement on the company’s website. The large home improvement retailer stated that its live goods suppliers have reduced the number of plants that they treat with neonicotinoids, and now more than 80% of all flowering plants sold at The Home Depot are not treated with neonicotinoids. The retailer said it will continue this decrease unless: Treatment is required by state or federal regulation, or Undisputed science proves that the use of neonicotinoids on live goods does not have a lethal or sub-lethal effect on pollinators Aside from these exceptions, the retailer has implemented a complete phase-out of neonicotinoid use on live goods by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, The Home Depot has required all of its live goods suppliers to label plants that have been treated with neonicotinoids. “The Home Depot is deeply engaged in understanding the […]

Read More
Gardeners of all ages enjoyed the annual plant sale at McCorkle Nurseries

December 22, 2015

Allan Armitage Explains Why People Will Always Want To …

We may believe that an appreciation for gardening and plants is rapidly draining away, but there is reason to hope.

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