A recent survey in our BenchRunner e-newsletter found that, of 121 respondents, 57 percent had a Web site, 50 percent either had or planned to host e-commerce on it and 72 percent either placed orders online already or planned on starting up the practice. With such business trends in mind, it was not surprising to see all the technology vendors pitching products on the tradeshow floor at this year’s OFA Short Course. At this point in the 21st century, there is no longer any looking back, and like any other industry, floriculture must embrace the information superhighway in order to keep from becoming roadkill upon it.
But how is that done? What resources are needed, and where should they be invested? One company that is leading the way in actively pushing the Internet envelope is BFG Supply Co., based in Burton, Ohio. With its Supply Management Advantages in Real Time (SMART) Business initiative, BFG is using the Web and wireless handheld technology to put real-time inventory and ordering information in the hands of vendors, suppliers, sales staff and ultimately the growers themselves.
For BFG, the past provided a road map for the future. Director Of Purchasing Mike Cyphert previously managed more than a dozen DIY Home Warehouse stores, President and COO Rob Glockner has consulted for Home Depot and Red Devil (among others) and IT director Tim Gallagher has extensive e-commerce experience, all of which combined to make this new initiative a natural business move.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of BFG’s SMART initiative hinges on getting accurate supplier inventory information posted online. According to Landmark Plastics president Ed Stethem, this Ohio-based company was eager to get on board, even though it meant they would be the beta-testers (tech-speak for guinea pigs) of the SMART project. “This system is a natural progression toward driving industry-leading statistics and performance in quality standards, on-time delivery statistics and new product,” says Stethem. Having a dedicated in-house IT staff at Landmark to work out the kinks helped tremendously and has helped both companies further their main goal — supplying growers.
BFG also spent a good deal of time looking into the food services industry to learn how handheld technology empowers field sales reps. “Real-time inventory, order entry and customer information were all core components to these systems, and we now have them in our handheld SMART Assistant,” says Gallagher. The next step, currently in development, involves customizable digital handheld tools (called SMART Alecs) for the grower/customer to keep on-site.
On To The Grower
This shift to a more “virtual” industry is a process, but one of those who is enthusiastic about the journey is Pittsburgh-area grower Brian Bartsch of Bartsch Greenhouses. A fourth-generation grower, Bartsch sees the shift to online as his generation’s big transition.
“My grandfather was one of the biggest geranium growers around,” he remembers. “One year, my dad went to a greenhouse conference, came back and pinched all the geraniums. My grandfather went crazy, but it worked! That’s what we’re seeing happen now with this movement to Internet business. My dad isn’t tech-savvy, but he’s business-savvy, and so he’s supportive of our getting involved.”
Bartsch sees special value in the responsiveness of the SMART system, as it allows him to check availability, make orders and receive confirmations and shipping information without the usual time lag that can be so costly in the unforgiving floricultural production calendar.
“Say it’s late February and I see I have a hole to fill, I used to call and say, ‘I need some begonia plugs,’ and they would call their supplier who would ship a couple of days later,” recounts Bartsch. “Sometimes the salesman wouldn’t get in touch in time, or the order would come late, and sometimes the acknowledgment of the order would come in after I had already started planting!
“Especially when you’re doing combination pots, and you’re a little light on bacopa, I can get right online and find things instead of scrounging around on the phone trying to find whatever I can. In this business, I need these orders in and placed immediately — even one week is too late.”
Two final things that Bartsch appreciates about BFG’s new system are the vendor evaluation capability, as well as the ability it gives growers to reduce human error — especially their own. “I can compare different vendors with this system, and make my preferences and my purchases based upon their actual track records for deliveries,” Bartsch says. “Plus, I can doublecheck my own figures. That’s what it’s coming down to in this business — you have to check every dollar twice.”