George Lucas can’t say enough good things about Bob’s Market and Greenhouses, the West Virginia-based plug supplier that also happens to compete with Lucas Greenhouses on certain items. Gary Mangum, whose greenhouse operation buys nearly all of its seedlings from Bob’s Market, raves just as much about the quality of the plugs Bell Nursery receives.
I’ve heard growers compliment suppliers before. But I had never heard growers speak with such admiration about another until I spoke this summer with Lucas and Mangum about Bob’s Market, our 2011 Operation of the Year winner. These two past Grower of the Year winners have such tremendous respect for the Barnitz family of Bob’s Market and for numerous reasons, but the two qualities that make the operation such an outstanding plug supplier to its customers are regular communication and killer customer service.
1. Regular Communication
The conversation you’ll have the first time you tell customers their product was oversprayed with plant growth regulators won’t be a friendly one, but opening a line of communication with customers about the early performance of their product is about establishing long-term trust. According to Rick Barnitz, head grower at Bob’s Market, a plug grower’s greatest challenge is keeping an eye on the people doing the spraying. Overdosing certain items leads to extended production, and the last thing finished growers want is to spray gibberellic acid or wait an additional three weeks on a crop.
Still, if plug growers know their customers are going to encounter such challenges, the logical next step–and the right thing to do–is to keep customers informed so they aren’t forced to guess what went wrong at the young plant stage.
An open line of communication is equally important when young plant growers can’t completely fill orders customers have placed. Rather than surprise customers with substitute items, the Barnitz family strives to fulfill orders as customers have specified.
“There are customers who order 14 petunia varieties from a supplier and they only get 10 of what they ordered,” says Robert Barnitz, founder of Bob’s Market. “Of that 10, five were overregulated. Or five or 10 were not finished.”
2. Killer Customer Service
Customers shouldn’t settle for such poor service, Robert says. Instead, they should expect 100-percent order fulfillment and for their suppliers to offer solutions rather than force product along when particular items aren’t available.
“You get substituted something you didn’t order just so the supplier can fill the order,” Robert says. “When you get shorted on red you get more pink and white–and you don’t have the labels for them. I don’t want the type of customer who accepts all of these deficiencies, because my price is higher and I’ll never be able to sell to them.”
Bob’s Market’s drop-of-the-hat delivery is another reason its plug customers choose Bob’s Market. Kathy Miller, owner of Trail Nurseries in Dover, Pa., says Bob’s Market is great about delivering on Saturdays so her operation has plant material ready for Monday. Mangum experiences the same level of customer service.
Ask yourself: Would your young plant customers express the same level of admiration of you as Bob’s Market’s customers do of Bob’s Market? Clearly, the bar on communication and customer service is being set. How do you measure up?