Using Distribution Technology To Save Money (And Make Your Life Easier)

Using Distribution Technology To Save Money (And Make Your Life Easier)

Transportation is often referred to as “logistics.” Computers are great at “logistics” — people are not. I have yet to see a human being route and optimize customer orders for shipping better than a computer. Computers are designed to quickly run through millions of permutations in order to arrive at the most efficient result. 

Talking Trucking 

Tim Higham of Interstate Transport was one of our expert panelists during an industry luncheon hosted by our sister magazine Ornamental Outlook at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 19.

Our other expert was industry consultant Bob Jacobson, who worked for The Home Depot for 20 years and is considered the architect of modern lawn and garden retailing. As senior director of outside garden, Jacobson brought order to the marketing, merchandising and distribution of plants.

The discussion topic was, “Transportation and Distribution — Spend Less Starting Today.” This event was sponsored by Pierson Supply, Inc., in Pierson, Fla.

Also at TPIE, Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association recognized its Trucker-Friendly Nurseries, who are evaluated by transportation firms on factors such as road conditions, accessibility after hours, dock height, proper sleeving and paperwork accuracy.

This year’s winning Florida nurseries are: Boyd Nurseries in Loxahatchee; Butler’s Foliage in Princeton; Country Joe’s Nursery in Lake Worth; Heart of Florida Greenhouses in Zolfo Springs; Kraft Gardens in Ft. Pierce; Mercer Botanicals in Zellwood; Plants of Eden in Homestead; Rose of Sharon Nursery in Miami; Silver Krome Gardens in Homestead; and Suncoast Nursery in Bradenton.

Growers also evaluated transportation firms on timeliness, friendliness, flexibility and dependability. The Carrier of the Year is MCT Transportation in Sanford, Fla.

Any large company you can name would grind to a screeching halt without effective transportation and distribution software. These programs are commonly known as a Transportation Management System or TMS for short. As your nursery grows in size and you find you are shipping to multiple states for multiple clients, you will quickly realize growing your product is not the major limiting factor — getting it to the client is! This is especially true in “shipping season.”

Moreover, in today’s competitive landscape, and to complicate matters, you may even bring in brokered material to fill out your orders or contract grow material at other nurseries. For those that use racks to ship on, you need an efficient and effective way to know where your racks are and to get them back to your dock as quickly as possible.

An effective TMS can handle these needs with aplomb. Some growers using an inventory and sales software system may already have a “mini” transportation module built into their software. But these systems are almost exclusively designed for growers shipping short distances on their own trucks — and the functionality is limited because it was an “add on” to the inventory and sales system. However, for most small- to medium-sized growers, these “add on” modules may suffice. The easiest part is all you need to do is contact your software vendor to ask if they have a module that fits your needs.

At some point, however, as you grow as a company, you may need to look at a comprehensive and dedicated transportation system that will unify your entire shipping function — whether your material is shipped on your own trucks, common carrier, via transportation broker or even rail transport. Moreover, you need to be able to organize all the necessary paperwork to make the shipping function run smoothly. For growers with existing technology framework, this can seem a little daunting, but this is exactly what sets the larger growers apart from small growers — the willingness to go through painful change for the greater good. 

Starting The Journey

Many growers’ first transportation system is simply a spreadsheet and some mapping software. I still see this even as growers get to $10m in sales or more–quite amazing when you consider many growers spend 30 percent or more of their total variable expenses on transportation and distribution. So you would think an obvious place to install technology would be in this area.

Where do you start? There are hundreds of software options to handle the transportation function. Some will cost as little as $500 and others well over $1,000,000. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for and there are many considerations to be made. While many growers don’t have dedicated IT staff to analyze all the options and manage a complex installation procedure, you can rest easy because there are readily available solutions that are more “plug and play” than “pay and pray.”

Keep Your Letters Coming!

I have been both gratified and amazed at the amount of e-mail I have received in response to our Transportation and Distribution articles. It seems many of you have incurred challenges and are willing to share your advice and solutions to the Greenhouse Grower readership. Thank you!

I am also pleased to receive your ideas for upcoming topics. Suelynn Callahan, general manager of Advantage Oregon wrote to tell me about a successful co-op arrangement they formed in Oregon to support the needs of the region’s growers. We will be publishing a full report of our findings in the near future.

So, if you have topics you want to be addressed please e-mail me at The more we all get involved, the more we will all learn!

One option is the new ASP.NET solution from Microsoft. The only full-featured TMS system designed and built for growers’ runs on this Microsoft platform and is called InMotion Global ( and requires nothing more than an Internet connection. If you can surf the Web, you can access the system. The pricing can’t be beat–free of all upfront costs and a “pay-per-load” fee of $17. It supports an unlimited number of offices and users for no extra charges and connects you to a 24-hour freight management center for those last minute needs (and your customers can track and trace their shipments over the Internet). InMotion Global is used by some of the largest growers in the country. 

Mitigating Problems

At Interstate, we have found 90 percent or more of potential shipping problems can be eradicated by having the correct paperwork. Technology is also good at this “business process” function — allowing you to flow smoothly from order to truck with minimal fuss. When problems do occur, a good technology solution will fix the problem before it becomes an issue.

The funny thing about our business is “if we can just get through the spring” we seem to think we can avoid spending the money and enduring the pain of installing a transportation technology solution. But ironically, if we had the technology solution in the first place, our spring shipping season would be more profitable and easier to bear.

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Horticulture Priorities

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadlines Approaching

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More
Latest Stories
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

March 10, 2015

GrowIt! Mobile App Now Available For Android

The mobile app GrowIt! Garden Socially can now be used by gardeners with Android-based smartphones. Now available on the Google Play Market, GrowIt! helps users find plants to fit their lifestyle and connect them with other local gardeners.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and …

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Maryland Green Industry Associations Unite

The Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association recently announced that it is expanding its reach to include the greenhouse industry, meaning it has become The Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association (MNLGA). The change comes as a result of the planned dissolution of the former Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association and the invitation for those members to join the existing and renamed association.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Ann…

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
myers industries Lawn and Garden Logo

February 24, 2015

Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn And Garden Business Sold, N…

The management of Myers Lawn and Garden Group, along with Wingate Partners V, L.P. have recently acquired the Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn and Garden business. The new company is named The HC Companies, and will continue as a North American leading provider of horticulture containers supplying the greenhouse, nursery and retail markets.

Read More

February 17, 2015

AmericanHort Announces New Board Members

AmericanHort recently announced the election of new officers and members to the board of directors. Each will assume their positions on the board during Cultivate’15, July 11 to 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More
All American Selections

February 17, 2015

All-America Selections Elects New Officers, Names New J…

While meeting during the Flower and Vegetable Seed Conference in Tampa, Fla., hosted by the American Seed Trade Association, All-America Selections elected new officers for a two-year term. Read on to learn about the new officers, as well as all of the new judges that were added in 2014.

Read More
Greenhouse on your desktop, on your phone, on your tablet

February 11, 2015 Relaunches With Responsive Design …

Greenhouse Grower magazine, the nation’s leader in profits, production and education for greenhouse growers, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, The new design is the product of direct user feedback and analytics, and includes responsive design for ease of mobile use.

Read More
Andy Higgins

February 3, 2015

MasterTag Names Andy Higgins As Its New President

Former CEO and president of Ecke Ranch, Andy Higgins, joins MasterTag as its new president. He brings more than two decades of industry experience to the position.

Read More
Syngenta Bioline Hires Ronald Valentin For Technical Lead Role

January 28, 2015

Syngenta Bioline Hires Ronald Valentin For Technical Le…

Ronald Valentin has been appointed technical lead for Syngenta Bioline, effective January 2015. He will be responsible for technical support of Bioline biological control agents and will be instrumental in helping growers develop integrated pest management (IPM) solutions.

Read More

January 27, 2015

Give Equal Time To The Number Crunchers

Before investing in a new business opportunity, check in with the financial gurus of your organization to make certain you have the cash flow to back up your efforts.

Read More
Plant Introductions, Inc. partners Mark Griffith, Dr. Michael Dirr and Jeff Beasley and Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney.

January 20, 2015

Bailey Nurseries’ Purchase Of Plant Introductions Inc. …

When Bailey Nurseries purchased its long-time breeding partner, Plant Introductions, Inc. (PII), in early January 2015, it freed the PII team to concentrate on what they do best: develop new plants. Bailey Nurseries will take on the business management side of the partnership, but otherwise the relationship it has enjoyed with PII for years will be largely unchanged.

Read More
Plant Introductions, Inc. partners Mark Griffith, Dr. Michael Dirr and Jeff Beasley and Bailey Nurseries President Terri McEnaney.

January 13, 2015

Bailey Nurseries Acquires Plant Introductions

Bailey Nurseries has acquired Plant Introductions, Inc. (PII), effective January 1, 2015. PII has developed numerous innovative new varieties that have been marketed worldwide, many introduced by Bailey Nurseries.

Read More

January 7, 2015

How Inflation Affects Your Business And Why You Can’t I…

Awareness of the true increase in costs after inflation is a necessary part of good financial management for greenhouse operations.

Read More

December 4, 2014

New Developments In Shipping/Logistics Software

Improved shipping and logistics software from Picas Software and MapMechanics makes it easier for growers to plan loads efficiently and automate day-to-day distribution planning.

Read More