How To Get The Best Deal By Working With Distributors

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Ball carries equipment from both large companies and smaller manufacturers like SB Machinerie.

Ball carries equipment from both large companies and smaller manufacturers like SB Machinerie.

You can do your research online, attend trade shows to see demonstrations and learn about all the new products, and even ask fellow growers about their experiences. But your best bet for finding a good deal on products that meet your needs might be working with your local distributor representative, who sells a wide range of different products and can recommend the best fit for your growing needs.

“The main goal of a distributor rep is to build a long-term relationship by helping customers be as profitable as possible, recommending the right products at the right price,” says Chris Chmura, grower manager for BFG Supply. “Distributor reps are always looking for the best option for grower supplies for each customer’s individual needs, whether it’s about price, quality or packaging, we always want to offer the best value.”

Relationships Make The Deals
A common misconception many growers have is that buying direct from product manufacturers will save money by cutting out the middle man, when distributors actually can offer economies of scale, says Dan Morrissey, construction manager for Griffin Greenhouse Supplies.

“Many growers think if they buy direct from the manufacturer, they get the best price, but that’s not necessarily true,” Morrissey says. “Griffin is a big customer to many vendors, so we’re probably getting a better price than you are getting direct. Let’s say it’s a case of pots you’re buying — Griffin is buying tractor trailers full.”

While buying directly from a product manufacturer can be beneficial and provide valuable information and expertise on a particular product, distributor reps are knowledgeable about all the products they sell, and can offer an objective recommendation, according to Dan McMahon, hardgoods sales manager for Ball Seed.

“Distributor reps typically have the ability to help a customer with their entire operation, whereas direct sales are focused on a small need,” McMahon says. “Plus, working with a distributor rep means a single point of contact for all needs; working direct with a manufacturer means a different sales person for every product a customer buys.”

Depending on where they’re located, growers may regularly work with a preferred distributor and a secondary distributor. And when it comes to making purchases, those relationships might be what help you get the best deals.

“Most distributors are local to their areas, so customers usually already have relationships with them: accounts that are already set up with credit limits and credit status, local truck service, knowledge of the local conditions,” Morrissey says. “I have worked with greenhouse operations over generations, from grandfather to father to son and daughter. I know the family, know the dog, know the children and what school they’re going to. That’s the importance of working with a distributor. That’s what the relationship is about.”

Find The Right (New Or Used) Product
Because distributors work regionally serving many growers, they generally have a good feel for the market and who’s buying and selling equipment in your area. While they’d probably rather you buy new equipment, their knowledge and resources can be invaluable to your operation.

“Distributors are up on current equipment costs and have access to multiple manufacturers of similar-type products, so they may also know where or who might have used equipment for sale,” Chmura says. “If a customer has a specific manufacturer they are looking for, it is much easier for a distributor rep to find used equipment that other customers may be looking to replace for one reason or another.”

Distributors can also provide access to smaller-sized manufacturers of unique or specialized equipment for the greenhouse industry. For instance, Ball Seed partners with S.B. Machinerie, a company that provides compact, economical and high-speed machines designed by an industry professional with years of experience, McMahon says.

“Oftentimes growers feel distributors only work with large companies, but Ball Seed is committed to customer success in all sizes, and builds partnerships with smaller vendors,” he says. “This can translate to better, more focused customer service to your business.”

Plan well in advance for large capital expenditures like structures.

Plan well in advance for large capital expenditures like structures.

Plan Well In Advance For Capital Investments


Structures, heating and irrigation systems and large equipment purchases require advance notice, so start making plans at least a season, if not a year, before you need it.

“Truthfully, growers should begin their preliminary plans about a year ahead on capital investment, although most of the time this is not done,” Morrissey says. “It’s better for everyone involved if enough time is allotted to each step in purchasing big ticket items. Careful planning yields the best results.”

Of course, there are emergency situations, such as weather disasters or fires, but barring those issues and assuming your operation is on track, plan capital expenditures with enough time to allow for contingencies.

“Too often a grower makes a decision to buy and expects it to arrive for use immediately,” McMahon says.

Exploring equipment purchases in advance:
1) Ensures you receive the right machine for your
business needs;
2) Confirms the equipment is in-stock when you need it;
3) Guarantees it will work properly and efficiently.

“This is another benefit for working with a distributor like Ball Seed, which can handle timing, freight claims and tracking, as well as offer trialing programs and guarantees if equipment purchases do not work out.”

Evaluate Your Business Growth Plan
Beyond your immediate equipment needs, it’s important to make educated purchases based on your business plans for three to five years in the future, McMahon says.

“Look for equipment that can grow with you,” he says. “Ask questions about how the new equipment can efficiently work for the way you do business. Educate yourself on the right equipment for your company. Too often a purchase is made that is shortsighted. It can save money and energy in the long run if you evaluate where your company is headed.”

Your distributor rep can help you evaluate those needs, so keep them informed about your plans. Often, distributors receive advanced notice from manufacturers about any special deals coming up, Morrissey says.

Distributor Services Provide Extra Value
Buying equipment is less intimidating through distributors with a flexible trialing program, which eases the purchasing decision to allow growers time to make sure the machine is a good fit for your business.

Most distributors offer financing and credit terms, customized to your operation. This is especially important with fewer banks granting loans to growers. Product delivery through distributor warehouses can reduce shipping costs, as well.

Some distributors have stepped up their service with reduced access to Extension services, due to funding cuts. Reps can access technical support departments for both hard and live goods, adding to their value and improving grower trust and dependence.

It’s in every grower’s best interest to use the resources available. Ask your local distributor representative about these services at your next appointment.

Keys To Successful Purchasing
According to the distributor representatives we talked to for this article, growers can save money by following this checklist:
■ Keep good records of what you’ve purchased in years past.
■ Pool your orders together to save money, get good terms and reduce delivery charges.
■ Make plans at least one year ahead on capital investments to ensure availability and allow for any contingencies.
■ Let suppliers know about your future investment plans and needs, to take advantage of any special deals.
■ Think about how your business will evolve and keep suppliers in the loop to help you choose investments that will meet your needs now, but also as your operation grows.

Laura Drotleff is editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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