Sam Rambo says his company started offering single-source supplying before it was called single-source.
“We were buying in shrubs, perennials and annuals that stores would need on the weekend knowing that they were going to run out and call us for more plants,” says Rambo, president and CEO of Rambo Nursery. “We officially became known as a single-source supplier in 2008, but we had been doing it prior to that. I’m talking about all categories of ornamental plants, including annuals, perennials, foliage, poinsettias, trees, shrubs, roses and bulbs.”
Rambo Nursery operates three production facilities in Georgia and services more than 50 Home Depot stores in Georgia and Alabama.
Creating Order From Chaos
Rambo says the main reason his company agreed to become a single-source supplier was the lack of consistency he saw in stores. For example, a wide variety of pot sizes and colors were being offered in the Home Depot stores he serviced.
“There was nearly every color imaginable when it came to containers — terra cotta, white, green, black and more,” he says. “The different colors were a reflection of different growers’ philosophies in regards to distinguishing their product from their competitors. The result was absolute chaos. We could see that consumers in the stores were totally confused by the whole situation. We realized the more control we could gain over the situation, the better it would be for us as well as for the customers shopping in the stores.”
Rambo initiated a concept in the stores he called Garden Center Destination. The primary reason for developing the program was to turn all the stores his company served into shopping destinations for consumers looking for plant products.
“We built the business based on the needs of the customers,” Rambo says. “Prior to becoming a single-source supplier, we were making deliveries on Saturdays and Sundays, even though we weren’t a main vendor. We were restocking the display tables on weekends when other growers couldn’t fill the orders.”
Rambo says this strategy has worked for his company because he is a regional grower.
“We handle 54 stores in Georgia and Alabama, and we are very close to the markets that we serve,” he says. “We are definitely interested in expanding beyond the stores that we currently serve. There is a lot of market share we don’t have that’s in close proximity to us. We have the potential to grow this model from our current location, and we would consider setting up distribution centers in other locations. The key is being on top of your market.”
Working With Other Growers
Although Rambo would prefer to grow as much of the plant material he ships as possible, he works with a network of about 20 growers to produce what he cannot. Some of these growers produce exclusively for his company.
“With the annuals and perennials, we would prefer to produce everything that we ship, but we have had to contract-grow a decent percentage of the plants,” Rambo says. “I consider some of the growers we are working to be the best in the country. They are committed to high quality. We try not to give these growers more than three to four items to grow.”
Rambo says he has tried to limit the number of growers that he works with to retain more control and to reduce confusion. He says nearly all of the plants for 2013 have been scheduled and ordered.
“We have contracted with some growers who grow specifically for us. We also send commitments to growers who are not growing exclusively for us,” he says. “We source material all over the country and also ship material all over the country. If we have a need for a product that we are running low on or is selling well, it is not unlike us to search the nation to find it. If there is a grower in Iowa or Michigan who needs plants and we have them, then we’ll ship them.”
Delivering Product On Time
Rambo says transportation is a key component to being a single-source supplier. His company handles all of its transportation, including shipping plants produced by contract growers.
“Ninety percent of what we ship is cross-docked,” he says. “On a typical spring morning we could have 20 trucks lined up unloading freight. The materials are cross-docked here and put back on the trucks and delivered to the stores. Only 10 percent of what we pick up from contract growers is direct-shipped to a store location.”
During the peak spring season, the company will run an average of 30 trucks per day. Rambo owns all of the trailers he uses and contracts with three trucking companies to make deliveries.
“The drivers we work with are self-employed, so they can make the deliveries whenever the stores need the material,” he says. “We have some drivers who can run three loads in one day. We can deliver 24 hours a day, which is especially important in city situations where the drivers can get around a lot quicker at night.”
Hands-on Approach Maximizes Sales
Rambo employs 85 full-time merchandisers who ensure product is delivered and displayed properly. Most of the merchandisers are master gardeners who love plants.
“We feel there is great need for the human touch and to have someone in the stores watching what the customers are doing and to interact with them,” Rambo says. “This helps to back up what we are seeing in regards to actual sales. They can see what isn’t selling and why it might not be selling, as well as make changes to displays or remove a product and replace it with something else.”
Electronic data interchange technology enables Rambo to see specifically what is selling in each store. He says having merchandisers in the stores every day provides information about what is happening that sales figures alone can’t report.
“It is very important to us not to miss any sales,” he says. “It’s also important to us that we are not wasting product. We are able to make sure the material is there when the stores need it.”
Seeking Continual Improvement
“Proximity is the key that allows us to [stay on top of the market],” Rambo says. “We are in the stores constantly. It is very important for us to control the process.”
Rambo says he is constantly looking outside our industry for ways to improve the process.
“I tell our people not to try to reinvent the wheel, because they are wasting their time,” he says. “I tell them to look outside of our industry for someone who is doing it right and to learn from them. It’s all about follow-through and initiative.”