This month, we checked in with several leading plug and liner growers to see how orders are coming in and what the trends are leading into the spring season. Allen Pyle at C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, Mich., says efforts to improve efficiencies and reduce waste are paying off while helping the company prepare for a season of later orders:
“We’ve seen a trend in later booking each year for at least the last 3-5 years, and it’s worse for 2009,” Pyle says. “We know we’ve lost some orders to lower-cost suppliers, with growers looking to save on expenses where they can. (Of course, cheaper up front isn’t always cheaper in the long run, if the quality isn’t what the grower expects.)
“We frequently see growers come back the year after they try a cheap supplier. We often see the same thing with growers who try doing their own propagation for a few years, before realizing they are better off focusing on their finish production efforts. I’m continually amazed at how few growers really understand their production costs and how strongly product shrink during production hits the bottom line.
“We have increased spec for spring 2009, as we believe the late ordering trend will increase the demand for at-once material. Spec always makes me somewhat nervous, but with our detailed historical sales data, we’re able to target strong-selling items for specific weeks and generally get good sell-through.
“Although spring bookings are behind overall, some growers’ orders have increases, and we have secured some new business. Our efforts at improving efficiency and reducing waste are already starting to pay off, as well. Our December was the best we’ve had in some time. Even though sales were down, our profitability increased.”