Make Your Vendor A Partner

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Richard Jones

I spent a few hours this week reading through the responses to Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 State of the Industry report for a project I’m working on. As always, our survey had a series of in-depth questions specifically for growers. But this year, we also polled your vendors to get a better perspective on where their segments of the market stand.

Some of the most interesting responses came when we questioned growers and suppliers about each other. We asked the suppliers, “What would you like growers to do that would improve profitability for both them and your company?” And we asked growers, “Besides lowering prices, what could vendors/suppliers/distributors be doing to improve your profitability?”

The responses to both questions were (mostly) calm, well-reasoned and thoughtful, and taken together, reveal some opportunities for both sides to work together better.

Suppliers, for example, offered growers sound business advice on product levels, mix and pricing:

• “Place tight control on speculative inventory. Respect the need to retain cash in
        their operations.”
• “Expand product offerings. Too much meat and potatoes in the same thing.”
• “Work with your sales rep so the supply side has what you want when you need it.”
• “Look beyond input costs and recognize the value in the product that is being grown. Consumers want value and solutions to their problems. They don’t necessarily want cheap, [just] reasonable.”
• “Stop cutting prices to win business.”

Growers, on the other hand, asked for more support, and clearly were looking to develop relationships with vendors who are open to the opportunity:

• “Be more available during the season.”
• “Understand our needs and what we’re trying to do as a company.”
• “Continue creating new products that help us stay competitive.”
• “Make supplies available consistently. Make non-patented plant material available, especially to small- to medium-sized growers.”
• “Give better service. It seems with the times distributors are cutting back as well.This is the time we as growers need them the most. Tell us about special pricing options, terms and discounts. Don’t make us have to ask. Take an interest in our well being.”

We talk a lot about how growers need to look at their customers’ needs and find ways they can both win. The same applies on the other end of the supply chain as well. Vendor/grower relationships can be just as profitable — for both parties — as a fat contract with a new retail buyer. Good communication and a desire to help your business partners succeed are the keys.

The alternative is something along the lines of this State of the Industry survey reply from one grower:

“We had a rep in the other day and his response to questions on pricing and profit was to simply shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Tough.’ Needless to say, his firm has no order from us.”

In this situation, no one wins.

Want to read more? Check out the full results in our 2013 State of the Industry Whitepaper.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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