The spring season is a chaotic mess for the industry. Unpredictable weather, labor supply, and customers unsettle a carefully plotted system to make sales go smoothly and increase everyone’s profit.
And when you add a frenetic work pace and fickle circumstances to a season that determines if you succeed or fail that year, it stresses everyone throughout the supply chain.
With that in mind, I reached out to retailers across the country about what they think would make their spring go more smoothly.
The retailers recognize that both sides need to work together, that growers shouldn’t be the only ones making changes.
“Most growers do a good job,” says Eric Hill, who owns Autumn Hill Nursery, located north of Atlanta. “We are all under a lot of stress, and usually shorthanded, and dealing with unforeseen issues that we cannot control. A few of our best vendors are Redbud Lane Nursery in Canton, GA, Evergreen Nursery in Athens, GA, and Black Fox Farms in Cleveland, TN.”
So consider what follows an opening of a conversation. Feel free to send to me what you’d like to see retailers do to help you make it through your own spring season.
Can New Technology Solve Old Issues?
The most common wish-list topics are ones that will come as no surprise.
“The things that come to my mind are the things that have been discussed ad nauseum over the years — barcoding of plant material, deliveries when promised (we did have some issues with that this spring), and availabilities when needed (and I know that’s a very hard thing to predict),” says Four Seasons Greenhouses’ Gail Vanik. Vanik and her husband Vik are grower retailers who operate in Southwest Colorado.
Let’s look at the issues one at a time and see what can realistically be done to improve things.
Delivery times. Mark Landa, who owns Virginia-based Boulevard Flower Gardens, points out that the best times for retail deliveries are in lulls – Mondays and Thursdays, and very early and late in the day. Realistically, growers have a lot of deliveries to make and are often faced with not enough drivers to go around.
That’s where improved communication matters. When the delivery is first scheduled, a half-day window can be given. Once that day’s route is created, a two- or three-hour window can be given. And on delivery day, the driver can send a notice that he’s on his way, whether that is an hour’s notice or even a half-hour notice.
What’s Being Delivered? Retailers know that growers cannot predict 100% of what will be available for shipping. But they do expect to be notified about what will not be coming.
Availability Lists. Accurate availability lists are expected by retailers, and the few growers who are not keeping their lists updated are likely losing business. But some retailers are yearning for the next level of service with available plants: Images of those plants ready for sale.
“I would love for growers to provide more images,” says Dayton Nurseries’ Amy Draiss in Northwest Ohio. “Not only to see what is in bloom, but images that we can use on our websites and social media channels to help promote the plants. Images are very hard to come by, especially for new introductions. How am I supposed to market a plant without its picture?”
Images for retailers’ website and social media campaigns are pretty easy to share. Most breeders have a media library of beauty shots that you can link to on your site.
Getting images of plants ready to ship is trickier, although there are growers who have solved the problem. Overdevest’s David Wilson walks the nursery every morning, taking brief videos of plants to share with his customers. Another solution is to attach Go-Pro cameras to workers’ hats or to irrigation booms. After that, it’s a matter of downloading those images to your site so customers can order plants with more confidence.
Retailers shared many other ideas, from pot sizes to barcoding and tagging plants to variety selection. Keep an eye out for an article discussing these other issues on GreenhouseGrower.com/Retailing. And I plan to talk to growers about these issues to get the other side of the story, which I’ll share with you in next month’s column.