Weston Nurseries in Hopkinton, Mass., enjoys a mutually beneficial relationship with one of its nurseries, Russell’s Nursery, which is located across the country in Oregon. It’s an old-fashioned, but currently unusual, approach to selling plants. To learn more, we asked Weston’s owner Peter Mezitt to explain the program:
How does the program with Russell’s Nursery in Oregon work?
Peter Mezitt: It is a consignment program that works like this:
- Over the winter we shop their plant list and place an order.
- Russell’s ships the plants and covers the freight cost.
- We sell the plants at pre-agreed prices and report our sales at the end of each month.
- We send a check that is roughly 65 percent of the selling price. We make 35 percent.
- As the year goes on, the 65/35 split applies to reduced selling prices resulting from any discounting we may do. The grower wants to see all inventory sold off rather than overwintering.
This seems like a lot of effort. Is it worth it?
Mezitt: While the margins are not as good, there are a lot of reasons we do it:
- Russell’s has unusual (mostly dwarf conifer) plants that tend to appeal to fewer people and sit longer. We would not order these normally because they would be expensive.
- The selling price with the consignment program is actually very low compared to what we would need to charge if we bought these unusual plants from a West Coast grower.
- Not paying the freight up front is a big appeal because of cash flow timing.
- We are also known for our broad selection and this helps us with our breadth.
How do you get the word out to your customers?
Mezitt: Here’s how we promote the program:
- The grower provides us with good POP promotional material.
- We put out an early season pre-order special in February both to our retail and commercial customers to generate excitement. Customers can fill out forms online, call in orders, etc. They can link to the Russell’s plant library online to see pictures and learn more about the plants.
- We advertise it on our website and eMail newsletter.
- Special order customers are contacted when the shipment comes in. We tell them the shipment will arrive sometime in late April and to expect a call to from us around May 1.
Are you happy with the results?
Mezitt: What I like most about the program is that we are able to affordably land unusual or underused dwarf evergreen plants at our nursery. These types of plants are normally hard to justify spending money on because they are expensive and tend to turn over slowly.
We did have to tweak the way we maintained the plants because they are larger-sized, field-dug B&B specimens that are placed in a pot and filled in with mulch. While this makes a more presentable package from a retail selling standpoint, we learned that we had to water these plants less frequently than normal container-grown plants because of the extra buffer of soil between the pot and the root ball.
I think this program is a good program for a nursery like ours that really focuses on green goods and is known as a tree and shrub destination. It is a commitment to purchase about 750 units a year. This Oregon nursery would only want to work with companies like ours because its goal is to have 50 to 75 garden center customers from around the country that make up most of their sales via this consignment program.