With increased costs for shipping and labor, as well as the need for more efficiency at the retail level, suppliers of carts and racks are faced with the challenge of developing innovative new products and solution-based systems. Fortunately, as you’ll see below, there are major efforts taking place in each of these areas.
One-Way Rack Rentals Reduce Shipping And Damage
EZ Shipper Racks supplies racks to the nursery industry that a grower can rent and ship one way to locations within the EZ Shipper Rack network. Following shipping, the racks are picked up, repackaged and rerented.
“From our vantage point, we hear a lot about labor shortages, as well as truck driver shortages,” says Ron Sims, director of business development and marketing at EZ Shipper Racks. “Because of this, growers are looking for ways to move product faster, and both box stores and independent garden centers want to unload the product faster.”
On top of this, Sims says retailers are focused more than ever on product quality and getting it delivered in a way that allows for faster turns and sell-through. The nursery industry is moving in the same direction, Sims says.
“My belief is that nurseries are evolving to retail ready, so the product is positioned on pallets and ready to buy plants off of immediately,” he says.
As this need for one-way shipping continues to grow, EZ Shipper is expanding its network with more locations.
“We added more than 500 independent garden center locations this year, and will also be adding new locations for 2016.”
Through the company’s online tracking system, growers report when they shipped the racks, and a call center confirms the rack is available for pickup. This makes reporting and tracking rack movement more effective.
“Rack loss for us is only 3 percent,” Sims says. “The longer the rack is out there, the longer it’s exposed to theft and the potential for damage.”
Looking to the future, Sims says EZ Shipper Rack’s focus is on adding value to the industry.
“We do this by promoting a green image,” Sims says. “We want to provide sustainable solutions, like a smaller carbon footprint in recovering racks, and less wood shelves.”
There are other ways to help retailers improve efficiency, such as promoting racks as a tool for vertical merchandising, to take up less overall floor space.
“The European model is to use racks as displays, and we’ll eventually need to go that way, too,” Sims says. “We have to give the consumer a faster buying decision. What better way than to have a rack in front of them?”
Grower Now Offers Custom-Built Racks
Young plant growers are also getting in on the act when it comes to improving efficiency.
“We’ve started offering custom-built, one-way racks for our customers,” says Joe Roberts at Foremost Co. “Considering the variance in sizes of trays, heights of plants, sensitivity to mechanical damage, etc., we decided to offer racks that are built to order so the product can arrive in the best shape possible while also keeping the freight costs in line.”
Roberts says the company’s disposable, one-way wooden rack shippers help save money over boxes by offering the following benefits:
• Lower packaging cost per unit
• Lower freight cost
• Better air flow, which means plants arrive in better condition
• Faster loading and unloading
• No struggles with unpacking and disposal of boxes
• More visibility (“you immediately see the condition of your entire order”)
• Flexibility: plants can be stored on racks until the crew is ready.
• Racks are sturdy enough to be re-used in a nursery or sent to retail.
Steel Rack Provides More Durability
Jon Marler of Midwest Wire Products says his company’s grower customers are emphasizing quality racks and carts that can safely transport products for display.
“Traditional roll carts are expensive and often can be lost in the process, and wooden racks have a tendency not to properly protect flowers and plants while in transit, which increases costs for growers,” Marler says.
“Leasing of racks and carts can become expensive over time.”
Midwest Wire developed the Rivet Rack line of durable steel racks as a cost-effective alternative to more expensive steel roll carts and transport racks. The Rivet Rack includes a standard, patent-pending, multi-purpose steel durable base that offers different uses with or without a pallet. It also has casters for ease in movement, wire grid adjustable shelf layer supports and shelving and a patent-pending design for attaching point-of-purchase graphics for marketing at retail.
Marler says growers can attach tracking devices to the racks to assist them in keeping their transport and display investment from being lost. Midwest Wire also offers engraved name tags riveted to the racks for easier identification.
One new product now available from Midwest Wire is a stackable Rivet Rack Mini Merchandiser.
“This product can stack two-high in a trailer with product,” Marler says. “It was designed as an eye-appealing merchandiser/store fixture that can be fixed or mobile at the retailer location. It can be used as an end cap display or apron fixture to showcase and market various products.”
An Emphasis On Improved Tracking
Growers today seem to be interested in many of the same things when it comes to racks, says A.J. Lambert, director of sales and account management at Container Centralen. Availability during peak season is a big need, as well as ways to minimize disposal and theft at the store level.
“Higher loss rates for most growers this year has peaked interest in tracking as well as trying to reduce cycle time for racks at the store, which can help reduce overall loss and keep the empty racks at the back of the stores to a minimum,” says Lambert. “It’s a big topic for both growers and retailers.”
Lambert says Container Centralen’s pooling service gives access to roughly 450,000 racks for growers that participate in the rental program. This ensures that racks are available for use throughout the year. That same pooling methodology enables the company to control loss rates by recovering each rack more timely.
“Our tracking tools enable us to help keep overall loss rates at less than 2% year over year by providing visibility to racked deliveries to our both our customers and recovery partners,” says Lambert.
All Container Centralen racks are tracked using active RFID technology. The tags are scanned out by both depots and customers when shipments of racks are sent out. The rack tracking program and resulting reports that were developed by the company give customers access to a portal where Container Centrelan provides Scan 2 store rack tracking data, allowing customers to see where their racks are once shipped from their dock.
Amidst the driver shortage in the transportation industry and the potential impact to growers, Container Centralen recently established another division to assist with transportation. This division, called Container Centralen Delivery Services Inc., offers a fully functional transportation management system and a full-time manager of operations within the company.
“The introduction of this service in 2014 and 2015 has enabled us to expand service offerings beyond our rack rental programs,” Lambert says. “Such expansion includes cross dock deliveries, where growers ship product to a warehouse and we manage the dispersion to retail stores, thus reducing transportation cost and labor to handle the product multiple times.”
Looking into the future, Container Centralen is hoping to introduce a new mobile app available to growers and recovery partners.
“We are currently in the process of upgrading our business intelligence reporting, scanning technology, as well as a blended service offering combining a few of our rental program options to customers giving them access to a larger geographic marketplace,” Lambert says.