Greenhouse Growers Tackling Software Needs Head-On

Starcom Plant Partner EnterpriseIn today’s fast-paced environment, the need to quickly and effectively manage your data is more critical than ever. We asked several greenhouse managers about their most pressing needs in software today, and how they are working with industry suppliers — or venturing out on their own — to come up with solutions that are both cost-effective and customized to their own operations. Here’s what they had to say.

Partnering With Experts

In some cases, it pays to turn to the experts. For example, according to Tal White, General Manager at Chesapeake, VA-based White’s Nursery, one of the company’s biggest needs in software relates to inventory control, which involves more than just planning, counting, forecasting bloom dates, and collecting plants.

“It’s also about managing your weekly space inventory, daily shipping space inventory, or anything you can identify as a gatekeeper of completing your sale and support to your customer,” White says.

For many years, White’s Nursery has been using Starcom Computer Corp.’s PlantPartner, which has a reworked program the company will be moving to this fall.

“We’ve always had a great level of support from Starcom,” White says. “Our challenge was deciding which changes and modifications were necessary versus something we’d just like to have. Their user community has helped us find new and less expensive ways to accomplish what we need without additional programming costs.”

White’s originally used its own uniquely designed software system in the early 90s, but chose to go with Starcom’s offering over maintaining its own.

“No horticultural software is going to do everything you want, because what you want continually changes,” White says. “Our challenge is in finding the best way to summarize and understand what we’re getting out of our data. We’re always examining how we can rework a process where less is more.”

At Wenke Greenhouses in Kalamazoo, MI, President Lisa Ambrosio says much of the focus recently has been on finding ways to fill customer orders accurately while also shipping efficiently.

“We also want to provide the customers with the information they need for easier ordering and delivery details.”

Wenke uses Picas Software from Innovative Software Solutions (ISS) software rather than making its own because it benefits from the enhancements that come along with it.

“We also want the safety that comes with having a more widely known program,” Ambrosio says.

Another example is Lucas Greenhouses in Monroeville, NJ, which upgraded its business software two years ago.

“We looked at a custom system and several greenhouse industry-specific companies, and we chose Picas,” says George Lucas, owner of Lucas Greenhouses. “A lot of other growers who are rooting cuttings are using it, and we had a good comfort level with their knowledge of our industry.”

The next challenge, Lucas says, is to get the company’s finished programs on it, which Lucas is starting this fall.

“All software is expensive, but I am pleased with the choice we made,” Lucas says.

Building From Within Can Also Pay Off

Some growers do indeed choose to take matters into their own hands and create software systems in-house.

“We have been developing our own software package for 30 years,” says Bill Swanekamp of Kube-Pak, a wholesale grower in Allentown, NJ. “It was an accounting-based package, and we modified its production functions and capability to match our needs in the greenhouse industry.”

Since its first development, Swanekamp says the system has gone through extensive rewrites and customizations.

“Our biggest needs over the past five years have involved inventory control and broker integration, and we approached each need differently,” he says. The inventory changes were written and made internally within a year by the company’s programming staff.

When it came to broker integration, Swanekamp says he wanted Kube-Pak’s brokers to be able to access them and place orders online. He also wanted to be able to have the brokers send orders electronically and the data to be uploaded into Kube-Pak’s system with only minor human intervention.

The program is being written by SBI Software and will be able to communicate with Kube-Pak’s system throughout the day.

“Orders will be entered into the broker system and then uploaded into ours,” Swanekamp says. “We will then electronically acknowledge their orders, make changes, and bill them electronically once the material ships.”

Challenges Remain

The majority of growers still choose to work directly with software suppliers, and while this can eliminate some internal headaches, it is not without some challenges.

“The system we use is customizable, but its usability is a function of how good your software designer is,” says one grower who wished to remain anonymous.

Another grower in a similar situation notes that while the software designer they work with is flexible, the time it takes them to complete a project is very difficult to deal with. For this operation, developing its own system is not an option due to the high cost of developing and maintaining it.

“We are interested in what services are emerging from the other suppliers,” the grower says.

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