The last few years for Wenke Greenhouses in Kalamazoo, Mich., (No. 29) have been ones of great transformation. New packaging, ordering options, a sorting line and a cross-docking facility as part of the Kalamazoo Co-Op have changed the way the grower interacts with customers.
The most recent change is a new cross-docking facility with 38,000 square feet of loading area. The new facility allows Wenke Greenhouses to deal in more niche items in smaller quantities.
"The best example is Stepables," says Lisa Ambrosio, the operation’s manager. "We don’t produce them ourselves, but we buy them from Twixwood." The plants are delivered to Wenke, and then they’re transferred to other carts for customer orders, a process that’s completed much easier at a cross-docking facility.
"What we’re really doing is facilitating delivery, because that’s one of the hardest parts," Ambrosio says. "A lot of times, the garden center might want 20 flats of Stepables, but that’s not enough to send a truck there. By combining it with our product, it costs them a little more per flat, but they actually can get delivery in an efficient way."
In A Prettier Package
Cross-docking has made transportation more efficient and new packaging has made the product more attractive once it gets where it’s going. In the past, Wenke grew vegetables in plain, round white pots without special tags or printing. Today, the vegetable line is branded under the Papa Joe’s name, with locking tags and color-coordinated pots.
"Most of the tags now have a ‘best for’ statement – best for salsa, best for eating green, best for early. It’s the same plant, just a little different way to present it," Ambrosio explains. Wenke Greenhouses also provides point-of-purchase and marketing materials to retail customers to help make the sale.
What do these new products look like? What’s included in Wenke’s combination planters? Curious customers can now look to the company’s Web site to find out. Work is in pro-
gress to include photos of plants and packaging along with availabilities listings, especially for combination containers and unique items.
Availabilities are sent out by specific variety every week to all customers by fax or e-mail.
"It’s somewhat unique in that it’s pretty specific," Ambrosio says. "You can see right away if we don’t have any red impatiens. We’re not substituting at the last minute. For many of our customers, we send back confirmation that tells them exactly what they’re going to get, so it’s not a surprise when it shows up."
Sorting Everything Out
Garden centers make up 50 percent of Wenke Greenhouse’s primary customers, and the operation supplies a great diversity of product to fit the retailers’ needs. The complexity of those orders can be a challenge, so Wenke has invested in a sorting line.
The line has allowed the greenhouse to grow plants in ideal conditions, while keeping the order gathering process efficient.
"It’s a work in process here, but it’s going to prove to be beneficial, I think," Ambrosio says. "It will allow us to be very accurate in what we send out. That has always been somewhat of a challenge. So much of what we do is compressed into such a short time."
The sorting line and a more efficient order entry process has allowed Wenke to really target the landscaping market segment.
"In talking with a lot of the landscape customers, we’re finding that this is relatively unknown for them," Ambrosio concludes. "Their suppliers are not really used to telling them when things are going to be ready. It’s something our landscape customers are really appreciative for in our service."