Cultivating Common Ground

As an individual company or entrepreneur, there’s only so much you can do to lead industry-wide change, especially if you are on the service side, like horticultural distributors. A manufacturer can invent the new widget that supersedes all other widgets or build a better mousetrap. A breeder can introduce completely new varieties or reinvent a genus by breeding superior varieties. But if you’re the middleman and your business is distribution, what can you do to take the industry to the next level?

That’s what I was wondering when we first learned about Integrated Horticultural Alliance (IHA), an independent organization formed by three of the strongest regional distributors – BFG Supply Co. in the Midwest, Griffin Greenhouse and Nursery Supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and BWI Companies in the South.

All three companies have strong heritages as family businesses serving growers and allied industry suppliers. Combined, they cover the more populated half of the United States. Their range of goods and services spans greenhouse structures, equipment, crop protection chemicals, fertilizer, pots, trays and growing media. All three provide technical expertise to assist growers with production practices and equipment recommendations.

When asked why the companies came together to form IHA, BWI’s Jim Bunch said they share an understanding that the challenges and opportunities they will face in the future are not individual encounters, but industry encounters. "Industry changes are becoming more frequent and appear to be accelerating and one of the best methods to alter change in a positive way is to be proactive," Bunch says. "IHA understands that working together will not only benefit our three companies, but could greatly improve the overall horticultural supply chain."

Rob Glockner from BFG adds, "We felt we limit our opportunities by just focusing within our own four walls. By aligning our vision with our key vendors and growers, together we have much more influence than by working separately, and we increase the likelihood of implementing better improvements faster."

So what are they going to set out to do?

As we were going to press, they were in the process of hiring a full-time director to keep the alliance’s initiatives on track. As soon as the busy season is over, IHA will be seeking grower input through a questionnaire and engaging them directly to identify the most critical needs to address. This research also will be used to determine customer service measurements and goals.

The ultimate objective is to provide a better service at a lower cost. While the live goods side of our industry in plugs, liners and cuttings has done a good job with e-commerce, delivering real-time availability and access to order histories, the hardgoods side has lagged behind. "It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s tremendous if we can improve our fill rate and make the product acquisition process more timely and eliminate the mistakes that happen out there," says Griffin’s Craig Hyslip.

Technology also can be used to create uniform processes, standards and transparency on the vendor side that will save time and lead to more accurate inventory forecasting. One idea is to develop an intranet that will house all vendor product information and be accessible to all IHA sales representatives instead of searching 20 Web sites for the information. IHA also plans to work with growers and vendors to define best practices.

Whatever IHA implements must work for all three segments, Hyslip says. "If only two out of three win, it’s a losing proposition. If it works for growers and the vendors, then it will definitely work for us."

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