Avoid Surprises On The Delivery Dock

Avoid Surprises On The Delivery Dock

Carol Miller resized for onlineGreat-looking plants filled the truck during a delivery to a large garden center a few years ago. The delivery happened to come during my visit to the store.

Even with high-quality plants, the store owner was hopping mad. He started out in a pretty good mood, despite the truck showing up in the middle of the afternoon, when employees were busy helping customers. He had been told the truck would arrive before 9 a.m., but at least it came on the day he expected it.


The retailer kept his cool when the driver opened the truck and at least half of the promised order was missing. That was too common an occurrence to rile him. What set him off was that all of the other plants left on the truck were the very variety that was missing from his order. The driver said he couldn’t have them because he was delivering them to the mass merchant a mile up the highway.

Give Retailers A Heads Up When Orders Change

In this era when the only way to get away from cell phone contact is to take a cruise or head to outer space, retailers do not understand why they don’t get a heads up when an expected delivery will not include certain plants, has replacement plants or will be coming in on a different day than originally scheduled.

“The issue that causes the biggest problems for us with our growers is communication,” says Jessi Bautista of Buchanan Native Plants. “If we place an order and something isn’t able to be placed on the truck, especially if it’s a lot of something, give us a call in advance. Often, we’ve already spoken with customers who are expecting those plants to come in and be available to purchase.”

Retailers have a lot of balls in the air and understand that things can change on a dime. They understand growers deliver what they can, when they can. They just want a heads up so they can adapt.

“If you aren’t going to come through, please extend the courtesy of notice so we can source it somewhere else,” says Kate Terrell of Wallace’s Garden Center.

And that is the crux of what bothers retailers the most about surprises at the loading dock. They plan advertising, in-store events and their own scheduling based on what growers are shipping. When growers don’t come through, sales are lost.

“We try to staff according to delivery days, and we often let customers know when to check back,” Bautista says. “But if we expect something Monday and it doesn’t arrive until Thursday, the sale could already be lost. The growers I order from consistently week after week are the ones that show up on time, call with changes and anticipate our quality needs.”

Likewise, one Wisconsin grower tells me it helps her if retailers give her a heads up on big plans.

There are some growers who feel offering a credit for the missing plants makes up for the lack of communication. While retailers do accept credits, they still don’t replace a phone call.

“This is one that I tell our greenhouse plug, seed and liner suppliers all the time: I can’t sell credit,” Terrell says. “If I ordered it, it’s because I assumed I would get it, sell it and make a margin on it. Credit on something leaves me with the same money I had in the first place and an empty cart.”

If the retailer I was visiting that day had known his order would be short ahead of time, he still would have been upset about a competitor getting the plants he wanted. But the surprise of first discovering the late delivery and having half of his order unfilled acted like a pilot light for his anger. Had he simply gotten an email or text ahead of time, it’s unlikely he would have dropped the grower and sought out a new source.

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Clark Plihal says:

At times I wonder how any of us stay in business. We all run to the buying shows in August and September, place our plastic and plant orders and still find ourselves waiting on March 1 for material that hasn’t been delivered. Inconsistencies in growing media that simply will not grow a quality product, truckloads of soil with the entire truck being hijacked, drivers leaving California on a delivery taking a wrong turn and ending up 500 miles off course while our young plants get more shade and ethylene gas than bananas in a paper sack. Companies sending us plants infected with TMV and the others sending out the plant police in full force to guarantee their profits. Plastic house coverings that used to last 4 years, if not 6, now last 2. The overuse of plant growth regulators are killing our market. Somebody please tell that little old lady that the calibrachoa she bought will still be the size of a softball on August 1st because somebody treated it so hard so they could ship as many as possible on the semi. Much of the new genetics are so iron inefficient they simply can’t be grown without a pH meter in one hand and a conductivity probe in the other. How do I water when my hands are full of probes? Here’s to sunshine, warm weather, no hail, and lots of luck because that’s what it going to take to survive.