Ceasing the paper pushing

When it comes to your daily operations, data entry can be time consuming. Here’s how going paperless helped one Pennsylvania-based grower/retailer.

August 27, 2015

Before the days of email, texts and social media, Stan’s Garden Center in Erie, Penn. mailed out thousands of monthly newsletters to its consumer base—via snail mail.

“As the company grew, the newsletter grew. And it grew to the point where we couldn’t do the folding and stamping anymore, so we subbed it out,” says Josh Skarzenski, Stan’s Garden Center’s vice president.

All in all, it was an “extremely expensive, extremely cumbersome” process, he says.
Nowadays, Skarzenski and his team stay connected to their customers electronically through text alerts, emails and frequent postings to their Facebook page and their recently created Instagram account.
It’s allowed them not only to save money on paper costs, but to focus on other efforts, like outreach marketing to the community through Skarzenski’s weekly appearances on local TV and radio stations, where he promotes the Stan’s brand and their superior customer service experience.
“We’ve become very lean. Our numbers as a business have improved,” he says.
Much of that is also due to the collection of customers’ phone numbers and email addresses for more direct marketing efforts. Stan’s Garden Center will send out texts and emails for direct promotions. A few years ago, to get customers interested, they incentivized the “opt-in” option to receive texts from the company by offering a chance at a cruise giveaway. The winning customer received a voucher from a local travel agency to travel on a convenient date.  
It caused a huge influx of opt-ins. So now when a text goes out, it is sent to nearly 1,100 people.
Paperless ordering
Converting to electronic systems has not only helped Skarzenski keep track of and grow his customer base, but has made other aspects of the operation seamless, like ordering plant product for their greenhouse.
Software like Ball Seed’s WebTrack allows Skarzenski to keep track of all Stan’s orders through real-time inventory, which gives him a more accurate representation of what plant material is available. 
“We have a full-time perennial grower. She used to use clipboards and three-ring binders,” he says. “Now, she’s 100-percent WebTrack as well.”
Skarzenski says when his Ball sales representative reached out to him and told him about the WebTrack system when it was brand new, he was immediately interested. “I jumped right on board, and we learned it right away, and I haven’t looked back,” he says.
It saves Stan’s hours of otherwise waiting days for a confirmation and re-ordering if the product isn’t available.
“Our purchasing has become way more efficient,” he says. “We know who’s out there shipping-wise. Who has [the product], who doesn’t.”
Less paper in the future
Right now, the human resources department is still run on paper, but there are plans in the works to convert the job application process to be channeled through Stan’s Garden Center’s website. They’re also considering converting the Point of Sale (POS) system to manage when employees clock in, rather than paper time punch cards.
“You don’t have to do timecards, you don’t have to write everyone’s names, it spits out everyone’s hours on a computer screen, and it’s done. And it’s accurate, there are no mistakes, no math,” Skarzenski says.
All in all, Skarzenski is happy with how far Stan’s Garden Center has come and looking toward the future of paperless systems.
“I don’t think we were physically able to do what we are doing now, as far as paying attention to the things that matter on the customer side. I don’t think we could go through and get some of the instant information like we do now,” he says. “To tie to what product is going out the door…Being able to control that aspect of the business really efficiently and productively has changed everything.”