When it comes to inventory, you’ve got to know what you can sell. On the flip side, if you’re purchasing plant material, you need to know what others have available for you.
This is why Bob’s Market and Greenhouses in West Virginia, a wholesale supplier, created their own inventory system about 10 years ago using an outside computer programmer.
The current custom system integrates well with Ball Seed’s WebTrack software program, which allows finished plant growers to order from suppliers using live inventory and updates.
The system is tied directly to sales orders, says Bobby Barnitz, vice president, seedling production at Bob’s Market and Greenhouses. In addition, the seed inventory also includes oversows, so if Bob’s produces one extra tray per eight trays sold, for example, then it figures that oversow based off of that demand, he says.
“That helps us avoid missing out on a short availability seed crop item. Maybe something is a short crop or is going to sell out quick. And by doing it daily, weekly, we’re keeping up with things like that much better than maybe getting surprised because there’s no seed,” Barnitz says.
Before WebTrack, sometimes it could take up to a month before Bob’s could receive an update. At times, Bob’s Market receives nearly 500 orders for plug trays in a single ship week. Expediting that process can make quite a difference to the bottom line.
Andrea Cleaver, owner/operator of Culberson’s Greenhouse in Mayflower, Ark., uses Ball’s WebTrack system to place orders for her 75,000-square-foot perennial operation. When she and her husband, Richard, bought into the business six years ago, the owners had no inventory system in place. So she had to create one from scratch.
During the first three years of owning the business, she used that inventory system with another broker to place her orders for young plant material; however, sometimes it would take more than a week to get a confirmation or the notice that she had to change her order because something wasn’t available.
“It was really affecting our business,” she says. “Because if I can’t get the product to grow it, I can’t sell it.”
So when her Ball Seed sales representative met with her about three years ago and informed her about WebTrack, her “jaw literally dropped and hit the table,” Cleaver says.
Since then, the real-time inventory has made Cleaver’s ordering process a whole lot easier. No longer does she have to spend days re-ordering and adjusting to her plans, but she knows immediately if she’s able to receive product within a certain time frame.
It also allows her to try new varieties, instead of re-ordering the same products each year because they’re reliable, she says.
Bringing growers together
Besides the amount of time saved, Cleaver also enjoys the opportunity to attend Ball’s Perennial Day in Chicago to talk through the program and offer her own suggestions.
“Every suggestion I’ve ever made, they’ve all taken it very seriously,” she says. “I feel like they’re always trying to improve WebTrack. It’s not a system they’ve put out there and it’s done. They’re always trying to improve it.”
Cleaver’s favorite story about WebTrack was when she attended a Ball event two years ago in Chicago. The growers were taken on a bus from the hotel to the Ball facility to look around, and Cleaver had her laptop out and was placing some orders through the software.
“We were sitting right across the aisle, catty-corner from Bobby from Bob’s Market,” she says. “I was literally ordering stuff from Bobby and he’s sitting there beside me while we’re sitting there talking to him. I was like, ‘I’m on WebTrack right now ordering stuff from you!’ And now he’s our main vendor for pansies.”
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