Lessen the load for landscapers

Departments - Hort Truths

Providing online inventory, order flexibility and plant information can strengthen your clientele and relationship with landscapers.

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March 25, 2020

Photo © tomasz zajda i adobe stock

As the landscape in which growers operate and market continues to evolve, so must the approach to relationship-building with landscapers. These greenskeepers depend on their grower vendors to think creatively — and with speed and flexibility in mind — meet their needs and those of their clients.

When it comes to building better relationships with landscapers, a smart approach is to first focus on their pain points. Which processes create the most challenges for them, and how can you streamline your own workflow to speed up order turnaround and increase order size? I’m going to zoom in on three specific pain points for landscapers that can make or break your relationship with them.

Availability

Having spent many years buying wholesale for botanical gardens, landscape design/build and garden center retail, I will always, always say that the most valuable thing a grower could do for me was provide a live inventory online. The ungodly amount of time it takes to sort through dated email and paper availability lists and cobble all orders together, only to find out that 30% to 50% of what you needed is already out of stock by the time you place your order, borders on insanity.

Being able to log on to a website, see actual live quantities of plants and submit orders quickly and efficiently was like the clouds parting the heavens and showering me with sunshine. Not only was I able to place more orders faster, but I’d say online ordering typically boosted my order size by about 30% per order. That means faster turnaround and bigger orders for you as a grower, and tons of saved time, increased sales and better installations for me. It’s the best kind of win-win.

Back in 2006-2007 or so, such access to live inventory and online ordering started to become a reality in our industry. I was under the erroneous assumption that by 2010, most growers would offer this type of online access. Yet, in 2020, far too many growers still rely on shaky weekly email or fax ordering systems with no photos that do not show live inventory quantities to their landscaper customers, many of whom must make on-the-spot purchasing decisions for their projects, or make changes at the last minute.

Photo © oloni i adobe stock

It’s time to get aggressive about how we manage, update and deliver plant-availability information. Today, going digital with live inventory just isn’t negotiable for most of us. Transitioning to updated technology, however, requires a substantial investment. Now’s the time to start budgeting for that digital evolution, if you haven’t already done so. I do understand that for very small niche growers, the “old system” may work fine. But for anyone who wants to scale up their business, or is on the larger side, it’s time to make a technology shift.

Plan-ahead marketing

In addition to current live inventories, landscapers and designers also need a heads-up in advance about the plants you have coming down the pipeline. By alerting your customers about the plants you’ll have ready in the next month or two (and quantity), you help them better plan their plantings and book orders with you earlier.

Consider some extra marketing about the plants soon to come, such as their unique benefits or how best to use them in the landscape.

My friend and client, Johnette Taylor of Roundtree Landscaping, Inc., in Dallas, echoed that need when I asked her how growers could best help her business. “More up-front information on plants, better marketing to the landscapers [like] ‘Hey, I’m going to have several hundred of these plants in a month, great for this type of space, this type of maintenance, etc.’ And with photos to help us sell them to our clients!” Taylor said. The more good marketing you can provide upfront about the plants you have now — and will have available — and how best to use them, the easier and faster it is for your landscapers to buy them.

Flexibility on the small side

When you’re buying for landscape installations — be they large-scale designs or quick seasonal color changes — some flexibility is key. Often, you get on site and realize you need some additional small quantities of plants to finish off the job or you need to quickly replace material that crashed. Getting smaller orders pulled or delivered is a pain point for many landscapers.

This is an area where Taylor is asking for help from her vendors. “I need more help from growers to group together small orders, to get a truck into an area,” she says. “For instance, if we have a small order, who else orders from them that might also need a small order, where we could piggyback or deliver to one site.” Taylor is hoping for a little more out-of-the-box thinking on the grower’s part to help get plants and products to them in smaller quantities, but more often. This kind of flexibility means having good customer-service staff and people assigned to specific accounts to make these kinds of quick-order connections.

All too often, we focus a lot of energy on what will make things easier for us internally in our own business operations. If you want to build better relationships with your landscaper customers, you may need to take a step back and audit how easy, or difficult, you may be making it to buy from you.