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Solving Plant Shortages in a High Demand Landscaping Market

Is it available? A grower may tell you they have the plant you want in the numbers you need only to find -whoops- they don’t. 

You’ve probably been in this situation many times: You’ve tracked down 1,200 boxwood of the same size from three different sources with deliveries timed just right for the client’s installation. Then grower number one calls to tell you they don’t have all the boxwood you need. That sends you scrambling for another source. Then, when the plants from grower number two arrive, they don’t look as robust as you thought they would. You’re back to scrambling!

Flexibility & Planning: The Keys to Sourcing Plants When You Need Them

Ensuring that you can fulfill the project architect’s spec list is no easy matter because of the large number of plants you need. Plus, you may have problems with growers who tell you they have a plant available only to discover that they don’t. And what happens if the construction schedule falls behind? You’ll have to change the plant delivery dates and, in some cases, start round two of dealing with availability problems. 

And no matter what else is going on, you’ve still got to “wow” your customers to justify the cost of the those plants. That’s a lot! 

Let’s walk through some practical solutions that can spare you the anxiety of that eleventh hour scrambling.

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Common Sourcing Problems

Consistent quality is what we seek from year to year, but the obstacles standing in the way of that are also pretty consistent from year to year.

Some of the biggest problems we face in this industry involve ensuring that the plants we need are available, of consistent quality from year to year, and relatively uniform in health, size, and fullness. And as we strive to source plants of consistent value, we find that the obstacles standing in our way are also pretty consistent from year to year.

Just for fun let’s review the ones we are perhaps too familiar with:

Strictly Defined Plant Selection Lists: You may be trying to fulfill a specific plant list that simply isn’t available or is only available in limited supplies. If tasked with finding the best alternatives, the task can be overwhelming and involve hours on the phone.

Plant Size Specifications: The details of your project may lock you into a size specification, but you may be unable to find the quantity you need in that size or unable to find a consistent quality level. You’re stuck.

Consistency, Reliability, and Uniformity: Finding high-quality plant material year over year can be difficult. Some growers will have a wonderful stock one year and mediocre the next. You want assurance that the grower you have chosen has appropriately handled pest issues and is proactive in ensuring the plants are healthy. The plants you order must have some uniformity in size, shape, and development. That can be difficult to find for larger orders.

Availability: Unfortunately, some growers confirm they have plants in stock before they count them, leaving you holding the (empty) bag.

Scarcity: Why is it so hard to find those “new improved” cultivars du jour that everyone seems to be talking about? Just because a plant is being talked up in the magazines doesn’t mean you will be able to find it anywhere. A grower must plant the new item every year for five years to be sure that, if it sells in year five, there
will be a new crop of five year olds the next year and the next. The grower has to be
willing to gamble on a promising new plant with no assurance it will become popular and pay off with continued orders. There is no guarantee their investment won’t fizzle along with a short-lived trend.

Single-Sourcing Large Orders: If you have a large order of a single type of plant, you may need to use multiple growers to source it. Once again, this can lead to issues with reliability, consistency, and uniformity of plants arriving from several sources.

Finding Growers with Large Catalogs: Not every grower can take the risk associated with developing a well-rounded palette of plants that include new varieties with promising future value to the market. They may not have the acreage or growing conditions to develop a broad based palette of selections.

Finding Uncommon Plant Stock: If you need a rare tree or shrub that you can’t find in the usual places, it may simply not be available. Much like sourcing trendy plants, rare shrubs and trees can be hard to find. If the plant you need takes a long time to mature, large volume growers with high plant turnover may not want to allocate field space for it over multiple years. 

Solving Plant Shortages in a High Demand Landscaping Market

A recurring problem that all of us face in this industry is availability: finding the plants we need when we need them.

solving-plant-shortages-ebook-cover

This eBook will equip you to meet the challenges of sourcing plants that have consistent health, size, and fullness from year to year.

Meet the Challenge

Plant Sourcing Solutions

 

A trusted grower can be a tremendous resource and valuable partner in recommending alternatives if your first choice isn’t available in the quantity you need.

What can you do to solve problems with the availability, consistency, and uniformity of plants? Flexibility and planning are the keys to long-term success in plant sourcing. Here are potential solutions for seven of the most common problems.


Problem 1
:
Strictly defined plant selection lists
Solution: Be open to substitutions. Try something new!

Just because an architect specified a particular cultivar months earlier doesn’t mean it will be available when it is time to plant. Your grower can be a tremendous resource and valuable partner in finding the right alternatives if you need them.

For reliability, partner with a grower who has systems in place to overcome all but the most unpredictable weather events.


Problem 2
: Consistency, reliability, and uniformity
Solution: Partner with a nursery that is recognized for quality.

Sometimes a grower can’t provide the same high-quality stock as they had the previous year because mother nature decided not to cooperate. It happens. So you want to partner with a grower who has systems in place to overcome all but the most unpredictable weather events. Consistency comes from the studied, exacting nursery management and plant care standards exercised by a grower of deep expertise and experience.

Peer referral is the gold standard for finding the most reputable growers. In this industry, people tend to be pretty generous about sharing information, but we are often competing for the same limited stock of high-quality nursery plants. As a result, sometimes we might rather keep quiet about “a good thing” rather than share with a colleague who operates in the same market. So, this is where you can turn to the internet and search industry trade organization websites in neighboring climate zones. Brokers or grower representatives can also help point you to some resources that are new to you.
 

To ensure uniformity, ask potential growers for photos to compare plant stocks or schedule a nursery tour and take your own photos. Watch for fields that are well cared for, laid out nicely, and weed-free. You should also look for equipment and grounds that are in good working order and organized. A brief visit can tell you a lot about whether you want to establish a relationship with a grower.


Problem 3
:
Availability
Solution: Use growers with inventory software

When a grower says they can fill your order and then backtracks later, it’s a frustrating experience. Ask growers how they update inventory before you order. You want to work with growers that use automated inventory software.

If you are overly eager to please your client, you might end up supplying them with a plant that doesn’t perform as expected.


Problem 4
: Scarcity
Solution: Do your homework

Before beginning a fruitless search for a plant that’s hard to find, do your research and ask around. As much as you or your client might want to include the latest trendy cultivar in the planting plan, don’t promise it until you’ve checked to see if there is research to support the marketing claims. Growers will need five to ten years of field testing to verify a plant’s health and survival. If you are overly eager to please your client, you might end up supplying them with a plant that doesn’t perform as expected.


Problem 5
:
Single sourcing large orders
Solution: Be strategic about using multiple growers

While it’s a good idea to source large orders from one grower for consistency and uniformity, it may not be possible. Be strategic about the suppliers you use and contact them well in advance.

Look for growers who specialize. Identify what each does consistently well.


Problem 6
: Growers with large catalogs
Solution: Look for specialty growers for better quality

While it can be tempting to use large growers with a big catalog, don’t try to get everything from one source. Look for growers who specialize. Identify what each does consistently well. While working with multiple growers will take more administrative work, you’ll get better quality and have happier clients.


Problem 7
:
Finding uncommon plant stock
Solution: Look for small, specialized growers

Large catalog growers won’t be the solution to all your plant-sourcing problems. You’re more likely to find rare or uncommon plants through growers that specialize with a smaller catalog and maybe 20 acres in production. These are plant lovers who are passionate about growing unique plants.

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Big Picture Strategies for Plant Sourcing

Even if you’ve been able to solve specific issues, you can still face ongoing plant sourcing problems, particularly in a hot market. That’s when it’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture--seeing the forest and not just that hard-to- find tree you need for your latest project. The most important things to focus on are flexibility and planning.

A trusted grower can bail you out of a tough spot by introducing you to alternate cultivars, slightly different sizes, or substitutes that will fit the original vision for the project and even take it up a notch.

stay-flexible

STAY FLEXIBLE

In the U.S. Marines, they joke that their motto is “semper gumby,” or always flexible. But even if you have no idea who that green Gumby character is, staying flexible is a successful strategy for many things in life, including sourcing plants.

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USE YOUR GROWER AS A RESOURCE & EXPERT ADVISOR

Loosen up, people! You may have to consider substitutes to get the job done. Your grower can be a resource for you, introducing you to alternate cultivars of the same plant, slightly different sizes, or alternatives that will fit the original vision for the project and even take it up a notch. A slightly smaller plant might take another year or two to fill out and establish, but the result may be just as pleasing. Not to mention, your grower can offer you plants that they have in good supply.

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CONSIDER USING CONTAINER STOCK

Sometimes container stock can fulfill a part of your needs. As long as you don’t need all large-sized, fully finished plants, taking a portion of your planting list in containers may work perfectly because:

  • You can find larger quantities of container stock because field space isn’t needed to keep them in the ground. A typical yard can manage ten of thousands of containers at once.
  • If you have a tight delivery deadline, containers can be shipped faster. There’s no need to tag, dig, and prepare plants for shipping as there is for field grown stock.
  • Bonus! Container-grown plants are less expensive.

Note! Container plants do require diligent maintenance after installation because they’ve been in a controlled, artificial environment. So you must be prepared for that. Also, it is imperative that you get accurate information from your grower about how long the plants have been in a container so you

can avoid root-bound plants and ensure high quality for your clients.

Planning and staying open to uncommon alternatives can broaden the possibilities you have in your wheelhouse for solving availability issues and developing project plans.

plan

PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

By planning for future needs, developing relationships with growers, and reserving stock, you can avoid some plant supply issues and make other problems manageable.

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FIND SUPPLIERS IN ADVANCE

The time to start finding suppliers is far in advance of when you’ll need plants. As soon as the project is under contract, start shopping. Look for and identify your suppliers well in advance and get to know a wide range of suppliers. Sometimes those personal relationships will get you out of a pickle.

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RESERVE STOCK

Large re-wholesale operations and landscaping companies with multiple facilities are often able to take deposits from customers and hold them until the plants are ready. These large operations have a backlog and can be booked out as much as a year in advance. If your business fits that description, you may consider reserving some of your supply with a substantial deposit well in advance of when you anticipate using it.

contract

CONTRACT GROWING

Explore the idea of contracting with your most trusted grower to supply a portion of your known annual needs by planting and maintaining a block exclusively for your use. This accomplishes two things: 1) you’ll have erased worries about availability, and 2) your grower will hold the security of a significant deposit while you work on long-range architectural design projects that are 18 to 24 months out. The risk on both sides is reasonable, barring “acts of god” like flooding or hail.

If you decide to enter into a contract, be sure to take the time for due diligence. You need a strong, time-tested relationship with the nursery you choose for this type of investment. There are risks for both parties, but it’s possible to mitigate risk for larger projects, make the relationship beneficial for you and your grower, and avoid ongoing plant sourcing issues.

Ultimately, planning, staying flexible, and thinking about uncommon alternatives can broaden the possibilities you have in your wheelhouse for developing project plans. By expanding your realm of options, you won’t be forever doomed to compete for the same plant stocks as everyone else.

Solving Plant Shortages in a High Demand Landscaping Market

A recurring problem that all of us face in this industry is availability: finding the plants we need when we need them. This eBook will equip you to meet the challenges of sourcing plants that have consistent health, size, and fullness from year to year.

hardcover-ebook

Meet the Challenge