HOW TO MANAGE YOUR INVENTORY
With spring rush in your sights, challenges come from every angle. As weather and new hires align, you need to know your inventory is in line, too. Improved inventory management can help you avoid too much, too soon and too little, too late. With that in mind, we spoke with three independent garden centers on the tools and techniques they use to get inventory right.
CHRIS PHILPOT

Lichtenfelt Nurseries

Greer, South Carolina
Connor Lichtenfelt
COURTESY OF LICHTENFELT NURSERIES

When Conor Lichtenfelt’s family got out of the garden center business, he never expected to be focused on IGC inventory. But when circumstances brought the business back into the family more than eight years later, that changed. Since that time in late 2017, inventory management at the IGC has taken a 180-degree turn.

The “new” ownership moved to a cloud-based point-of-sale system for 2018. Lichtenfelt, who manages purchasing, describes the previous inventory management system as “pen and paper” and running out to the lot to count. “One of my big things, being a millennial, was to get some software in here!” he shares.

The IGC’s traditional analog cash register gave way to a Revel Systems POS. “It’s a cloud-based point of sale system, so we have registers set up outside. Then they’re connected wirelessly to an inside station where we ring up our wholesale customers,” Lichtenfelt says.

Orders that come into the nursery go into the system, itemized by specific plant variety. The system automatically handles inventory management functions and syncs with the IGC’s website, where online customers see real-time inventory to buy online and pick up in store.

Rather than having one version of purchased software, the cloud-based software updates regularly. Lichtenfelt says the feature improves inventory management capabilities year-round. “You pay a monthly fee to use the software, and we get new features every month,” he says. “I can be at home, get a question, log in and know exactly what’s on the yard.”

Spring 2019 was the first year the IGC had definitive sales numbers for the previous year.

“I was able to use that sales data to more accurately book orders for 2019,” Lichtenfelt says. Even so — in the moment, during rush — he says inventory is still “more of a feel thing” based on being there and seeing what’s going out the door.

Lichtenfelt reviews daily sales reports for number of sales and average tickets.

Saturday, after close, the team runs through top sellers to prepare Monday’s orders.

Then inventory numbers, weekly data, and human input on everything from buying trends to blooming times combine.

Lichtenfelt believes that, given the “cost of shipping dirt,” the garden center industry has an advantage over other retail businesses in competing with Amazon. “As garden centers, we really do have an opportunity, if we start incorporating technology into our businesses. Then we can really get ahead of the curve,” he says.

For Lichtenfelt, technology for inventory management for spring rush and year-round stability enhances his “Amazon-proof” edge.

But he’s quick to add that edge still relies on large doses of community and the human touch.

COURTESY OF LICHTENFELT NURSERIES
Lichtenfelt Nurseries
COURTESY OF LICHTENFELT NURSERIES
COURTESY OF LICHTENFELT NURSERIES

Landscape Garden Centers

SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
Erik Helland
COURTESY OF LANDSCAPE GARDEN CENTERS

When your IGC sits in a region where 20 degrees Fahrenheit seems like a balmy winter day, gardeners are ready to roll when spring hits. Erik Helland, president of Landscape Garden Centers, focuses on having the freshest possible stock on hand when that day comes.

For Helland, staying on top of inventory during spring’s busiest times starts with sales numbers from the previous year. But inventory management and ordering processes throughout the season differ dramatically from years past.

“We used to have to order everything upfront and make it last through the whole year,” Helland says. Changing vendor policies now allow him to better respond to varying inventory needs. “Now we just order enough to get us through a certain period. Then we reassess, reorder, reassess, reorder,” he says. “We have less stuff to take care of and the product looks fresher.”

The IGC uses Winward point of sale software to track inventory and generate reports. Weekly ordering is based primarily on comparing this year’s sales with last year’s history. “We’ve really taken the gut check out of it and rely on our numbers,” Helland says. But he also points out aspects of inventory management that sales history can’t directly provide.

“You also have to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in everybody’s yard,” he says. “You’ve also got to have what media is pushing because that’s what everyone’s seeing, especially now with social media out there.”

As a non-grower, Helland says ordering flexibility is essential to his inventory success. “We’ll chose quality over anything, but then we go with flexibility, shipping, freight and costs,” he says. “Our vendors are very flexible. The more flexible they are, that’s who we’ll go with to discuss more ordering opportunities.”

To meet the spring opener, Helland feels less is more: “If you have less product on hand, you can take care of that product better and make it look awesome all the time … The vendors we’re using are doing a really great job of providing us with great material. When it comes off the truck, it’s fresh and blooming, and if it’s blooming, it sells.”

Rolling Green Nursery

GREENLAND, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Rick and Beth Simpson
COURTESY OF ROLLING GREEN NURSERY

As every IGC owner knows, growth and success usually come with some growing pains. For Beth Simpson, buyer at Rolling Green Nursery, hitting that next level is requiring some changes, including upgrades to inventory management processes and technology. But, like many in her situation, Simpson has been hesitant to take those next steps.

One hurdle to a POS upgrade has been finding the right fit, something Simpson hasn’t found quite yet. Rapid advances in technology and high overhead on some traditional POS systems have been factors, but she’s optimistic about new cloud-based systems some garden center colleagues are adopting. “We’ve been looking for a long time for one that could be hand-held, which would make getting stuff into the POS faster and easier. At this point, we’re all ears,” she says.

To manage inventory through spring rush and the rest of the season, Simpson relies on POS-generated sales history and daily QuickBooks reports. “It’s nice to have the history so we can see when to take our foot off the gas as far as ordering,” she says. “It’s a simultaneous thing, not only with the POS, but with our daily Quick Books reports. We keep track of daily sales and customer counts pretty religiously.”

Rolling Green Nursery
COURTESY OF ROLLING GREEN NURSERY
Rolling Green Nursery tool department
COURTESY OF ROLLING GREEN NURSERY

Simpson also focuses on stay nimble in pricing — a side benefit of having less technology. She can easily and quickly respond to day-to-day inventory trends with price changes to capture more value. “It’s one of the joys of being a small business owner,” she says.

For Simpson, inventory management and success in moving inventory rests on monitoring not only stock, but people. “Customer care is really important,” she says. “I think it’s just important to be present. Then it’s just reviewing things every year and tweaking the orders. It’s so hard to do when you’re in the business, but that’s what I do in January and February to make sure I haven’t overbought.”

Rolling Green Nursery
COURTESY OF ROLLING GREEN NURSERY

The author is a freelance writer specializing in the horticulture industry and a frequent contributor to GIE Media publications. Reach her at jolene@lovesgarden.com.