Many things can play havoc with the planning of plant production and dispatch but increasingly it is the weather - especially the early or late arrival of spring - that causes problems.
Plants that should have been dispatched in May might have been sold in April because they were so advanced or already in flower. Equally, last-minute changes in trends can result in unexpected new, additional or top-up demands from retailers that have different branded or priced labelling requirements. It all means that just-in-time label provision is becoming essential.
"In good seasons we have always had urgent additional top-up orders and turning these round in just a few days can make all the difference to the growers and retailers on getting the most out of some good weather or an extra bank holiday promotion," says PPC Labels managing director Jeremy Watkinson. "We are now experiencing a large increase in the number of growers using our 'Fast Track' bespoke label service.
"Just-in-time labelling has a number of benefits. Being able to order only what is needed takes away some of the guesswork for growers. Avoiding late changes to saleable plant numbers and working to actual label requirements minimises wastage and prevents having to carry stock into the next year."
It can also help with cash flow by not having the labels delivered until a few days before the dispatch of plants. Then there is the question of what is needed of the label. Growers may be supplying a number of retailers, all with different branded, priced and barcoded labels. It may only be a few days prior to dispatch that these growers know the final requirements for each retailer.
"Our Fast Track service, along with out short-run digital print option, are both good solutions," says Watkinson. "We can turnaround large or small volumes of labels in just a few days. For larger-volume clients our Fast Track service works well alongside our longer-term planned label production and is used for any urgent requirement they may have throughout the year. For the coming season we have significantly increased our production capacity for this service."
PPC Labels: Fast Track bespoke label service used by increasing number of growers - image: PPC Labels
Bamboo Print managing director Duncan McLintock agrees there is a definite demand for just-in-time labels, adding that it is driven not just by weather factors but also by fast-changing market needs. "One large Lincolnshire grower with a very sophisticated stock control system told me recently that urgent requirements crop up regularly and no amount of careful planning will ever prevent that," he says.
It is perfectly possible to produce tough, colourful labels "instantly" if the finishing is kept simple, he adds. "There's quite a selection of suitable materials and for stick-in labels a simple rectangular format with a drilled hole and a separate plastic spike will provide a very quick solution. Spikes and clips are available in a wide range of shapes, colours and sizes. We deal with a supplier who keeps good stocks in the UK, allowing us to move swiftly when we have to."
That supplier is NP Plastics.
The Netherlands-based injection moulder manufactures a range of horticultural supplies such as label clips, clamps and display stakes. Going forward, it will be producing all its plant label stakes from 100 per cent recycled plastics to contribute to the "greening" of the supply chain and to support customers looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
An online system offered by Elburg Smit accommodates last-minute changes in demand or trend. UK sales manager Mike Sutton explains: "Through our digital print capability we can provide fast turn round on orders when required and when coupled with our EOS online label system provide a convenient and speedy solution for growers when demand and trends change at short notice. Labels can be designed and approved on EOS from the user's desktop and stored there until required for printing. It is then a simple task to fulfil urgent requirements."
With more than 80 years of experience, Floramedia understands the often tight turnarounds needed by growers to quickly supply retailers in peak season, particularly over the past decade when unusual spring weather patterns have been witnessed. Managing director Nick Mathias says the company is well placed to respond.
"We offer next day delivery on our stock range of over 10,000 plant variety labels and we offer a fast-track service for bespoke label ranges," he points out. "Once the customer signs off the artwork, we can supply the finished product within seven days - that's five days production and 48 hours delivery."
Hortipak has also experienced changes in customers' planning patterns, particularly over the past two years, but the company's investment in advanced finishing technologies and internal project support systems has enabled it to adapt to these changes and continue to deliver quality labels at the required time.
It has also introduced a "Stock on Demand" service. Group creative director Philip Mabon explains: "Thousands of new varieties have been added to our extensive stock label range and all these new varieties are available to order online in minimum volumes of 200 per variety. They are printed at our UK factory and delivered within five working days of order confirmation."
One way a grower or retailer can fulfil just-in-time label requirements is by printing their own. IML offers the easy-to-use HLS Software system, enabling labels to be printed on-site, on-demand, complete with variety name, plant description, barcode and pricing. More than 2,000 HLS Software systems have been sold.
Growers can choose between HLS Pro - the entry-level system for black and white printing - or print in colour from the HLS Pro+ package that contains a plant database with more than 14,000 names and descriptions, all of which can be edited by the user. The system, which also allows users to create their own plant database, comes with 200 templates for all label types and sizes.
Image: Joy of Plants
Picture plant label
At Four Oaks 2016, the trade show held each September in Cheshire, IML announced a new picture plant label product. Aiming to reduce the lengthy lead times sometimes associated with pictorial labels, the new product offers an extensive range of more than 300 label shapes and sizes, from stakes to carry handles, and is fully customisable.
The user chooses the imagery from more than 8,000 online pictures or imports from HLS Pro+. They then add the required data and branding. The quality finished labels are then delivered to you ready for use or in anticipation of the upcoming season.
Retailers may also need just-in-time production of labels and point-of-sale materials, a requirement that led Joy of Plants to offer "Pay As You Go" so that retailers can print as many or as few bed cards as required to suit the plant deliveries they receive. It eliminates the need to hold stocks of bed cards that may never be used and there is no need for annual subscriptions that might not always match what it used.
"While many customers are happy to pay up front for a bed card service others, just like with mobile phones, wanted pay-as-you-go. It is proving hugely popular as a way to try out our bed card service," says managing director Terri Jones.
Joy of Plants' bed card tool allows retailers to tweak the information on them to suit their location - think "hardness zones", for example - and/or match the information given on the plant labels from suppliers so bed card information is consistent no matter who supplies their plants. Using Joy of Plants' data for similar varieties as a starting point, it also allows retailers to add their own bed cards for any super-new varieties.
The new Joy of Plants "Hub" (hub.joyofplants.com) lets retailers access the bed card tool along with other services such as QR codes, plant finder apps and web plug-ins, image and text library and electronic point of sale (EPOS) integration. A plant name list matching tool allows retailers to match their list of plants against those available as bed cards. It understands abbreviations, missing words, misspellings and the kind of codes that retailers use on EPOS stock lists - and it even speaks Latin. It is proving popular because it does 90 per cent of the legwork for the busy retailer.
Elburg Smit SmartWraps - image: Elburg Smit
Improving sales through effective presentation
Growers and retailers are more aware than ever that effective plant presentation at the point of sale can impact sales. As a result, Elburg Smit develops a wider variety of ideas and styles that add value to plants and help them out in the retail arena.
UK sales manager Mike Sutton explains the thinking behind the latest offerings: "On one hand, simple labels made from water-resistant kraft care are reflecting growers' awareness of green issues. At the other end of the spectrum, labels are being made with gold and silver metallic foil as part of the design to enhance upmarket appeal. But it is not all about labels.
"We have had considerable interest in our SmartCups printed pot holders and in pot covers or SmartWraps. Both are available in short print runs for promotional and theme applications."
- Alan Roper will be speakng at this month's Garden Retail Summit 2017 - the leading independent knowledge and networking event for executives. Taking place in London on 23 February, this year's event will focus on growth, and include the opportunities and challenges of 'Brexit', learnings from the latest garden centre developments - and will be opened with a keynote address from John Cleland, CEO, Dobbies. For more details and tickets go to: www.gardenretailawards.com/summit