Trolley system fears continue to spread

Matthew Appleby probes further into why trolley-tagging plans are driving growers and retailers round the bend.

Since HW's report last week (5 November) on growing concern in the industry over the introduction of "uncopiable" radio tags for the trolley system, more growers have voiced their fears. The changes to the Danish trolley plant delivery system are due to come into force on 10 January.

There are 3.5m Container Centralen trolleys in circulation and all will need new RFID tags come January so they can be traced and so forgeries, which cost Container Centralen more to maintain, do not enter the system. Growers, transport companies and retailers will need to buy £400 scanners to check if the trolleys are legitimate - a costly and time-consuming process.

Midlands-based Baginton Nurseries MD Will Lamb is a typical medium-sized bedding grower, and says his broad range of customers, from market stall holders to big retailers, means the system will become two-tier.

While some customers won't buy scanners or RFID tags for trolleys and will have to be sent plants on non-tagged trolleys, Lamb says he will need to buy five scanners for delivering his 250 Container Centralen trolleys. He says 10-15 per cent of his customers would deal in non-tagged trolleys only.

Delivering tagged trolleys will mean unloading them by hand when trucks deliver, so the driver can keep hold of the valuable tagged trolley - a "retrograde step," says Lamb. Scanning will take 10-20 minutes extra and administration will take an extra 1-2 hours a day. "We have to accept it," says Lamb. "There's nothing we can do. We'll go along with it, kicking and screaming."

Potential problems include tags falling off and getting damaged or not scanning properly, and agency drivers not bothering to scan trolleys: "It's just a nightmare. I'm not relishing it at all," adds Lamb.

He believes the only winners will be Container Centralen, who will save money by not having to fix the fake trolleys that have found their way into the system. He adds: "When the dust settles and we get used to it, it will be just another one of those costs we have to absorb."

Tim Moss, grower and driver at Manor Park Nurseries, which has 58 Container Centralen trolleys, said: "Our major problem is we're going to have to get scanners. And there's a time issue. A lot of smaller garden centres I've spoken to say they are not going to bother. We're going to spend 45 minutes at some garden centres unloading trolleys. Bigger garden centres can afford to get scanners - but can you rely on them?"

Grower RC Smith agrees: "I'm not going to get a scanner. It's too hard to set up a rival system so we'll have to find ways to get round it."

Bransford Webbs MD Geoff Caesar says 38 per cent of retail sites he deals with currently have no contract with Container Centralen, so he won't be able to exchange trolleys with them. Costs of scanners could become "crippling", he added, with all 65 of MRG's transport partner Rick White's trucks needing a £400 unit, costing £26,000 in all.

"I struggle to imagine how a two-tier system will work," said Caesar. "We use our current trolley holding to the limit. The system works because everyone uses the Container Centralen universal trolley. The Dutch seem to be erring towards a two-pool system, and Container Centralen is almost accepting that."

"If we can't supply with the tagged trolleys, we will handball plants or we might have to buy non-Container Centralen trolleys and run a separate pool. I'd like to say Container Centralen have been absolutely supportive but they haven't. They are reducing the cost of maintenance (by 44p a trolley in 2012 and 2013), but the problem is that information from them has been poor and sporadic. Customer service is not great."

Solihull-based Ambleside Garden Centre assistant manager Jamie Lammas says: "It will mean an additional cost to the business. But we will have to work with it because we deal with big suppliers like Manor Park and Farplants. We'll buy a couple of tags and see how we get on. We won't get a scanner. It is going to be more hassle at our end. Some nurseries might not bother at all. It will cost us £55-£60 a tag, which soon adds up. We have 50-plus trolleys."

WD Smith director Mike Smith, who uses 120 trolleys, said: "We have customers from market traders up to large independents. They're not all going to have these trolleys, so unfortunately it is going to be a two-tier system. I can't expect my drivers to carry scanners. I will expect scanners at delivery. I can't afford everyone to have one, especially short-contract drivers."

In response to the criticism last week, Container Centralen chief executive Tonny Vangsgaard Gravesen said the company had "been at all the trade shows ... and had meetings with customers, groups and associations".

He added: "We've been direct-mailing three times this autumn saying: 'prepare yourself'. But it is a huge task to communicate to 22,000 customers over Europe. One can never do enough."

Container Centralen UK managing director Phil Squance says the company will do everything it can to support its side of the pool "but unfortunately there can be no 100 per cent reassurance" if users don't put "major defences in place".

CONTAINER CENTRALEN

Container Centralen was established in 1976 and is joint-owned by the Danish flower exporters and VGB - the Dutch Union of Flower Wholesalers.

- It is currently selling contracts at the knock-down rate of £5 a trolley, with £8 annual maintenance.

- It has 23,000 customers in 30 European countries, plus Japan, USA, and South America. There are some 3.5m containers in circulation and around 1m fakes.

- 131 employees throughout Europe.

- Turnover EUR73.6m in 2009.

- RFID changeover day: 10 January.

- Annual pool fee held at £55 per trolley and £8.50 a shelf. In 2012 the fee will go down by 44p a trolley and in 2013 it will go down by another 44p. Scanners cost £400 each.

- The HTA has a list of UK Container Centralen contracted companies.


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