real deal, The

Peterson, Jasmine

your link to an electronic future

In order to meet the industrious demands of today’s market, growers should not only be aware of the advantages behind real-time inventory tracking methods, but also the real meaning behind it.

SOME may refer to life before real-time as “living in the Stone Age.” Others claim they have no recollection of what life was like without it – and there are a small number who even deny the time existed.

Real-time inventory tracking programs are the latest craze to hit our industry. They are a surefire way to stay on top of your game and give you and your suppliers a clear advantage.

Rick Mast, president of Glass Corner Greenhouse, Grand Rapids, MI, says real-time is an extremely valuable asset to his operation. “I think in the near future, suppliers who do not have real-time will be skipped over and will only be used as a last resort,” he says.

Although real-time programs are becoming more mainstream, there are still a large number of operations that claim to have real-time capabilities, when indeed they don’t. Henry Huntington, president of Pleasant View Gardens, Inc., Loudon, NH, says there may be a couple reasons for the confusion. “Many systems are doing updates on a periodic basis,” he says. “For instance, a scheduler is used to run an availability every 15 minutes and then post it on the Web.” To some, Huntington explains, that would almost be real-time. But in reality, that information is old as soon as it is posted. “The longer it is there, until the next update, the older the information becomes,” he says. “It does not refresh itself when others are using or manipulating the same information.”

Abe VanWingerden, sales manager at Metrolina Greenhouses, Huntersville, NC, says the confusion comes from the fact that there are “two types of real-time.” He says there is “technical” real-time and “human” real-time. “Technical meaning that a company has invested in the systems and resources to constantly track inventory,” he says. “And human meaning where a lot of growers have the ability to have counts of all items kept in their head each day.”

VanWingerden says there may be some confusion in the industry because of the way real-time can be defined. “Some define it only as finished inventory and some define it as the total inputs and outputs in a greenhouse,” he says.

In The Beginning

C. Raker & Sons, Inc., Litchfield, MI, was one of the first operations to implement real-time into its practices. “We’ve been using computers to track data since 1981- as long as we have been in plugs,” says owner Gerry Raker. “Real-time has been a goal since 1987 and has been phased in gradually since then.”

Real-time is the instantaneous collection of supply and demand data at the point and moment of inception, Raker says, and that is what people must understand. The ultimate goal is to provide availability. According to Raker, real-time inventory control requires Automated Data Capture Strategies (bar-codes) supporting zero time lag to update the central database. “Any systems using batch updates, no matter how frequent, is not real-time,” he explains.

This type of software offers an absolute advantage in the marketplace and helps push your business forward. “People can access and update data on their own without having to go through other people or work with outdated data,” Raker says. “Decisions can then be made based on actual information and not what someone told them – or didn’t tell them.”

What’s In It For Me?

John Kissel, operations manager, Plainview Growers Inc., Pompton Plains, NJ, says his operation has increased its revenue and productivity because of real-time software. “All parties involved benefit directly from use of this system,” he says.

Any changes in a crop’s status that may arise at Plainview Growers during the course of a plug’s growth cycle are promptly updated in its system. “Our customer service department is able to act upon this new information and quickly resolve any problems that may arise,” Kissel explains. “It allows us to be proactive in notifying the brokers and customers, and to resolve any issues that may come up well in advance of the ship date. This translates into no surprises at time of delivery and very satisfied customers.”

Mast also agrees that everyone involved in the real-time process benefits in the end. “The broker and salespeople know what is available rather than sending in an order and dealing with all the changes in availability,” he says. “The customers benefit because they know right away if their needs are being met and we benefit because we can enter the order right away rather than having to call the customers with substitutes.”

A Real-time Transformation

Metrolina Greenhouses, while still in the process of becoming real-time, realizes how important it is to be technologically advanced. VanWingerden says it is vital to have real-time to avoid confusion, mis-tagging, mis-shipping, or misproducing. “These mistakes cost time and money,” he says.

Though VanWingerden’s operation is beginning to utilize PLANT PARTNER (a comprehensive planning tool), it currently does its production planning using an Excel-based program. “The issue we have with Excel-based planning is that not all the parties can go to the same program to get information,” he explains. “Production has one file, we plan in another file, we ship off another file, etc. Too many touches and too many folks who have the ability to adjust numbers would make the system break down.”

Real-time, VanWingerden says, will benefit Metrolina Greenhouses by reducing unneeded inventory and production. “It will also benefit our key suppliers by giving them access to (current) information so we both reduce inventory costs,” he says.

People Make It Possible

Real-time inventory may be the quick, easy way to provide your customers with up-to-date information regarding your product, but the human element is what makes it possible. Real-time must be a tool people can use, VanWingerden says. “The system can not replace people,” he explains. “We still need periodic physical counts on all of our materials to account for dump rates, system errors, and items we produce outside of our schedule. Reality checks are a key to any system.”

Raker’s data accuracy and real-time inventory is only possible by the entire company’s attention to detail. “It takes a tremendous amount of discipline within the company to keep it accurate,” Raker says. “When you’re live, there is no place to hide.”

Stay On Top Of Your Game

There are many aspects of real-time that make it a valuable program for any growing operation. According to Raker, there are numerous reasons that some are still trapped in the dark ages. The real reason, he explains, is the fact that most companies don’t have the resources or organization in place to pull it off. “It is a large capital investment,” he says.

Money and time are probably the main reasons, Kissel agrees. “A real-time software package, such as the one we are using, could be cost-prohibitive in both dollars and personnel,” he says.

VanWingerden sites the fear of change as the most difficult task when looking to conform with the masses. “Change is difficult,” he says. “We are still working on getting our team to fully utilize the systems we have because it is not the way we did it in the past.”

One thing is clear: information is power and time is money, Raker states. “We are in an instant gratification marketplace,” he says. “With low margins, there is no room for errors because of inaccurate information.”

According to Kissel, today’s plug market has changed to where the plug itself is becoming somewhat of a commodity. In order for an operation to remain a top plug grower, it must grow that plug in a cost-effective manner and at the same time, Kissel says, provide an unsurpassed level of service and quality.

Growers need to stay on top of their game in order to be “top dog.” Real-time is important for today’s fast moving market because of the fast moving world we live in. “They need to know while you are on the phone,” VanWingerden says. “If you say ‘I have to go check,’ then you don’t look like you are on top of your business. This hurts your equity with the customer, and you probably lose the order to another, more prepared supplier.”


Staff Writer

Copyright Meister Publishing Company Sep 15, 2003

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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