Most suppliers and vendors have early order programs (EOPs). These programs save lawn care operators (LCOs) time and money. We’ll explore the benefits of EOPs, what to know about participating in them and how to overcome obstacles to participation.
What is an Early Order Program?
Early order programs are just what they sound like: Companies can place an order well before the coming season. Most vendors and suppliers offer these programs because they want to ensure they have a stream of orders for the coming season.
Similar to a “prepay discount” when customers pay for the entire year in advance, early order programs are essentially the same; the manufacturer is offering a significant discount as an incentive to place your order now for next year’s products.
So why participate in these programs?
Savings are the most obvious reason to participate in EOPs. Discounts can run from 5 percent to 15 percent in many cases, so there's a tremendous potential to save money. This is especially relevant in today’s marketplace.
Prices on things like fertilizer aren’t going down any time soon (Russia is the world’s largest producer of urea-based nitrogen), so locking in prices now is just smart business. The actual chemicals that so many of us use on a regular basis, like bifenthrin, glyphosate, permethrin and chlorothalonil, are all going up in price. Buying them early and saving money will only help you meet your goals for 2023.
That’s money you can save for a rainy day or reinvest into additional staff, pay raises for existing employees or new technology and equipment to help you run the business more efficiently.
Most companies in the green industry have experienced supply chain issues or long wait times for products they needed this past year.
Taking advantage of EOPs means lawn care and landscape companies will have the supplies they need throughout the year. They may need to wait on some unknowns, but for many services, especially with lawn care programs, companies should be able to forecast their needs and save a lot of time by having these products available within arms reach.
How Do I Take Advantage of Early Order?
To start, have a list of all your chemicals, grass seed and other materials that will be needed throughout the season.
Once you have that list together, the best approach is to contact your suppliers and vendors and ask, “Do you have an early order program?” If they do, ask for all the details.
Create a spreadsheet of the vendors who offer these discounts. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be functional. Record the discount offered, the minimum order size and any deadlines for ordering.
If you’re unhappy with the discount amount a particular vendor offers, either go back and ask them for a better discount or shop it around. You might find another vendor offering a deeper discount for early orders on a product you use frequently.
There are common roadblocks to participating in EOPs. Let’s examine a couple of them and discuss solutions.
Early order program bills are a hefty bill to receive at a time of year when your cash flow is winding to a close.
Company owners can ask about financing. Many suppliers will likely offer you terms, and if that’s viable for you, go ahead.
A better option is to forecast material needs for this year, add your growth targets and get an idea of what early orders would look like for the following year. Start squirreling away that money for next year’s early orders, so you’re not adding debt to the business.
Some company owners say they can’t participate in EOPs because they “don’t have anywhere to store it.”
There are workarounds for this, too. Company owners can rent storage from a competitor; many landscapers and lawn care companies are in facilities built for growth, but they aren’t at capacity yet. Or, they can try leasing legitimate warehouse space if they're uncomfortable with approaching a competitor.
Another option is shipping containers. One can often buy these enclosed steel structures second hand and have them delivered directly to your property. They are built-in storage that’s a one-time expense, relatively inexpensive and often avoids permitting requirements (you’re not adding a permanent structure, so no building permits, stormwater concerns, etc.).
Be sure to carefully follow all the OSHA, EPA and state guidelines for the proper storage of whatever products you stock up on via EOPs.
All in all, EOPs are worth the time, effort and money because they make a significant impact in helping you improve efficiency and profitability.