This year, lawn care operators and other green industry professionals will have more choices than ever to participate in early order programs (EOPs) through which they can purchase insecticides, herbicides and plant growth regulators in advance at reduced prices.
Manufacturers of these products, competing for business, are growing and expanding their EOPs. They are widening the time windows in which customers can buy at lower rates and using their EOPs to showcase new products.
And, although EOPs traditionally have been targeted to the golf course industry, lawn care operators are taking advantage of EOPs in increased numbers.
“Our EOP has grown in size and popularity,” says Reuel Heyden, Nufarm’s U.S. marketing communications manager. “The majority of our products—the key technologies and those most in demand by customers—are offered through early order programming.”
The concept is simple: Green industry companies that buy products in fall 2023 that they will need next spring and summer receive discounts and rebates. At Nufarm, for example, customers qualify for the EOP if they buy two products or more and spend at least $2,500.
Through EOPs, for which lawn care operators can register on manufacturers' websites, it’s possible to save up to 20 percent or more on certain products. Manufacturers like early purchases because they nail down orders ahead of time, and they can more accurately project the inventory they must have in stock.
“There are no additional eligibility requirements, and you don’t have to perform complex calculations,” Heyden says. “You can just look at the chart on our website and see all the pricing and the amount of the rebate. It’s pretty transparent. There are no smoke and mirrors or anything to cause confusion.”
Expanding time windows
At Syngenta, end users can buy products through an EOP from Oct. 1 through Dec. 8. Other manufacturers are lengthening their EOP signup periods.
For example, Nufarm’s EOP registration period in past years ran from Sept. 15 through Oct. 31. This year, the start date has been moved to Sept. 1. The company even has a second EOP term, with lower rebates, from Nov. 1 through Dec. 8.
“Later in the season, our customers may realize they need more product or have a clearer idea of what they will need, and they can add to their earlier order,” Heyden says.
PBI-Gordon Corp. has extended its EOP end date for the last three years in a row, from mid-October to mid-November and to Dec. 1 this year. The start date remains Sept. 1.
“By giving customers a little longer, hopefully it gives them time to sit down and look at their budget and make plans for next year—and it gives them time, even after the Thanksgiving holiday, to place an order,” says Melissa McDonald, PBI-Gordon’s marketing manager.
PBI-Gordon is also rebranding its EOP this year, from a plain vanilla name of End User Program to the Green Dividends Early Order Program.
“We wanted to have brand recognition, show the true value of our EOP and make it more exciting so that people want to learn more about it when hearing the name,” McDonald says. “What it truly represents is money in their pockets, thus green dividends.”
Every EOP is different. Syngenta locks in EOP prices for the entire next calendar year. That means customers buying products during the EOP period this year will be charged the same rate even if they place orders outside the registration timeframe. Not every manufacturer offers that.
“We have online calculators, and the customer can plug in what they want, and it will calculate their total order, and how much they save on the rebates,” says Carson Cashwell, lawn and landscape market manager at Syngenta.
Cashwell says the calculators are built to make recommendations. For example, if someone is ordering 9 gallons of a certain product, the calculator might inform the customer that buying 10 gallons would give them a discount.
McDonald says PBI-Gordon customers simply buy whatever they need through the EOP and nothing more.
“Be careful,” McDonalds says. “Some manufacturers bundle things together and make end users buy things they don’t need to get a rebate. We don’t do that.”
PBI-Gordon is introducing a new liquid herbicide this year that will be part of the EOP. The herbicide is specifically designed to control nutsedge and kyllinga.
Meanwhile, Nufarm and Syngenta are highlighting three new products in their EOPs. Nufarm is also launching a separate EOP featuring liquid products.
“A lot of our products are granules that dissolve in water,” Heyden says. “We’re moving toward easier-to-use liquid fungicides, herbicides and plant growth regulators that are easier to mix with other products and that improve efficacy and performance.”
Affordability and storage
Some lawn care operators might struggle to afford buying products so far in advance. Syngenta has addressed that issue with its Summer Pay program. Customers don’t pay for products they purchase through the EOP until June the following year.
In 2023, PBI-Gordon created a Spring Rewards Program that the company will continue in 2024. Customers can secure the same rebates offered in the fall EOP in spring the following year.
“We saw that there were a lot of lawn care purchases—for various reasons, whether it’s cash flow, timing or storage problems—made in late winter or spring,” McDonald says. “Some customers weren’t ready to commit to something in October or November. We wanted to find a way to incentivize them in February and March, when they are getting ready to start their seasons.”
Another factor is finding storage space for products obtained months in advance. Some green industry pros have leased warehouses or shipping containers, but that adds costs.
Nufarm can help by delaying or spacing out product deliveries. Distributors can often do the same.
Jamie Heydinger, lawn care segment lead at Nufarm, says Nufarm products don’t take up a lot of room.
“A lot of our products are liquids or granules,” Heydinger says. “People find space for it, maybe by clearing out a maintenance area.”
Before buying through an EOP, lawn care operators should budget ahead and also consider their projected labor and equipment costs. They should study which products are most effective for their grass types and stay informed about invasive species that can damage turfs.
“Recently, one of our tech managers said the elm zigzag sawfly has been flagged, specifically in North Carolina,” Heyden says. “They are destructive to elm trees. We have two products that are effective against them. So as an applicator, you need to know your industry and your customers.”
Lawn care operators should analyze the EOPs of various manufacturers and determine which is best for them. Manufacturer reps can also help.
“We know our products better than anyone else,” Heyden says. “We don’t want to sell a product to someone that is not going to work for them. Just tell us your challenge and we can point you to the right product.”