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It’s time to saddle up and ride into EOP season

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(llustration: delectus/E+/Getty Images)
(llustration: delectus/E+/Getty Images)
(llustration: delectus/E+/Getty Images)
(illustration: delectus/E+/Getty Images)

As the sun sets on another summer, lawn care operators (LCOs) saddle up for the long haul to 2024. Early order programs (EOPs) are a hot commodity, but not all LCOs are quick to commit. Some are hesitant to plan that far ahead, while others lack the space to store products. But for those who do take the plunge, EOPs can be a real boon to their operations.

Derek Taussig, landscape designer for Taussig Landscape in Manhattan, Kan., says his operation dropped six figures on early order programs.

“We used a couple new strategies this year,” he says. “I was able to use the good price break that (suppliers) were giving to negotiate with other companies to negotiate even better pricing.”

Yes, you read that right. Taussig says he decided to shop around for a price match on early order programs because the company he used gave him such a limited time to secure his early order program that it wasn’t feasible for him to do all the calculations in a few days during a snowstorm. So, when another supply company reached out and asked what it would take to get Taussig’s business, he asked if the supply company would be willing to price match.

“I’d suggest that everybody should do that every year to check and make sure they’re getting the best price possible, especially on things you buy a lot of,” he says.

Mosey on over

While traditionally EOPs are about chemicals and fertilizers, Taussig says his business buys everything by pallet, so buying irrigation supplies in bulk — including pallets of rotors and spray heads — helps his operation compound savings.

“When you buy in that kind of bulk, not only is there early order pricing, but we get a really good bulk pricing too,” he says. “You just need one head at a time, but we have them all here just in the warehouse ready to go.”

Ryan Birch of Fairway Lawn and Tree Service in Harwich, Mass., says bundling products in an EOP for added savings gives his company the freedom to try new products from a supplier. One in particular, he says, was the rebate on Corteva’s Dimension. Fairway Lawn added three more products to the bundle for additional savings and to increase the percentage of Fairway Lawn’s reward.

“Last year Dithane was the fourth product added on. We hadn’t really used much of it, but we used it on our trees and shrubs. We saw pretty good results. It was simply the add-on of two cases of Dithane, which is not huge money, but it increased our percentage (rebate).”

Swapping some tall tales

Shanz Leonelli, owner of Leo’s Green Lawn in Grantsville, Utah, works exclusively with Greene County Fertilizer to source all early order materials — including his herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. He says EOPs helped him keep his business costs down.

“As a small business, it helped me be able to have some savings so that I could try to keep my cost down for the customers,” he says. “The caveat to that for me was that I had to forego income to try to start buying the bulk for the EOP. It was able to help me build my business.”

Taussig agrees, saying his business capitalizes on an EOP’s payment terms.

“In the spring in this industry, cash flow is typically slow,” he says. “So, I’m able to do the early order program and then I can set it up to pay it in June or July. And it frees up my cash flow in the spring so I could buy more equipment that makes it more efficient for me.”

Taussig says his business utilizes several shipping containers to store the products his business purchases during EOPs. He stores it strategically — putting the products applied late in the season at the back of the container.

“Now my staff doesn’t have to go to the store every time they need something; we just have it here,” he says. “I don’t have to pay them or waste the time to go to the store and go pick it up.”

Draw fast

Jerry Grutz, owner of Lawn Doctor of Madison (Wis.), Dubuque (Iowa) and La Crosse (Wis.), says a big benefit of utilizing early order programs is knowing the product is ready when Mother Nature is. Grutz first started using EOPs in 2021 after struggling to get products on time.

“(It’s) the peace of mind of having it in the garage where when you do need it, you do have it,” he says. “We stock as much as we can in our garage that we possibly can, that won’t affect the equipment space or the vehicle space.”

He says just knowing his team is ready for whatever Mother Nature throws his way helps him sleep at night.

Birch says the product rebates during EOP season offer LCOs a significant advantage.

“The rebates, the rewards and the points you can get back are pretty significant,” he says. “PBI-Gordon’s product Q4, for example, for the amount we buy we get a pretty good rebate where we’re getting almost a couple hundred dollars off a barrel. Planning ahead and early ordering is to me a no-brainer for someone who’s not doing it.”

He also says EOPs help mitigate the risk of a major price increase the next calendar year on the inputs his business needs.

“I find you can almost beat product increases when we’re doing our EOPs in September, October, November for the following year,” he says. “We can beat that price increase that following year. … We can order hundreds of thousands of dollars of product and have June billing.”

Life’s a rodeo

LCOs that lack space and therefore think they can’t participate in early ordering may want to consider renting a storage unit to buy ahead, Grutz says.

“Just so you know that you have it,” he says. “All of a sudden when you do need it (and you didn’t purchase through EOPs), the prices might be through the roof. … Usually prices don’t go down.”

Leonelli agrees, noting smaller businesses can start small with EOPs too. He says it’s important to understand what product availability looks like and that can help determine which EOPs are worth pursuing.

He recommends LCOs think about what their needs are for the season and project what they know they’re going to need and any benefits or discounts available from EOPs. “Start small and just lock stuff in,” he says. “In the long run, it’s going to help increase their profitability.”

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