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Supply chain: One big bottleneck

January 26, 2022 -  By
Bottles and boxes, like these pictured at the Control Solutions Inc. factory, are just some of the many items causing supply chain challenges. (Photo: LM Staff)

Bottles and boxes, like these pictured at the Control Solutions Inc. factory, are just some of the many items causing supply chain challenges. (Photo: LM Staff)

It was a sight to behold — 140 shiny new sprayers lined up next to one another in the Steel Green Manufacturing yard. A passerby might think the company had a huge order or was preparing for a product launch.

The 26 employees of the Lebanon, Ind.-based company knew the truth about those machines: They were all missing one … small … part.

“Any time you look at record sales and at the same time you’re concerned about getting big — or even small — orders, because of the supply chain issue, then things have gotten squirrely,” says Matt Smith, co-founder and sales manager of Steel Green with a sigh.

“Squirrely” is one way to put the supply chain crisis that started during the pandemic and is gaining steam in 2022. LM spoke to manufacturers and lawn care and landscape professionals about what they’re experiencing and how they’re dealing with the supply chain challenges this season and beyond.

Ripple effect

Pasadena, Texas-based Quali-Pro develops new and post-patent control products for the lawn care, golf and sports turf industries. As a division of Control Solutions Inc. (CSI) and a member of the ADAMA group, the company has the power of the fifth-largest agricultural chemical company in the world backing it up.

That doesn’t mean they can always get packaging when they need it.

Allan Fulcher, vice president of turf for Quali-Pro, calls the situation “crazy” and says the problems start overseas and ripple all the way to the CSI doorstep in the suburbs of Houston.

“Over the last 12 to 18 months, there have been delays with customs in China exporting materials, and then when

Turfco President George Kinkead (center) says he expects supply chain troubles to last into the fourth quarter. (Photo: LM Staff)

Turfco President George Kinkead (center) says he expects supply chain troubles to last into the fourth quarter. (Photo: LM Staff)

product gets to the U.S., we have delays on our side with labor shortage, COVID-related issues and price increases,” Fulcher says. “Everything from bottles, labels, caps, boxes, the AIs (active ingredients)! All the AIs have continued to escalate in price over the last 18 months, and they’re one of the smaller factors driving the cost up on a lot of the finished products going into distribution.”

George Kinkead, president of Minneapolis-based Turfco, forewarns that he thinks the supply chain challenges will last until the fourth quarter of 2022. His company has been dealing with supply problems large and small for more than a year now.

“An example would be on engines. Engines are 52 weeks (delayed),” Kinkead says. “(But) it could be anything — someone providing something as simple as a lock washer. You need to look through all the products you’re planning to buy and ask yourself, could I buy them earlier so you can produce what you want to produce?”

Forward-thinking

David Drennan, operations manager for Andrews Lawn & Landscaping in West Chester, Pa., says 2021 taught him that the days of being able to get supplies the same day, next day or even next week, are a thing of the past.

“In 2021 supply chain challenges definitely impacted our ability to get products,” Drennan says. “Last-minute problems that arose on properties that weren’t part of your typical program, it would take months for us sometimes to get equipment. We ordered equipment six months early and were promised delivery in July. We got them in September.”

Drennan says another lesson he learned is that the company needed to take the early order purchasing programs more seriously. It took more planning, he says, but the result was he now has a better understanding of where the company is going, and products are now on-hand.

“I think preplanning and actually taking the time to understand the history of your company — where you’ve gone the past couple years, what your growth was — and break it down to what you think your labor needs are going to be, your truck, equipment (need) is going to be,” Drennan says. “Before, you could just go to the dealership, pick up two trucks if you needed them and put it back into play. You have to plan out a lot more. You have to be more forward-thinking than reactionary. That is going to be huge for our industry.”

Drennan’s colleague, Derek Madden, vice president of Andrews Lawn & Landscaping and Go Green, adds that even though it can be maddening when a machine goes down, the company is seeing its industry partners do whatever they can to help.

Matt Smith of Steel Green (left) says he’s happy to see demand for the company’s equipment, but worried they won’t be able to satisfy the demand. (Photo: LM Staff)

Matt Smith of Steel Green (left) says he’s happy to see demand for the company’s equipment, but worried they won’t be able to satisfy the demand. (Photo: LM Staff)

“We’re lucky to have really good relationships with a lot of vendors. They’re able to work with us,” he says. “I have a guy for aerators.

We had two transmissions go down in aerators. He actually pulled two off the showroom floor off a piece of machinery for me to be able to keep operating. For us, it’s building those relationships with our dealers and our vendors so they will go above and beyond for you.”

Pricing concerns

Tom Donahue, president of Donahue & Sons Management, Barre, Mass., says he felt lucky in 2021, as the supply chain issues didn’t hit his area hard until late fall. He hopes his good luck carries into 2022 so that he can be ready for what might come. His company focuses on vegetation management and nonelectrical maintenance of renewable energy facilities throughout the East Coast.

“(Supply chain challenges) made a lot of decisions difficult and more pertinent to be as forward a thinker as possible,” Donahue says. “It’s going to be prudent as we transition from the green side/vegetation management to the snow side of the equation, to utilize that time to bring in more and more inventory in-house and keep it on our books versus ordering as we go, to keep price consistency and products in our inventory.”

Pricing is the biggest talking point when it comes to the supply chain issue for Justin Berg, president of Purple Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Founded in 1993, Purple Care is a lawn care, landscaping, pest control and construction services company serving high-end clients throughout North Texas.

“At the end of the day our prices have gone up across the board. Fuel has gone up, fertilizer has gone up, all of these costs have gone up,” Berg says, noting that consumers are expecting those increases to be passed along to them. “Whether you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s or any provider you have, you’ve already gotten an email that says ‘our expenses have gone up.’ Everyone is used to it. Everyone that is worried and saying ‘how are we going to go up on price?’ It’s already been anticipated.”

Berg adds that he thinks the companies that will be hardest hit are the smaller ones that cater to a lower-end clientele.

“My margins are going to go up, but not as much as the low-end provider,” he says. “The low-end guy has to go up 20 percent, while I’m going to go up 10 percent. If you’re the low-end provider, I think you’re going to get hurt.”

Madden agrees.

“Smaller companies are really struggling. They don’t have the infrastructure to hold on to so many trucks, so much equipment,” he says. “If you’re a one-man show, and you’re relying on that one machine, you’re in real trouble if that 50-cent part breaks, and you can’t get it for three months.”

Staying ahead

Quali-Pro’s Fulcher says there are “alarming” statistics he’s seen from the vendors he works with. For example, freight costs have increased by 63 percent, he says, and his trucking company tells him that there is on average only one truck driver for every six loads waiting to be picked up.

Echoing the advice of his customers, Fulcher says the best thing to do is plan ahead.

“There are longer lead times across all products and components. Logistic issues are expected to be as high and continue to increase throughout 2022, both locally and internationally,” he says.

Fulcher says the talk he heard from his customers at trade shows in late 2021 was that they got burned not having product available when it was needed, and that cost them revenue. It’s not a problem they expect to have again.

“A lot of people are going to combat that by buying early and making sure they have plenty of inventory on hand, and we certainly saw that during (our early-order program). Everyone was loading up on whatever they could get their hands on this year just to make sure they had it,” Fulcher says. “Not that the cost is irrelevant, but we’re getting to the point, on some products, if you can get it, buy it at any cost you can and pass it on to the customer. The availability is more critical than anything.”

Steel Green’s Matt Smith advises his customers to be proactive and think ahead in 2022, understanding the probable delays of getting anything a lawn care company might need, including fertilizer and the machines that spread it.

“To make sure everyone is on the same page we’ve been encouraging everybody to forecast their needs,” Smith says. “If you have a machine that has been limping along for the last couple years, before we used to say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll keep selling you parts, no problem.’ Now we’re encouraging people, ‘OK, maybe it’s time to look at getting that new machine this year.’ Or‘Get in line, in preparation for delayed shipments for when you’ll potentially need the machine.’”

The company recently hired a full-time position to take over purchasing and inventory. Smith says his team members are taking their own advice and being aggressive in knowing what is in stock and what might never arrive at their factory in Indiana.

“We’re constantly trying to get ahead of this. Luckily, for us we’re small enough we can react a little quicker and make changes and keep things going,” Smith says. “We’ve had to slow down the process. I’ve had dealers try to order six (sprayers) and I just say ‘No, you’re going to get one.’ We’re going to really limit what dealers can get their hands on because we know we’re not going to be able to produce the overall full cast.

“(Supply chain problems) are a constant concern,” Smith says. “We’re always mindful that something could ruin our day very quickly.”

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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