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What you need to know about EOPs

September 17, 2021 -  By

Fall is the time lawn care operators (LCOs) start parsing through early order programs (EOPs) to figure out what products they can order early to save on costs and improve efficiency.

Here to help explain how they use EOPs each year are Bruce Love, owner and president of LawnRx in Latrobe, Pa., and Kevin Cooper, vice president of Cooper’s Landscape Management in Virginia Beach, Va.

 

LawnRx knows about how much product it will need each year based on the previous year’s numbers. (Photol: LawnRx)

LawnRx knows about how much product it will need each year based on the previous year’s numbers. (Photo: LawnRx)

The when

Love says he usually starts considering his early order program in October and locks in the orders before the New Year. LawnRx has been using early order programs since the company’s founding in 2004.

“You want to start planning in the late fall,” Love says. “The downtime in our industry tends to be around that time of year, so that’s a good time to look at your numbers and determine where you are seeing growth.”

He places an early order for fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides — about 15 percent more product than he ordered the previous year.

“We pretty much know what we need for the coming year based on the previous year’s client base,” he says. “Everyone should have some kind of budget or some kind of sales goals.”

Cooper notes that fall is a good time for planning because he’s able to easily recollect what worked well that season.

“I’m able to rehash it all because it’s early enough, and it’s still fresh in your mind when you get to October,” Cooper says. Cooper Landscape Management has been taking advantage of EOPs from distributors and manufacturers since the early 2000s.

Cooper starts his EOP planning in September after consulting his notes and various spreadsheets on what products the company used that season and what worked well.

“I think, ‘What am I going to change from last year to this year? How much of that do I think I need?’” Cooper says. “And then, I have the chats with the supplier reps and our manufacturer reps and see what they come back with. It’s a lot of back and forth to get that figured out.”

By mid-October Cooper has his purchasing plans finalized, giving him plenty of time to evaluate the incentives and decide which companies’ EOPs he’ll take advantage of.

it’s important to ensure there’s enough storage space before considering buying materials early through EOPs. (Photo: LawnRx)

it’s important to ensure there’s enough storage space before considering buying materials early through EOPs. (Photo: LawnRx)

The why

This year more than ever, Love plans to take advantage of EOPs because of market fluctuations and supply shortages due to factors such as the February freeze in Texas and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, it was key because prices were 30 percent more,” Love says. “Shipping prices are through the roof right now. Anything you need from shipping is a lot harder to get. For fertilizers, the market is usually at its lowest in fall and winter, so the best time to buy fertilizers is then. By locking those prices down, I beat the fluctuations for the following year.”

In 2020, Love ordered a few products in-season and had to pay about 30 to 40 percent more on the product itself, excluding the increased cost of shipping.

He says those types of costs are hard to offset midseason, affecting the bottom line.

“In our industry, our prices are pretty much set. You can’t charge differently throughout the year to compensate for the increases,” Love says. “We give a base price, where this is the price per application per year. You can’t raise that. Plus, a lot of our customers prepay for the season.”

Love says the EOPs are also attractive because many companies provide terms that lawn care firms couldn’t get otherwise, such as not having to pay for product until June.

EOPs also allow lawn care companies to cement their relationships with distributors and manufacturers, according to Cooper.

For example, Cooper says one season, he told one of his manufacturer reps that he wasn’t a big fan of the company’s fungicide because it came in a granular form. The rep informed him that the manufacturer also produced a liquid form, which Cooper had not previously known. From then on, Cooper says the rep made an effort to offer him mostly
liquid products.

“They have my best interests at heart,” Cooper says. “The rep remembers, ‘Kevin likes the liquid products as much as he can go liquid, because there’s less settling out in the tank. You’re not going to have clogged up filters in your spray rig and all that.’”

When it comes to the cost savings on EOPs — which can be as high as 18 percent, Cooper says — Cooper puts them back into his company.

“You could put that money into employee benefits, pay raises or the price of gasoline that’s going up,” Cooper says. “In our business, I want to make us look better than everyone else out there. I put it into better products that are going to have the efficacy and the longevity that I want. That’s going to keep us looking better out there, because we’re a word-of-mouth business.”

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor. She can be reached at swebb@northcoastmedia.net.

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