AmericanFarm.com

Bell Nursery cuts wasted inventory by $7 million

By CAROL KINSLEY

(February 2015) You hear it everywhere, “There’s an app for that!” Bell Nursery is finding that’s true.
Exclusive nursery supplier to more than 170 Home Depot stores across seven East Coast states, Bell Nursery has found an app to help cut the amount of inventory it throws away by 50 percent.
For Bell, a company that grows more than 90 million annuals, 5 million perennials and 1 million poinsettias annually, inventory and supply chain management is critical to maximizing sales and minimizing the number of plants being thrown out.
Bell Vice President Joe Perret said, “Home Depot pays by scan basis. All the inventory at the stores belongs to us until it is sold.” Trying to manage a geographically diverse inventory system, plus the growers, plus distribution, is a challenge.
“Years ago, it was not much to manage,” Perret said. “When the product went out of our network of growers, it went into a distribution center and from a shipping dock to the stores. We had no sense of what was low where. We sent every store a percentage of what was on the dock.”
“Since then, we’ve begun to keep records of what is at the stores, what sells and what is shipped, so we know what’s in each store down to the SKU level. We compare what’s on hand with the sales history on a weekly basis. We have enough data to target inventory and know how many of each item should be in each store, based on history. We compare the inventory to the target, then ship product in targeted fashion.”
Store management of inventory can get skewed for many reasons, Perret continued. “Plants die or break, or there’s a mistake in counts. At the store level, inventory must be corrected so we have an accurate picture, so we can ship the right stuff.
“We looked for mobile solutions and stumbled onto Webalo,” Perret said. Webalo develops custom applications that allow businesses to access their data “on the spot,” using their own mobile devices, giving them the power to take the same actions that used to be restricted to desktops and laptops.  It’s like having shortcuts to all the tasks you currently perform (or wish you could), so you can work more productively — from anywhere, any time.
Bell also needed help with other simple tasks including managing discards (taking them out of inventory) and obtaining specific information such as how many of a certain item have been sold.
“To take those three tasks and have a bar code company develop a custom app would have been about $80,000, and we would have been constricted on the devices we could use,” Perret said.
Now, right from the stores, Bell employees can perform all three functions: counting, discarding and obtaining basic information. “We can track carts — a huge asset as important as the plants — and do a qualitative assessment. We got into a pickle with lots of plants that were in poor condition. They needed to be thrown out, but the store wasn’t sure what to do. Webalo developed a qualitative app that allows us to assess inventory as though looking through the customer’s eyes. Does the customer feel it is a nice selection?
“We are starting to use Webalo for some HR forms. We also can use it for the distribution centers, receiving transactions at the back end of a truck. We can do it all on Webalo, without paying for custom software.”
Webalo CEO Peter Price said more functions can be added. “That’s the whole vision of platforms — that companies that have lots of processes and stuff they want to mobilize can’t afford to custom build an application each time. So we built a platform with a view of making it easy across a range of companies.”
Perret is happy. In the last few years, he said, waste has dropped from $20 million to $13 million. “That’s real money savings, just by putting the right stuff in the right places. To let plants go to waste is very expensive.”
Starting with a few little functions, Bell Nursery is now finding Webalo to be part of its culture. “It’s become quite the Swiss army knife tool,” Perret said.
“We have employees who are plant people. They like to care for plants. They are not technology people. Operating an iPhone may be at the edge of their ability, but these apps are simple enough that we can get through them without a lot of grief. It’s remarkable that we can accomplish so much with people who are not really technical experts.”
For more information, visit www.webalo.com or contact Lisa Solazzo, manager of new business development, at (310) 828-7335, Ext. 815.