Running a multi-faceted business in 2019 requires a lot of information. For Sandi Hillermann McDonald, president of Hillermann Nursery & Florist, collecting and collating that information would be a nightmare without a modern point-of-sale system.
“Everybody should have one,” she says. “To me, it’s a no brainer.”
The ability to streamline and automate processes with a POS system is especially valuable to a business as diversified as Hillermann. The Missouri company has several divisions: nursery and greenhouse, garden center, flower shop and wedding, lawn and garden equipment center, and landscape, lighting and irrigation.
Every division includes numerous examples of how the company’s response to changing times led to diversification and increased customers. Landscape design, installation and maintenance came in 1953, with florist services in 1958, greenhouse growing in 1960 and equipment sales in 1970. The list continues up to the addition of the pottery shop and classes in 2013 followed by beer and winemaking.
This willingness to try new revenue streams is one of the reasons Hillermann Nursery & Florist has thrived. The company was ranked No. 55 on Garden Center magazine’s Top 100 list last year.
In fact, Hillermann McDonald was one of the early adopters of POS software. She chose the company’s current system because of the diversity of reports that are available, which made it a good fit for her business.
“We were probably one of the first garden centers that [the company] even went into,” Hillermann McDonald says. “And so we were kind of a guinea pig with it.”
Hillermann’s retail area includes the gift shop, floral shop, nursery and garden center, where customers can find canning equipment and beer and winemaking supplies, plus a pottery-making shop where customers can make everything from wheel-thrown plant containers to tableware and birdhouses.
Hillermann’s landscape division includes both commercial and residential projects, and a full breadth of services like installation, irrigation, lighting and lawn maintenance. It’s also the most difficult segment for the POS system to handle.
She says the system works especially well for her service department, equipment center and retail operations, and she has been working with the company to figure out a way to handle the complicated logistics of her multi-faceted landscape division.
One feature that has helped her business is the way the POS system augments Hillermann’s loyalty program.
The Garden Club program gives Hillermann the ability to capture its customers’ information and track their purchasing history.
“One of the biggest advantages of that loyalty program is that they no longer need to hold onto their receipts,” Hillermann McDonald says. “So if there’s problem with a plant guarantee or a customer asks, ‘How many yards of mulch did I use last year? What color did I buy?’ We are able to go back and track all their sales without them having to worry about keeping any of that information themselves.”
This, in turn, lets Hillermann anticipate what its customers will want and when they will want it.
For instance, the company is able to use its POS system to target customers with specific interests, like birdfeeders or bird seed, with a promotion designed to trigger a purchase.
“Through our POS, we are able to pull just the people that have purchased birding in all categories and send them a flyer or a special or just a reminder that now is the time to put your bluebird houses up,” Hillermann McDonald says. “We do it with our floral department too. Before the big holidays, like Valentine’s Day, we use it to target the people that are floral customers of ours.”
Hillermann drums up new members in its loyalty program by making the rewards attractive. Within the POS system, they are able to offer members special pricing on specific items throughout the year. Those discounts encourage people to sign up.
“They can buy potting soil $2 to $3 cheaper than anybody that just walks in off the street and doesn’t want to join,” Hillermann McDonald says.
Garden Club reward customers receive frequent emails informing them of the savings they could find if they stop in.
“Those types of things through the POS system — through the marketing end — are also so very important to us,” she says.
Training her staff to use the POS system has been a painless process, Hillermann McDonald says. When she first started researching and testing different point-of-sale systems, it took a lot of data input and a lot of time. But the process has improved significantly. And many of her employees have been raised online and are quite proficient with the tools and technology used.
“The training is almost minimal,” she says. “It’s just so quick. I’m an old dog. Teaching me new tricks sometimes isn’t easy, but the staff that we are able to get in are younger and really seem to pick up on it rapidly.”
Having the right data on production and inventory has been a game-changer for Petitti Garden Centers, helping them stock, staff and sell. Accurate information on everything from peak times to what’s on the tables to which promotions are performing well, the Northeast Ohio garden centers are using point-of-sale technology to boost their profits.
“Without those tools, we’d be sunk,” says A.J. Petitti, president.
Petitti Garden Centers produces 90% of what they sell and overproducing used to be a big headache for the nine regional stores. Accurate inventory data goes directly to the production model, helping them determine what’s moving, what’s not and what they need more of in real time.
That means less waste, less labor maintaining extra product and less stress on teams to bring in extra materials. And at the end of the day, they can evaluate mistakes, overproduction and waste.
“Now we’ll go through days where we’ll process tens of thousands of transactions in one day and it’ll be smooth as silk,” Petitti says. “And so the product flows in when you need it, it’s sold, it’s replenished and everything just works really well.”
And on busy weekends like Mother’s Day, having accurate data is invaluable. The store will sell 35,000 baskets in just two hours, so without information on everything from inventory, sales, distribution and logistics, it wouldn’t be possible, Petitti says.
“So by having that good information, by having those good systems and practices in place, we’re able to flow that information out from 7 to 9 a.m., sell that quantity of baskets and then by the time 9 a.m. starts, the store looks perfect,” he says. “It looks like nothing was shopped and you’re ready to go about your day for Mother’s Day weekend like nothing happened.”
There are surprises every year at Petitti but by establishing and tracking trends, they can see the effects of promotions and displays outside of gross sales. They can track not only what’s going out the door, but what each customer is taking along with a sale item, whether it’s another plant, some garden decor, a container or supplies to help that plant thrive.
“If we’re running 50% off on lilacs, you can see if they’re just buying that one lilac or if our team is really doing a good job of upselling the steps for success and having the soil, having the fertilizer with that lilac,” Petitti says.
Petitti Garden Centers is constantly throwing new promotions out to see what works whether it’s a gift card deal, a percent off sale or something else. But to know if it’s something they should try again, they have to look at how sales performed.
Having the tools to measure each sale’s efficacy, financial return and boost in sales determines which sales they’ll run again and which ones flopped.
“Running a promotion isn’t just about selling lilacs at 50% off; it’s about getting traffic in, introducing hopefully new customers to your store, capturing their information and also really upselling and inspiring them to do more in the landscape instead of just selling lilacs,” he says.
Considering monthly fees, usability, customization and support and training, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to purchasing the right point-of-sale system for your garden center.
For Petitti, choosing a system with great support and easy setup was a game-changer from their first POS system, which Petitti calls a “glorified cash register.”
“We paid really high monthly fees every month for the maintenance,” he says. “With the old system, we had to customize everything.”
Before they implemented the right point-of-sale system, Petitti was struggling with software that jumbled up inventory when it batched overnight, leading to inaccurate counts and problems with stocking.
“We’d take cycle counts; we’d come in the next day and the counts would be inaccurate,” Petitti says. “It created so many different challenges for us in terms of filling the stores, stocking the stores. So instead of making really good decisions based on good information, we were making decisions based on gut feelings. You’re overstocking the stores.”
Now, with the right system, the garden center knows it’s shipping the correct quantity of products to have the right material at the right time instead of making an educated guess. In the past, the garden center would have 40 to 50 carts of extra material sitting in the back after a big Mother’s Day weekend. Now, that number is down to just two or three carts without ever having an empty space on the tables.
“The difference it makes is just huge,” Petitti says.
And instead of going off of a gut feeling, Petitti knows exactly what they have on hand to ensure they’re not overproducing, overstocking or shorting themselves across all of their stores.
“We ran into all of those situations,” Petitti says. “To try to manage those inventories across nine locations, making sure that everything is getting out at the right time, making sure everybody is appropriately stocked, having that inventory information — it’s critical.”
And no matter the size of your garden center, Petitti says it’s a game-changer to find a system that works for you.
Plus, the mobile abilities make it easier to track inventory across stores that can be 15 acres instead of dragging materials to a terminal.
“I would say you can’t afford not to do it. Having that information, having the system — especially if you’re on a system that’s working really well — I would say just make sure that it’s maximizing your operation. And if you’re on a system that’s not working well — you can’t afford to be on a system that’s not working well. You can’t afford to not have good inventory. You can’t afford to not have good information to base your decisions off of.”
When you’re planning your budget for the year, analyzing your peak times and planning out your staffing, you have to really dig into the data again, Petitti says. From ramping up for the busy season to scaling back during slower periods, that information is key to staffing decisions throughout the year.
And because the team at Petitti includes growers, he’s aware of the fact that throwing away plants dampens morale, along with hurting the bottom line.
“They put a lot of passion into growing,” he says. “We’ve got teams that care, maintain, unload that product, looking for that product to sell and nothing will kill morale faster than all that work that goes into it, all that time that goes into it and because of mistakes made on poor information, if we’re throwing that product away, that will kill morale faster than anything.”
From inventory control to tracking customer data to speeding up checkout, point-of-sale systems can help stores streamline operations. We surveyed more than 100 independent garden centers to learn how they’re using point-of-sale systems, what benefits they’re seeing and what their challenges have been.
Out of the 160 total surveyed, about 45 respondents said they don’t use POS systems with the main reason being that they’re just too busy to use one during the spring and sales volumes are too high. The remaining respondents’ experiences with POS systems are detailed below.
— Kate Spirgen
*Editor’s note: Due to rounding, not all percentages add up to 100.