In spring and summer, garden centre retailers pull out all the stops to ensure plants are attractively displayed and that they have the right mix of tools and accessories in stock. Transporting live, fragile or bulky goods is a challenge – so we caught up with David Kumar, from irregular freight specialist Tuffnells, to find out how you can meet seasonal demand and deliver goods in pristine condition.

The lifestyle trend for outdoor living has paved the way for garden centres to increase and diversify their product range with fire pits, outdoor furnishings, hot tubs and lights, alongside an ever-changing array of plants. With plenty of inspiration online, on TV and in magazines, garden design is the natural cousin of interior design and there is seemingly no limit to what can be achieved.

While there is plenty of scope for growth, retailers know how competitive the sector is. Not only are they vying with supermarkets and other general stores for customer spend, they may lack the same buying power so cannot afford to cut their prices. This is why, on top of staff knowledge and passion, garden centres are typically judged on the quality of their products. 

A good manager knows that carefully handling plants and big-ticket items is not confined to the in-store team alone – they need freight carriers to uphold the same high standards when moving goods from wholesalers, between stores and/or to customers’ homes.

But how do you make the most of logistics to deliver on quality and customers satisfaction? Take a look at my tips below.

Choose the right packaging

Goods damaged in transit are costly for any business, both in terms of returns and reputational damage. As tempting as it is to cut packaging costs, remember that you still need to take extra care with delicate live plants and bulky furniture (known in logistics as ‘irregular freight’). When items are packed incorrectly, they could damage your consignment and that of other customers too.

Forecast the weather . . . and demand

While nobody knows whether the great British summer will bring a heatwave or torrential rain, it is not only important to prepare for your peak in advanced but to anticipate any spikes in customer demand. The latest lifestyle trends, seen at trade shows and in the media, will influence what products you sell – but there is no point waiting until a scorching bank holiday weekend to order barbecues. Instead, check the weather in advance and stagger orders through the week to ensure goods are available when you need them. 

Get to know your carrier

With so many transport companies in operation, you need to find out whether yours is capable of maintaining the high standards expected. The size of its fleet will determine where you can deliver, while features such as curtain-sided trailers allow even large items, such as hot tubs or inflatable pools, to be unloaded quicker. At Tuffnells, we have a network of 37 depots UK wide, to ensure all UK locations have a local depot.

Look at the carrier’s experience in this area to check it can accommodate your products and see if it has a local team, where you get to know the drivers. The more they understand your business, the more they can help you.

Weigh up the costs

Transporting irregular freight tends to be more expensive than standard packages, since much of it is carefully handled by people rather than machines. But even though the initial outlay is higher, a specialist carrier can help you avoid the cost of returns and damaged goods.

Remember there are other ways to keep costs down. A firm offering kerb-side delivery, for example, can complete more drop-offs compared to those who take orders into the customer’s home or business, making it more competitively priced.

Safety first

I would urge garden centre retailers to partner with a logistics firm, which takes a proactive approach to safety. This could include fitting vehicles with cargo (safety) nets to protect drivers and parcels against falling objects, and tail lifts that enable drivers to unload pallets of heavy items without causing injury.

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