How to: Follow that rack

Departments - How To

Keep track of your racks.

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October 13, 2015

If you’re shipping nursery stock, chances are you’ve thought about improving your shipping methods. Whether you use your own fleet or another carrier, you have control over the way you load those trucks. Some nurseries use wooden or metal racks, some pile plants on wood pallets and use a forklift to move them onto trucks. Some use heavy-duty galvanized steel rolling carts with adjustable racks that can be optimized to help the grower ship more pots and less air (For more on this topic, read “Rack ‘em Up” starting on page 20 of our August 2015 issue).

But for a grower who typically ships plants on wooden pallets that are (comparatively) cheap, the startup cost of metal racks or carts is tough to swallow. The materials are costly to purchase, as opposed to wooden racks or pallets, the cost of which are typically built into the customer’s price. Pallets are often left at the customer’s nursery or garden center to be crushed and disposed into a dumpster. More often, they sit somewhere on the lot, taking up space and potentially hosting all sorts of insect pests, while more important tasks take precedence. The investment required to start using rolling racks means changing the shipping process to account for the fact that the racks were no longer considered disposable.

Tracking the racks was an important factor to Home Nursery, an Albers, Ill.-based wholesale grower that began using rack loading in February. Mark Luchtefeld, vice president of sales and marketing with Home Nursery, says when the nursery decided to switch to rolling racks, they had a few concerns.

They did not want to deal with the headache of rack retrieval. Not every customer wants to unload the plants off the carts. Some retail customers like to sell directly off the racks. Luckily, several companies offer tracking programs. Home Nursery entered into a rental program with CC Racks (www.cc-racks.com). Container Centralen Inc. is based in the Netherlands with North American operations located in Florida, doing business as CC Racks and servicing 12,000 retail locations as well as approved growers.

There are other companies that offer similar services. EZR (www.ezrack.com) offers rentals on its EZ Shipper Racks on a one-way, one-use basis. The California-based company serves 8,000 retail locations nationwide and has 82 “asset recovery facilities.” EZR also offers a 24-hour rack tracking system. Its racks ride on pallets, so forklifts are necessary to move them. Home Nursery opted for rolling racks because it also uses them to move pulled plant material to the docks in an efficient manner. Even so, the tracking and retrieval program are key to the system.

“It’s a nightmare keeping track of where all the racks are,” Luchtefeld says. “There are a lot of greenhouses that own their own racks and deliver on them. But they have to retrieve their racks, so it makes it a bit more costly for them to do that.”

CC Racks’ tracking program is simple. Each rack has a security box with a barcode. Using provided equipment, Home Nursery scans the racks before they leave the dock. CC Racks is notified of the racks’ destination, and it tracks the racks. The nursery has no equipment recovery responsibility. CC Racks coordinates recovery of the equipment, but if Home Nursery needs racks, it can pick them up at one of the holding warehouses.

“CC and EZ will retrieve racks, or we can retrieve any CC rack anywhere,” Luchtefeld says. “It benefits everybody, makes it easier for us to get racks and keep them and keeps our costs down at the same time.”

There is no need to re-scan it when it arrives back at the nursery’s docks.

“Once they cross our dock, there is a scanning system on our dock that picks up whatever comes in and it releases it off of their records,” Luchtefeld says.