While the ag market continues to face challenges, the turf and ornamental market is strong. For an ag retail business, this may present some obvious and not-so-obvious opportunities.
Look over the fence, sometimes literally, and you may see new sales.
“We have a lot of equine customers, and while they have product and application needs for pastures, they also have needs for the grounds around their barns and facilities,” says Ken Long, a general manager who oversees eight Southern States locations in central Virginia. “Any time you are with a customer, there’s an opportunity for a new sale. People tell us now, ‘We had no idea we could get this in one place.’”
Long explains his company saw the opportunity to build out a turf and ornamental business eight years ago, and today, it totals $2.5 million in annual sales.
“We started small, but we started intentionally and with focus,” he explains. “Today, we have two outside sales reps and one inside sales rep dedicated to serve this market.”
Long explains grass seed is the leader at 60% of the business with crop protection and fertilizer split equally over the balance.
“September to mid-October is our crunch time. We’ll sell 28 tractor trailer loads of seed out of two locations in six weeks,” he says.
The diversification in products and sales expertise has expanded sales throughout the year.
“We have sales 12 months out of the year since we started also selling ice melt. So many professional landscapers do winter maintenance, and so we now sell ice melt in bulk and bags,” Long says.
There is some crossover between ag and turf, according to Long.
“The agronomy side of ag is just like turf—pH, fertilizer applications, weed applications and seeding. All of that coincides as a complementary business,” he says. “But there are details in how you execute—scale of product use and equipment as examples—that are very different.”
The growth in serving the turf market has changed the physical layout of warehouses and retail.
“Six years ago, we had turf products in the warehouse, which for contractors worked fine as they placed an order and drove around back,” he says. “But now, with more homeowners as customers via word-of-mouth referrals, we have put products on the showroom floor.”