Ball’s Young Plants Tracking System for Logistics

Generating invoices and communicating with consumers used to take hours. Now technological advances that work with your internal inventory system that can help.

Many growers handle inventory differently. Whether they’re using a software system like SBI Software or Picas, or they have their own internal software system, or they’re a smaller grower and are still keeping track by hand, it can take hours to communicate what’s available, what can be grown for future orders or changes to an existing order. But there are solutions that can ease the process.

Ball Horticultural’s WebTrack system integrates with all of those systems to provide real-time inventory and create orders electronically in a short amount of time.

“Each grower has different business practices and different inventory practices and each of those need to be accommodated. Even though we’re dealing with standard systems and standard software, each one of those is a pretty unique challenge in terms of what we have to do to keep that inventory in sync day-to-day,” says Mark Morris, director of technology and CIO of Ball Horticultural. “We have the ability for the simplest grower to take spreadsheets and load orders into WebTrack and literally save hours of order entry management time.”

WebTrack also archives past order entries with “online file cabinets of every order you’ve placed, every invoice you received, every account statement- you can go back,” Morris says. You can also press a button to “re-book” a previous order, instead of manually entering it again.

Constant communication

Tagawa Greenhouse, Inc. places hundreds of orders a week through the WebTrack system in three different ways: ordering from Ball suppliers, ordering seed inventory and also for tracking unrooted cutting inventory.

“On WebTrack, with the live inventory piece, it’s allowed us to be able to order immediately instead of having to wait for somebody to get back to us,” says Wendy Wilder-Packard, young plant business manager at Tagawa Greenhouse, Inc.

And most importantly, it syncs product (or material/serial) numbers between Ball products and internal numbers.
“What we like the most is the easy-order upload piece. We can collect all of our internal material information and tie a material number in WebTrack. When an upload is complete, an order is created immediately and we only work the exceptions. In the past it would take us hours to find that information, and now we can do it in about 15 minutes,” Wilder-Hackard says.

Adaptability across systems

For growers that don’t have an internal inventory system, WebTrack also works well with systems such as SBI Software and Picas.

“For suppliers it’s as easy as creating the availability and literally pushing a button or setting automated syncs to load into Ball’s WebTrack availability through XML,” says Ben Marchi-Young, sales and marketing manager at SBI Software, a software company used for internal inventory based in Portland, Ore.

“[The system] is automatically creating new inventory records, or [tying] to records already in SBI form. All the user has to do is go into their production screen… and you can see the imported inventory in WebTrack that is on the existing customer’s production plan,” Marchi-Young says.

The WebTrack team has also worked closely with Picas, a greenhouse production software based in Grand Rapids, Mich., on the concept of “cumulative availability,” says John Stallmer, president of Innovative Software Solutions, the parent company of Picas. This component allows WebTrack to gauge the availability of plants during their longer shelf lives.

“Let’s say I have a calibrachoa that is going to finish in Week 5, but it can hold for two weeks. We would send that availability for Week 5, Week 6 and Week 7 because if we don’t send it, [and] somebody wants something in Week 6 or Week 7, it’s going to look like we don’t have anything, but we really have product there,” Stallmer says. “We worked with [Ball Horticultural] to support the cumulative model, so that when that five was [extracted from] one week, it would automatically be taken out of the other weeks as well.”

After the data is gathered between growers’ systems, WebTrack’s customer service team also works closely with the grower to confirm shipments between growers and consumers.

“We have all of the order changes automated between the systems, so they’re talking to each other constantly,” Morris says.

When changes are made in the software system, they’re reflected in WebTrack immediately, and vice versa.
“So they’re managing the inventory in the [software] system and then as soon as they take the order, we send it to [the grower], they send us back an electronic confirmation. If the supplier is monitoring the crop as it’s being produced, and they see there is going to be a shortage, they can report that back to us and we can change the affected orders. Or if it’s an advance and the customer needs to modify the order we can take those changes and send them over to the supplier,” Morris says.