Nursery Buyer

Updated 1/08/09 A T-J

Greenlife Buying – Operational Procedures

This operational procedures document should be read in conjunction with:

(a) Guidelines for staff in charge of a section
(b) Guidelines for buyers
(c) BAAG Environmental weed policy in the Policies section of the Job descriptions folder


Effective greenlife buying will have a significant effect on the total sales, maintenance costs and the gross margin of the whole operation
Plants are what bring people to Bulleen Art & Garden, we have promoted ourselves as the gardener’s nursery. Effective and disciplined buying and continual adaptation of our greenlife product ranging is critical to our long term reputation and survival.

Poor buying results in:

· Time consuming maintenance eg. Pruning, weeding and moving. And gives an impression of poor quality plants as plants deteriorate on the bench. Plants are high maintenance and have a limited shelf life.
· Poor use of retail space.
· Reduces gross margin through increased wastage.
· Decreases overall sales. Even if we require species to maintain range they should be bought in sufficiently small numbers so it does not take space from a variety which could be turning over.

You and the nursery manager must be continually updating the plant stocklist to avoid over stocks and to ensure our product range reflects changes in fashion and the availability of new products.

General points to all greenlife buying

Dealing with suppliers

There is a real art to dealing with suppliers efficiently and effectively. You must remember that the supplier is a salesperson whose objective is to sell you plants irrespective of our requirements. Too close a personal relationship with suppliers can make it very difficult to be an effective greenlife buyer for Bulleen Art & Garden. The market is continually changing and new and better growers are going to come into the market.

Consider the supplier

Without our suppliers we have not got a product to sell so you must consider them. The suppliers have busy rounds so do not keep them waiting, you may have to pass a customer to another staff member or cut into a break to minimise delays.

Use our preferred suppliers

The buying of larger volumes through our preferred suppliers allows us to negotiate on price and value added services eg. pricing stock, delivery times, replacement of stock out of flower or sale or return.

Value Added Services

Remember – Value Added Services can be significant, especially over the long term. The purchasing agenda must not be set by suppliers and their Monday Specs. Stock must be purchased via our preferred supplier system. Preferred suppliers are designated given price, quality, value added & service.
A preferred supplier system must be regularly updated and worked to gain maximum benefit. This system needs formalising and upgrading through the updating of the supplier contacts list. Our preferred suppliers should be given first opportunity to supply before we see our specs on Monday. Suppliers can always be phoned with an addition to an order if our preferred suppliers are unable to supply.

Do not change suppliers or emphasis with suppliers without consulting the nursery manager. There are reasons why we are using a supplier and an abrupt change can upset a good supplier unnecessary. This does not mean you do not continually check out alternative suppliers for quality and price. This is a must as suppliers are continually improving or dropping their relative position in regard to both quality and price as well as range.

Be forthright with the supplier and record agreements.

If we have problems with their potting mix, their plants are not the right size, their deliveries are too late in the week, etc., tactfully tell the supplier. It may be a problem they are happy to rectify. Suggest improved service options such as value added services.
All alterations to deals and new deals are to be meticulously recorded. Inform the staff member in charge of accounts payable so they can record and also monitor the agreement.

Records must remain in the accounts payable office. Verbal agreements are quickly forgotten and unless you record the agreement and confirm it is meaningless.

Supplier Contacts

Address books and internal website contacts should be kept up to date with all existing supplier’s details as well as potential suppliers. You are continually building a network which must be easily used in your absence.


Never buy anything from a supplier before asking how much it costs, LET THE SUPPLIER KNOW THAT YOU ARE CONTINUALLY THINKING ABOUT PRICE. Try the supplier for a COD discount or just a better price, show sensible judgement in this regard, if plants are already very good value and service is good accept the deal. Often they will drop their price for larger quantities or if labels are not needed for a customer order. Remember they may have large batches of certain stock they will discount to move if you need a special, or even better deliver on a sale or return basis.

Sale or return deals should be monitored regularly and given a clear time limit for review to be effective. When negotiating a sale or return agreement, negotiate an appropriate time for review with the supplier, then note this in your diary and record on the consignment docket (which is filed with accounts payable).

Use suppliers as source of ideas

Good suppliers can be a fantastic source of display ideas and do know what products sell. They are visiting a lot of outlets every week and talking to a lot of people in the industry. Ask them if there is anything you have missed that other retailers are selling lots of.

Time efficient buying

Be conscious of time spent buying.
Some suppliers will waste your time and it is easy to waste time with inefficient ordering systems.
Other ways to minimise time spent on buying are:
– Support and use of Plant Brokers – 4-5 nurseries in one.
– Use of telephone,fax and emails to reduce spec calls / or increase depending on the demand.
– Ordering via fax,phone, or email – especially preferred suppliers.
– Be efficient in the way you manage your stock lists and ordering.

Be efficient and allocate appropriate time to sourcing orders. Do not spend too much time on small individual orders, with the exceptions of our better trade customers. It is worthwhile to spend more time sourcing large landscaping orders which constitute a significant sale.

Product ranging and plant stock lists.

What our customers will buy on impulse, what they will specifically ask for and the latest fashions in plant use is continually changing. At the same time suppliers’ plant product range is continually changing.

Lists are our main tools for fine tuning our product range and critical to ensuing we are maximising our sales per square metre and maximising the number of customers we satisfy with our product range.

You must update your stock lists regularly. This is very important. Lists become irrelevant and an expensive waste of time if the plants on the bench do not accurately reflect demand.

The plant buyer provides a critical role for Bulleen Art and Garden and for the customer by providing a range of plants which is relevant range of plants now, (not last year), eg. introduction of new lines (D.A Roses) or new ideas (Produce Garden), and have the potential to change the image of the nursery.

You must be in touch with what is happening in the industry.

If you are not sufficiently interested to read gardening magazines, listen to gardening programs on television and radio and listen to the trend setters in the industry, you are not sufficiently interested in gardening to be a greenstock buyer for Bulleen Art and Garden and should not have taken on the job.

When specifying our core product range you should be conscious of the type of customers we are trying to sell to and to a degree what type of plants you think would solve their problems best. Most local gardens are established and the planting in these gardens will be different to a new garden. Gardens will also continually evolve as people start to catch up with new trends or needs such as the current water crisis and environmentally responsible plant choices.

If you work your lists and position the stock on the benches appropriately you will know exactly what is on the bench prior to making your orders and the nursery manager has records with which he or she can discuss your buying.

As a plant buyer it is your responsibility to ensure that the maximum number of varieties of plants which will turnover are on display in the quantities which reflect how quickly they sell. It is not possible to do this without taking stock regularly, keeping good records, and updating your plant product range and filing records meticulously.

Keep a file for your monthly lists where you note all alterations and additions as you think of them throughout the month to enable you to have the list updated in a time efficient manner.

The objective of these lists is to cater for specific requests, staff recommendations and normal sales. This list is not designed to cater for impulse sales. The buyer should back their judgement on impulse buys and learn from experience.

These stock lists should only be altered in consultation with the operational manager.

The lists are not supposed to incorporate your complete range but should include those core plant varieties that should be in stock all the time or at a particular time of the season. It is a core product range that is topped up at the discretion of the buyer. ie. What we must have in stock.

Product ranging

Considerations when working out these lists and their reorder quantities are;
If they are very quick growing keep the reorder quantities down, eg. eucalypts in summer.

There are some key lines frequently recommended in gardening books or by our own staff which are not readily available from other nurseries which should be in stock all the time in quantities which reflect their sales.

Flowering period and how it flowers in the pot will have the biggest impact on sales and therefore quantities ordered in particular months.

Frost hardiness etc. will also affect sales as will lifestyle television programs, magazines and gardening radio programs.

To provide value to the customer, when stocking annuals there should be a minimum of 6 weeks good growing for gardeners. Annuals which are late in the season should not go into the special section but into the compost bin and annuals should not be bought in late for sales. Keep in mind the short shelf life of annuals and the need to sell most of what is bought in to keep losses to a minimum. The objective is also to do the right thing by the customer by giving fair value for money.

Use supplier lists to update stock lists – especially those that introduce new varieties i.e P.G.A., Warren Park, Native Plant Wholesalers, Bushland Flora etc. The decision not to incorporate a new release in our range can be difficult given they are frequently very professionally promoted and presented, but the criteria must be Customers first, products second. The usefulness and reliability of the plant to our customers should be assessed, it must solve our customers problems and provide opportunities for them with their gardening. Obviously if a new plant appears reliable and is also professionally promoted and presented it must be on our lists, but dud plants appear every season as new releases (past problems with PGA). New releases are not always trialled sufficiently before they are released onto the market, so you must exercise good judgement.

When selecting your product range be conscious that the same plants in different size pots can give us the opportunity to sell at different price points, ie with pot sizes – tubes, 15cm, 20cm, 25cm. Customer perception on pot size is blurred and good buying can see us remain competitively priced in the eyes of the customer. A plant in a different sized pot can also be a different and unique product in the eyes of our customer and therefore should be in our ordering systems. Eg. A 15cm Dodonea bought because of its foliage colour compared to the same variety in a 33cm pot bought for quick screening and immediate effect.

Other plants are sought out by our customers, and it is not as relevant what size pot they are bought in. Can be either 15cm or 20cm (ie “e” in plant lists), customers are just happy to find them.

Why keep plant buying records?

A record of plant stock levels collects information about past sales and helps you make better buying decisions now. Unless either the trade or the press has heavily promoted a plant a new trend emerges over several years, eg. rise and fall and rise again in popularity of grevilleas.
Plant stock records do not waste time, they take a little time now and save a lot later.

Buyers must recognise that buying is a discipline – 90% Perspiration, 10% Inspiration

Plants are a perishable product; their value is declining from the moment they leave the delivery truck. They must be bought with some consideration of past sales. Plant stock records should not stop you trying new varieties, it should stop you making the same mistake twice.

All we are endeavouring to do with these lists is what other industry retailers were doing 20 years ago, it is also an important first step to computerised stock control of greenlife.

The buyer is supported by a team; plant controller, nursery staff and nursery manager. You must encourage feedback from customers, staff and industry, record that information and modify your lists to reflect this information.

Stocktaking will become a very costly waste of time if you do not continually use this opportunity to work the stock into alphabetical order and its right bench category. As you do the stocktake remove substandard plants and plants which are on the incorrect bench and put them on the ground next to the bench. Make sure these plants are sorted onto their correct bench, tossed out or put on special fairly soon so they do not clutter the aisles.

As you do the stocktake inspect the plants to see if there are any pest problems and use this opportunity to compare the quality of the different suppliers.

Make sure you complain if a supplier has given us substandard plants or plants which are not lasting on the bench. Make notes of ongoing problems ie weeds, drying out – potting mix.

At the end of each month the stocktake sheets should be clearly labelled and filed in a the information stand.


The product you buy affects the ultimate price. You must be aware of the current Bulleen Pricing Policy/Strategy and work within that framework.

Plant ordering and deliveries

Your plant sales are going to vary enormously throughout the year in both the total greenlife sold and its breakdown of range, your stock levels and order lists must reflect this.

When ordering and accepting delivery of plants some standard procedures should be adhered to.

There will always be some suppliers who will try to load you with stock so whenever possible record or take copies of your orders.

The suppliers organise their delivery runs according to what is convenient and who puts the most pressure on for an early delivery so regularly ask the grower for an early delivery. If we are giving them a lot of business possibly give them a deadline (before lunch on Thursday). Be sure to state due to Baags roster system no deliveries will be accepted on Fridays unless prior approval is given.

All plants should be checked to ensure they are of good standard and in the correct quantities as they come off the truck. This is the Plant Controller’s role but should be supervised by the Buyer to ensure you are getting the same quality stock that you saw or was implied when buying. Make sure you complain if it is not up to standard. If suppliers see us as being slack they will offload their sub-standard stock onto us.

The number of plants specified on the stock lists are not meant to be rigid figures. However should reflect what an optimum stock level is on the bench, ie what quantity, given good trading and whether or not you believe you can sell them in a two week period. You will have to increase them to make up an order from a particular supplier from time to time so only increase the numbers of consistent sellers or those looking their best. Always put huge pressure on the suppliers to supply certain varieties in quantities which reflect our sales, eg 2’s and 3’s if need be.

Buying impulse lines

More judgement is necessary in buying impulse lines. Make decisions based on price, quality, weather, time of year etc.

Plants which customers buy on impulse tend to be in flower and thus generally have a short shelf life. Given this some colour will last quite well in the pot, eg. primulas and impatiens , and some will not, eg. daffodils. Be very careful of impulse with a very short flowering time as a wet weekend means we have lost money, eg daffs and Christmas Lillies. Buy smaller quantities, as restock is possible weekly.
Make sure that you have adequate bench space in a high traffic area before ordering. These plants will not sell if they are shoved in a corner.
Frequently plants that are bought on impulse will not sell if they are not displayed in quantity. We do not object to you backing your judgement but we do object to the same mistake being made twice. Always consult the nursery manager before making a big purchase, they probably have tried the same line previously. Use historic records for seasonal lines such as poinsettias, violets etc.
Because plants that are in flower will only sell quickly for a short period, they must be put into stock at the earliest opportunity.
If plants on the key impulse benches are not selling, dump them on special and win the space for a line that will move. They are costing us money if they stopping something else from selling.

Adjust your quantities to the customer traffic. In spring we probably have twice the number of customers as in winter – Christmas too for seasonal sales.

If the flower on the plant that is delivered to the nursery is not as good as what you saw on the truck reject it. This is a bigger problem with impulse plants and it will cost us sales if you do not take on the supplier. Ask the nursery manager for assistance if you are having problems.

Other Points

Suppliers cannot organise their day around your breaks. You will therefore be getting interrupted lunch and tea breaks, and it is not a good idea to leave the nursery during your breaks for more than a few minutes on Monday or Tuesday.

If you are having problems with the quality of a general suppliers stock, discuss it with the supplier and if the problem continues dump them. If the supplier is a preferred supplier discuss the problem with the nursery manager.

To get the information ready for your buying before the spec. trucks start coming in, you will have to make an early start every Monday morning (7.00am).

We do order some stock months in advance, file the deliveries and do not duplicate deliveries. Set up a forward order file for staff access.

We have limited space and therefore are not interested in selling super advanced plants. Plants in 12″ pots sell well but apply the same guidelines, unless you are making up an order do not buy more than you sell in a busy fortnight. A single advanced specimen can however be used to help sell smaller plants if appropriate.

Good quality plants are not sufficient in themselves to create good sales, good point of sale produced in-store, plant labels and display will significantly impact on sales.

Specific area buying notes

Shrubs, trees, climbers and ground covers

The demand for general shrubs and trees is far more predictable and the quantities kept in stock are less than plants bought mainly on impulse. We can therefore be more methodical in our ordering of these plants.

You are responsible for the monthly stock take records and liaising with the plant controller. There are also some general rules and guidelines you will have to stick to.

Buying should really only take one day (Monday) and about a quarter of Tuesday.

The reorder quantities are the anticipated maximum non-abnormal sales fortnightly sales for a particular season. This assumes that you are going to be able to replace stock within that two weeks.

A stock take must be done early Monday prior to the supplier’s trucks coming around. You must find a balance between regular stock takes and actual needs. Use discretion here as some weeks it won’t be necessary to do a stock take eg. During Winter when sales are lower.

When it has been decided during quieter times that buying is not required for the week, help your suppliers save time by putting up the NOT BUYING PLANTS SIGN. An idea that has not yet been put into action is a GREEN and RED FLAG system in the front carpark to further save our suppliers valuable time trying to turn in unnecessarily from an increasingly busier Manninham Rd. West.

Bonsai buying and stock levels

Sales of bonsai vary a lot depending on the time year. You must vary your stock levels according to sales. The most sales are achieved at Christmas or when we have a promotion. Sales are good in spring and we have smaller peaks for mother’s day and fathers day.

Beware of stocking too many bonsai that retail over $100, they are have not sold well in the past we run the risk of having them stolen.
Our current preferred supplier, Trevor from Bonsai Art will do his own orders to top up Baag. He welcomes feedback and if possible will tell you what he is planning to do. He is happy to swap over more expensive stock as required. He will also swap any that have passed their retail quality. Do keep an eye on the species he stocks as many have been identified as weeds and keep him informed of updates to our weed lists.

Tubed plants

Because most of the plants you are buying are in 3 inch pots you have to be very careful to get the quantities you buy and stock tuned to what you are selling. All plants have a limited shelf life, generally the smaller the pot the shorter the shelf life so get your quantities tuned to the season and to reflect what you anticipate selling in the next fortnight.

You should never have more plants on the bench than you can sell within the next 2 to 3 weeks. Most suppliers will supply in quantities as small as two so there is no need to buy in full or half trays. If you cannot buy them in sufficiently small numbers to avoid excessive wastage you should not stock them. Sales are going to vary significantly through the year, your stock levels must reflect them.

Tubed plant sales are also going to surge when they are in flower, work your impulse sections and display them in the high traffic areas, flowering stock can be limited so it is important you get in the early with your orders.

You have to be careful to keep the stock of true perennials low in April and May, they are not going to sell when they die back in winter.

Herb sales are going to be reasonably predictable. Good records of stock and purchases are therefore a must if you are going to tune your buying to sales.

Remember that even though plants may be bought on sale or return they still require maintenance.

Sale or return is important in this area and the benefits will be lost with credits on returns not being realised if good records are not kept.

Seedling buying


We expect you to quickly record all stock on the benches Monday and Thursday and order from these lists, a reorder quantity should be available for other staff if you will not be in to order.

Stock Levels

Because of the short shelf life of seedlings you should not buy more seedlings than you can sell in a high turnover week. With the frequent opportunities through the week to buy new stock there is no need to stockpile, however, we are prepared to accept some stock losses if it means we are going to increase sales significantly by maintaining our stock range through the weekend.

Soft Stock

When buying be very careful of soft stock, some suppliers are going to rush stock out which has not been hardened off. In these cases you, or the nursery manager, should complain to the supplier.

Product Range

At Bulleen we have been trying to build a reputation for stocking a good range, therefore try and stock a good range, but be sensible with quantities, make sure you relate quantities on shelf to sales at all times.

Buying Monday

We want a good range of quality stock back on the bench by midday Monday for our weekday customers. This may necessitate an early start on Monday morning at some times of the year.

Quality Standards

Seedlings should be pest and disease free, size of plant not too big or small, all punnets must be labelled (good labels significantly effect sales), and plants in flower will increase sales.

Indoor, patio and fern plant buying

In your displays you have to specify your product range, allowing space for new varieties or plants that look good. You allocate bench space according to how many you are selling. By adjusting the bench space after noticing either slow or quick turnover you should be able to use our space more efficiently and tune your buying to increase sales and to reduce our losses.

With indoor plants you have to be very choosy with the plants you buy. If plants are not the same quality as ordered, complain to the supplier and send them back. The plants you buy must be well labelled in clean pots.

In late April you have to change your stock lines. Some indoor growers are going to supply far more cold tolerant plants than others. Beware of suppliers who hold their plants in ideal conditions, even the hardier plants will collapse when transferred to our conditions. Some plants will either not survive or look terrible in an unheated area, (eg. African Violets, Diefenbakia, Crotons etc), and we are better off to stock them only through the warmer months of the year.

Stock up on appropriate gift lines for Christmas and Mother’s Day, and order ponsettias etc. well in advance. Try to gauge how well they are selling before topping up orders to avoid overstocks.

Throughout the year be careful of plants which have been grown too soft, or plants which people are buying for a longterm feature which are just not suitable for indoor culture. eg. Alexander palms.

Indoor plants are usually bought as an individual plant or in pairs, so buy in small quantities eg. 2’s or 3’s.

Endeavour to buy ferns that will do the job for the customer, not just look good on the bench. They should be hardy varieties that can tolerate less than ideal conditions.

Try to buy your stock from suppliers who have hardier stock. If it is hothouse grown it will deteriorate quickly outside, particularly in the winter when they will not tolerate the rapid drop in temperature.

Christmas buying

When making purchasing decisions for Christmas, the use of historical sales records is a must. If you purchase too many of any Christmas lines we are likely to loose money when Christmas is over. Similarly if not enough quantities of lines such as poinsettias are purchased the customer is likely to leave and go somewhere else to do their Christmas shopping. Try to get sale or return stock where possible. Liaise with the pot buyer where possible to create ‘full package’ gifts. Create Christmas orientated displays for some of the gift style lines such as bonsai and indoor plants.

Margin Management and stock control

At Bulleen Art & Garden we run on a very fine budget so that we can give the best value to our customers. To do so we need to make sure that we are minimising losses and applying correct margins to products we have purchased.

It is up to you to monitor and record what is specialled off in your sections and what is tossed out, if you notice a trend you need to quickly act. If not we will quickly become unprofitable. Check with the plant controllers on a regular basis what mark-up they are putting onto plants. Make sure that the restockers are correctly detailing plants as they go through their daily activities.

Good record keeping is the key to maintaining a good margin, without it we will not learn from our mistakes, putting the viability of the business at risk.

See the Bulleen Art and Garden Environmental Weed Policy.

As part of the Bulleen Art and Garden Environmental Policy we hope to encourage gardeners to be aware of how their choices impact on the local (and global) environment. We hope to encourage our customers to recognise that their gardens have the potential to be part of a local ecosystem by providing habitat for native fauna.

Weedy species are continually being identified by various groups and organisations and it is your duty to be as up to date with this information as possible. Update and change plant stock lists as weedy species are identified and cease buying these immediately. BAAG should not stock species identified by SGA, local councils and local land managers as having a weed status. Be aware that plants may be incorrectly labelled by suppliers, and if in doubt, remove the plants from sale immediately and find out what the plants are so that appropriate action may be taken.

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