Strategic Planning for Plant Replacements

“Why are you replacing that?! It’s green and still has a leaf on it.”

Has a client ever asked you this? Long ago, we had clients who got pretty attached to their overgrown, spindly, “corner file cabinet” plant. Over the years and with some education, we’ve all reached a new understanding.

As we approach Spring, it’s a great time to assess all accounts and replace tired, overgrown and unhealthy inventory. We know at some point that replacements are inevitable in this business. And if you are determined to uphold a high standard of quality, then there is criteria.

Most of us sell, or bid an account with the intention of guaranteeing the replacement of the inventory over a certain percentage of time. It’s usually based on these factors:

  • Location
  • Light levels,
  • Plant varieties
  • the Plant Care Specialist’s experience and training

Available lighting is one of the most important factors. If the account has lower light levels than normal, as an estimate, be prepared to replace 50-60% of the inventory within a 2 year period or less. I estimate medium light levels at 30-40% and high light levels at 10-20%.

Regardless if the account is a maintenance account, or if all the plants are being leased, the quality guarantee should apply to both. We want to please our clients and educate them on the fact that a lot of these plants start an inevitable decline as soon as they are installed. I explain that these plants went from perfect greenhouse conditions to a loading dock, to the back of a delivery truck which transported them across several state lines, into a warehouse or holding area, and then back into a truck to be installed into a home, individual office, or commercial setting. It’s been handled many, many times and put thru some stressful changes since departing that cozy, warm, humid, optimum light spectrum greenhouse.

Once installed, it’s in the hands of your Plant Technician, or as we call them (PCS) Plant Care Specialist. Most “techs” take their accounts very seriously, take pride in their work and work hard to maintain the quality of their plants. Ongoing training, trusting and staying in close communication with their service manager will thwart a lot of potential plant disasters. But, there are times when a plant just fails to thrive. And sure, there are other anomalies.

How do we convey our quality standards when a plant needs to be replaced, especially to a newly hired Plant Care Specialist?

plant replacementsPictures! I take a lot of pictures of “tired” plants and sometimes pair them side by side with a new plant, or one that has been thriving in a place for a while. I also take pictures of plants in various stages of decline. During training sessions, we’ll present a slideshow of these pictures and note what is and what is not acceptable.

We record replacements on a Google Drive sheet that we all share. These records contain pertinent information on the plant being requested for replacement. Here we can assess the percentage of replacements per account and focus on better training.

I also ask the PCS to be proactive and notify us early of potential problems that may arise so we can move the plant to a different location and spare it from a slow, ugly death.

We typically handle plant replacements within 8 to 24 hours. Being local, prompt and paying attention to that detail has paid off immensely. We’ve heard horror stories of clients waiting up to 2 weeks for a replacement or having their entire inventory of 30+ plants decline so badly that, after numerous calls to the “plant company”, they finally come in and replace everything…only to let it happen again! That lack of customer service only gives our industry as a whole, a black eye. And I find myself apologizing for them, assuring the now potential new client that it will not happen under our direction.

Plant replacements are going to happen. It’s an inevitable part of our business. Education and a courteous proactive approach are important to maintaining our industry’s quality as well as establishing a healthy business relationship with our clients.

Robbin Voight is a 30 year veteran of the plantscape and horticulture industry. Her horticultural consulting service is based in Georgetown, Texas. She is an active trail guide at several preserves in Austin, and a hobby naturalist. Robbin is a Registered Green Plants for Green Buildings Trainer looking forward to presenting the accredited 'Advanced Living Walls' continuing education course and 'The Economics of Biophilic Design' to architects and interior designers across North America. You can reach her at [email protected]

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