It seems everyone has an opinion about early order programs (EOPs) and they have certainly changed over the years. Attend any gathering of successful golf course superintendents and you will likely hear debates rage about just how good EOPs really are for turf managers. So, let’s focus on the five things that help you prove your value-add choices within the impending EOP season. This information is equally effective in GCSAA chapter meetings, greens committee meetings and budget reviews. The are listed below in a very specific order:
1. Know your numbers
To craft an effective EOP you must know your numbers! How much of specific products did you use last year? When did you use it? What problems did you solve with each product? Lists of products, rates, targets pests, results and ease of applications or labor savings are critical tools. What worked (got nematode control)? What did not work (need a new pre-emergent herbicide)? Did your wetting agent save water, how much? Did your growth regulator save labor and reduce clippings? Do you need tests such as nematode essays or tissue/soil samples to answer pertinent questions? Gather this information and make notes/projections prior to meeting the EOP representative(s). Your goal is to know what you bought, when you used it and the impact it had on your operation. This gives you real leverage that is based on true usage not wild guesses. Most skilled EOP representatives have your use information already, if you use this information take a minute to verify the accuracy. This will build trust which leads us to the next tip.
2. Identify the people who make and deliver the products and promises
Who is representing the EOP company? Who do you call if there is a problem (how far up does the support actually go)? Is there a long-standing relationship or are you starting a new journey? If you lack personal experiences with the EOP representatives call around and ask other superintendents to get a feel for who is the best. Accountability and respect are earned in each and every transaction. Remember that trust is key during EOP, and it goes both ways! I recently moved to a new region of the country and while the faces changed the products and support from big time EOP players did not. If you identify the products, players and promises EOP success is right around the corner.
3. Confirm the product details
Sounds simple, but did you order the right product but in a different formulation than you prefer, who made the mistake? Was it in the fine print? Is the Active Ingredient (AI) on the delivered products which were supposed to match last year’s order suddenly seem different (lower)? Take the time to confirm which products are making up the EOP deal to the smallest detail. It makes everyone happy in the long run. Beware of package deals that sticks a few also-rans in with your premiere products (remember products and promises in No.2). Confirm container size as well to avoid thinking you ordered 10 cases of 2x2.5-gallon jugs but you get a huge container because the discount was for a single container and no one confirmed the details. Be sure to confirm the product details and everybody wins.
4. Evaluate special services connected to EOP
EOP is a big multiple-level deal. It allows companies to get a handle on next year’s projections in confirmed sales and in return the company can offer discounts, deferred payments and other incentives to make the deal. These incentives add value but how much value they add is up to you to quantify. For example, beyond dollars saved and payments deferred some vendor’s offer multiple day EOP show cases in destination cities that their best customers can take advantage of to focus on connecting all the pieces of their EOP puzzle away from the course. Some companies offer storage or delayed deliveries while still others may add any additional purchases in a given period to any rebate driven perks. Gift cards, merchandise, education classes and the list goes on. Simply put, evaluate the value of special services/events carefully. You should also evaluate vendors who sponsor GCSAA or chapter events/education (that you attend) and advertise in your favorite turf magazine as part of the total EOP calculation. Nothing is free, everything is earned on both sides of the EOP coin.
5. Negotiate, negotiate and then negotiate some more
Your ability to negotiate is an often-overlooked part of the EOP process. By following the first four suggestions you will see that you have leverage and can ask for the best deal possible. Nothing mystical here just make the best deal you can for the club and your team, expect the best. Think of you and your EOP players as partners striving for win-win situations that are transparent, flexible and sustainable.
The best way to know an EOP is working is to take these five areas and give them a score of 1 to 10, 10 being perfect. Support these rating with hard numbers and data. This will show you where to focus to be more effective with your EOP. EOPs are fluid, year-round projects that should not be reviewed annually, but rather reflect the ongoing savvy and grit of the partners involved. Best of luck in this year’s EOP process.
Anthony L Williams, CGCS, is the director of golf course maintenance and landscaping at the Four Seasons Resort Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas, and is a frequent GCI contributor.