OPERATIONS

Coming Up Roses

A mobile wholesaler explains how he is using his laptop to stay ahead of the competition.
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Courtney Young: mobile wholesaler

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My father has been in the flower business for 14 years. He used to buy his flowers from growers in Carpinteria, Calif., and then sell them under umbrellas in Santa Barbara. Five years ago he decided to move to Las Vegas to start his own business, Dick Young Wholesale. He knew about the booming economy in Las Vegas -- 4,000 people move here every month -- and he'd heard that the florists weren't happy with the quality of the flowers they were getting.

I joined my father in the business about two and a half years ago, and we changed the name to Gotcha Covered Wholesale. Together, we bought a customized refrigerated truck to drive fresh flowers from the growers in Carpinteria to the florists in Las Vegas. Carpinteria has about 50 growers, and they raise just about every flower anyone could ever want.

So every Friday morning my father and I leave Las Vegas and drive six hours across the desert to Carpinteria, where we have a small warehouse. On Saturday morning we go to the growers to begin filling our standing orders -- about 10% of the truck. We buy the remainder of what we want between 6 a.m. and noon on Monday, and hit the road to Vegas as soon as we can.

Because we're on the road so much, I bought a laptop, a Compaq Concerto 486/33. And because there really wasn't any software designed for mobile wholesalers like us, I had an application custom-designed.

On the drive across the desert, I enter growers' invoices into the system. By doing that, I automatically update my inventory. Customers are constantly calling, asking for more flowers, while we're on the road. If a customer asks for, say, 10 carnations, I enter the request into the computer, and it tells me how many carnations I have in the truck. Staying in constant communication with our customers -- they beep me, and I return calls using a cellular phone -- is the key to our success.

When we roll into town on Monday evening, we start dropping off orders. Customers come aboard the truck and pick out the flowers they want. Once an order is filled, I call up the customer's name on my computer and enter the flowers the customer has bought. Because the computer has a database of all the flowers we sell, I just enter the flower name and the price pops up. Then I type in the number of flowers the customer has purchased and press "End," and the system spits out an invoice on my Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 310 portable printer -- which is also in my truck.

Instantly, my inventory is updated, and the invoice goes into a computerized customer record. I can generate a report of what the customer bought that day, that month, or that year. We pretty much know in advance what our customers are going to want and when we can deliver their orders.

Come holidays like Christmas and Valentine's Day, our customers often ask what flowers they bought the previous year. We just call up the order on the computer and print out last year's invoice. That impresses the hell out of some of our customers.

We wanted our system for speed. There are other mobile wholesalers in this town, and we often were driving up behind them. After buying from the guy who came in front of us, a customer would get on our truck and buy less. We wanted to roll up ahead of the competition. Right now, we're the only wholesaler in Las Vegas that uses a computer for invoicing and managing inventory, and now we often do roll up first. In fact, we've grown in sales from zero to more than $10,000 a week.

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Courtney Young's E-mail address is gcovered@aol.com.

Last updated: Dec 15, 1995




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