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Custom-flower-order system needs better handle on costs to blossom

Joshua Bulk, left, and Ralph DeBoer of Rosa Flora Growers Ltd. in Dunville, Ont., among their flowers.

GLENN LOWSON/The Globe and Mail

Rosa Flora Growers Ltd.

Where based: Dunnville, Ont.

What the company does: Grows and sells flowers to floral  wholesalers

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The company's challenge:

Rosa Flora sells mass orders of fresh-cut flowers from its greenhouses to wholesalers in Canada and the United States. The 138-employee company now uses an automated system that can process just one variety of flower at a time.

That's restrictive if clients want any kind of change to orders, such as different colours, stem lengths, numbers in bunches or other differences. Customers are increasingly seeking custom orders; for those, employees have to literally tear apart and repackage flowers that have been put together by the automated system.

To process custom orders, the company needs to develop a new system that could be programmed to do more customization automatically – and it needs to be created essentially from scratch, requiring a significant investment in research and development and new equipment.

Though only about 10 per cent of current business is for custom orders, it's an area the company thinks could be significantly increased, adding to revenues of about $10-million in 2011. Rosa Flora estimates it will cost $100,000 to $1-million to develop and implement a new system.


Narrow the costs

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Before even starting the process, the company needs to figure out more accurately how much it will cost, says Toronto-based business consultant Evan Carmichael. "There's too big of a gap in what they expect to spend," he says. "As an investor, I'd be concerned that I'm putting my money into a bottomless pit." Ask the electrical engineers, computer programmers and other suppliers needed to price out the project, he suggests.

Outsource the work

R&D can be a huge money pit if a company doesn't have the expertise in-house, says Chris Griffiths, director of Toronto-based consulting firm Fine Tune Consulting, . He suggests working with an outside packaging firm or other company with the technology and expertise to develop the system. The company may be charge a pretty penny for the work, but it won't have to worry about wasting money on unsuccessful ideas, Mr. Griffiths says.

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