November 5, 2018

By Warren Patterson
LO President
Warren PattersonAs a young kid, I remember staring down at the food on my dinner plate, refusing to eat leftovers. My mother would always persist, quoting the old phrase, “Waste not, want not.”

You may be asking, what this has to do with our profession. When it comes to running a successful business, not measuring your waste or lost productivity is like leaving good food on your table.
I recently had the chance to talk to a number of suppliers and depots of bulk mulch and soil. I asked them if they knew what their waste was. Interesting enough, nobody was really tracking this key business metric.

Of all the products we sell at our garden centre, bulk products are my least favourite. I get reminded of this each and every year when we count our inventory. Since we started to carry bulk soils and mulches, we have also tracked our “book to physical” each year. This is simply what the computer says I have in stock versus what I actually have in the yard.

On average, we experience a 25 per cent loss on our bulk soils and mulches. While this may seem to be a staggering amount at first, it’s actually not that hard to see why. When our supplier loads the truck with freshly screened material, the load settles a bit during transport. The load also gets pushed to the back of the truck. Sometimes it gets rained on, a small portion may be spilt, and some gets compacted in the tiny corners of the truck. When our loader drives into the pile, the bucket slightly compresses the material as well. So now, our purchase of 100 yards of bulk product equates to only 75 yards that are sold.

However, this waste is not a problem if you know that out of every 100 yards you buy, you will only sell 75 yards. You can price it accordingly to recoup your losses.

Waste comes in many forms. Labour is an easy one. I am a real stickler, and each spring, I make sure my staff are aware of how many steps they take in a day. A large number of people who work in our profession spend a lot of time moving product. How can we move product more efficiently? Every unnecessary step could be considered a waste because it’s time spent on an activity that doesn’t add any more value to the business.

As a business owner/manager, your job is to identify where the waste is in your business. Many large manufacturing businesses have process engineers on staff to identify where waste is and how processes can be made more efficient.

As the season winds down, think about where your waste is and plan for ways to measure, cost and reduce it. Remember, whatever waste is left over must be priced into what you sell. Every dollar of waste saved is an extra dollar in profit. In most business, this can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars each year.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a stickler for waste. With three kids in the Patterson household, leftovers are by far my favourite meal to cook. It’s fast, easy and cheap! Waste not, want not!

Warren Patterson may be reached at