Flower Wholesaler Expands Service

May 1, 2000
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Shakespeare said. But some roses smell sweeter than others, according to Teresa Pomeroy. She owns McGee

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Shakespeare said. But some roses smell sweeter than others, according to Teresa Pomeroy. She owns McGee Wholesale Inc, a fresh-cut flower wholesaler in Nashville, Tennessee, and knows from experience that roses must be handled carefully or they lose their freshness.

Every February, Pomeroy drives from Nashville to Miami to purchase roses from flower importers. She personally selects the freshest flowers she can find, loads them in the truck, and returns to Nashville. Those roses are for McGee Wholesale's Valentine's Day customers, retail florists within a 150-mile radius of Nashville.

"We pre-book our Valentine's roses in January," Pomeroy says. "My husband, a full-time employee of United Parcel Service, takes two weeks' vacation in early February to accompany me to Miami. Roses are the number one product for Valentine's Day."

McGee Wholesale runs six refrigerated trucks. Though the Tennessee market is highly competitive, McGee Wholesale doesn't try to be the low-cost floral wholesaler, Pomeroy says. "You get what you pay for, and we want to deliver only top-quality products," she says. "We inspect inbound flowers carefully, do our own processing, and store them in coolers. Our route drivers handle flowers with extreme care."

McGee Wholesale has grown steadily since January 1993.

Before Pomeroy bought the company in 1993, she was a route driver for the previous owner for two years. "Operating a truck and facing customers helped me build the company," she says. "I know what goes on out there and what drivers see. I still drive occasionally because customers talk to me freely, knowing that I'm the owner. They can gossip and ask questions they might not ask drivers."

Pomeroy stays abreast of all business aspects. At least once a year, she goes to farms in California. She also has traveled to Colombia to see the South American operations that supply most of the flowers that enter the US through the Miami airport. "As a new owner, I wanted to know how growers worked and what problems they had," she says.

New 26-Ft Truck McGee Wholesale's six trucks include five 1995 GMC Top Kicks and a new Freightliner FL70 with a 26-ft refrigerated body. The 26-footer serves a new route from Nashville to Jackson, Tennessee.

The Freightliner, with a GVW below 26,000 lb, allows it to be driven without a CDL. It is powered by a Caterpillar 3126 engine rated at 210 horsepower and 605 lb/ft torque. It uses an Eaton Fuller six-speed overdrive transmission. The truck has hydraulic brakes and an air-suspension seat.

All McGee Wholesale trucks have Hercules truck bodies, ranging from 18 to 26 feet long. One of the GMC trucks is an 18-footer. The rest are 24-footers. All bodies have racks for flower buckets containing a water-sugar nutrient. The GMC trucks have wooden racks on the floor to hold buckets. A shelf on the front wall stores boxed flowers.

The new Freightliner has aluminum-frame racks custom-built by Hercules. The racking has four shelves on the curbside wall at 8 inches, 271/2 inches, 47 inches, and 661/2 inches above the floor. The roadside wall has one shelf 64 inches above the floor. A work table under the roadside shelf provides space to assemble orders.

"We purchased a larger truck with more shelves because it makes more stops on the route to Jackson," Pomeroy says. "This is our longest route. The truck makes 32 stops, compared with 18 to 22 stops for the other vehicles."

The trucks are set up to be mobile wholesalers so that retailers can inspect product. For easy access, the 26-footer has a door on the roadside. Three steps fold out from under that door, which is 59 inches back from the nose. It has a 40-inch aluminum pipe grabhandle. Customers also enter the body through the rear door, which has a Chicago-style two-step steel bumper that also has an aluminum grabhandle.

The body interior has four round fluorescent lamps mounted across the ceiling 24 inches, 61 inches, 122 inches, and 183 inches from the nose. The body has three inches of urethane insulation in the nose, sidewalls, floor, roof, and rear door.

All trucks are equipped with Carrier Transicold refrigeration units. The 18-footer has a Supra 622 truck unit. The rest are Supra 722 units.

"Drivers can monitor the unit with in-cab controls," Pomeroy notes. "We set the thermostat at 36 degrees F, the same as our coolers."

Since trucks run five or six days a week, McGee Wholesale can ill afford downtime. "We depend on Nacarato Volvo Truck in Nashville and the local Freightliner dealer, Neely Coble Company, for preventive maintenance and repairs," Pomeroy says. "Kile Truck Refrigeration, the Carrier Transicold dealer in Nashville, is available to service the units nights and weekends so trucks are ready the next day."

McGee Wholesale's six wholesale route drivers have a key role in the company. They make up more than half the work force. "Less than 5 percent of our volume is presold," Pomeroy says. "Drivers sell 95 percent at stops, showing customers the inventory. That's why we designed truck bodies to be customer friendly, with steps and handrails."

McGee Wholesale trains drivers to be customer-friendly. They learn the product line because their success as salespeople depends on the ability to anticipate customer needs.

"Every driver is responsible for the cleanliness of his truck and the condition of flowers," she says. "We have good employee retention. Two drivers have been with us for 15 years. We provide 401K benefits and pay 100 percent for health insurance."

Early Morning Processing The day starts early at McGee Wholesale. Pomeroy and other workers arrive between 4 and 5 am. "Everything is processed," she says. "We cut and feed the flowers, arranging them in bunches for drivers to hand-carry to customers."

Delivery runs start between 6 and 7 to reach the first stop by 8 am, Pomeroy says. Trucks are back around 2 pm, and are clean and ready for the next day by 4 pm. Everybody works longer hours on holidays like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Christmas, and Easter, when demand for flowers is high.

Work goes on throughout the day to supplement truck inventory. "If a driver runs low on flowers, we meet him at a stop with more," says Martha Underhill, wholesale manager. "Customers usually call in orders in the morning. Drivers call on their cell phones for more product."

McGee Wholesale's main inbound carrier is Armellini Express Lines from Palm City, Florida. Armellini delivers four times a week, with two trucks from Florida and two from California. They arrive in Nashville in the middle of the night. "Armellini has keys to our warehouse, and they place boxed flowers directly into our coolers," Pomeroy says.

McGee Wholesale suppliers are aware of the company's quality demands, Underhill says. "We have 24 hours to make a claim, and we are not shy about doing so," she says. "As soon as we get a shipment, we pop open the boxes. We call right away if product is unacceptable. Our loss ratio is low, about 3 percent."

About the Author

Foss Farrar

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