The spring has been a busy season for U.S. manufacturers of horticultural containers - too busy, according to some processors.
Processors are still recovering from last year's bankruptcy filing by retail giant Kmart Corp. On top of that, processors say some large customers put off ordering spring planting products for too long.
Dillen Products Cos. reported what everyone else in the industry was thinking. The Middlefield, Ohio-based company, one of the largest U.S. makers of horticultural growing containers, posted details on the container shortage on its Web site early this year.
According to the site, Dillen, which injection molds such products as thin-wall pots and hanging baskets and vacuum forms pots, plug trays and water collectors, was not able to handle all of the last-minute spring demands from inventory or capacity. Despite working 24 hours a day, seven days a week and working with outside molders and printers, ``we will let some people down this year,'' the site reads, ``that is an immutable fact.''
Dillen is a subsidiary of Akron, Ohio-based Myers Industries Inc., a publicly traded company.
Several other container manufacturers and related horticultural businesses agreed with what Dillen posted.
Paul Smith, risk management officer for Kurt Weiss Greenhouses Inc. in Center Moriches, N.Y., said the company, which grows a variety of bedding and flowering plants, was hurt by the indecisiveness of retailer commitments to its plants.
``They all wait until the last minute and then it's too late to react,'' he said.
The financial woes of one-time retail king Kmart affected the market as well.
``It created a slower fall for manufacturers,'' said one official, who asked not to be identified. ``A lot of it can be attributed to the general economy. We have seen no volume reductions, we just saw the timing of when we ship change. We usually start in the late fall. We lost some shipping opportunities in September because many of our customers did not have their orders in place from their customers, the chain stores.''
The official added that he did not perceive a drop in the number of containers used. But the factors listed by Dillen ``put tremendous demands on everyone to get them out in a shorter period of time.''
Norm Belliveau, president of container maker Summit Plastic Co. in Tallmadge, Ohio, also acknowledged the downfall of Kmart.
``Kmart had a very real impact,'' Belliveau said. ``A lot of growers didn't get paid for their poinsettia crops. That really hurt a lot of growers.''
When contacted, spokeswomen for both Kmart and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the companies do not comment on their relationships with suppliers or the discussions that take place with them.
Summit Plastic's strategy is the same despite the current troubles in the container market.
``We look at cost containment and continuous improvement,'' Belliveau said. ``We look at how to do things better so there are fewer surprises. We make more personal contact with customers.''
Scott Blackmore, operations manager for Belleville, Mich.-based Blackmore Co., which also provides soil, fertilizer and greenhouse equipment in addition to its containers, said the key to staying strong is diversification.
``We stay in floriculture,'' he said, ``but not just in packaging, but in systems.''
Overall, Blackmore and others feel the market will outlast this latest rough stretch. In fact, Blackmore said Blackmore Co. had a ``busy season'' and that the supply will be filled next season.
``It's been lean,'' he said, ``but people are not dropping like flies either.''