Wholesale Bulb Orders: Lessons Learned

Phew! Our first big dahlia sale is just about finished, save for a few local orders that will be picked up or delivered. This year, we relied heavily on a wholesale bulb order to fill the needs of our farm and grow our online shop's sales. We were unsure of our cellar's winter temperatures. 

Early on, we feared the cellar would be too cold for storage. We had some spray foaming done to regulate the cold temperatures coming in through the crawl space and across the joists. The wholesale order was our safety net, or so we thought. 

Sadly, other than the thrill of receiving a very large order of tubers or bulbs, I haven't had the best experiences with wholesale orders. What I've learned is that it is not uncommon to receive little or no notice that your order will not be delivered to you in its entirety. Crop failures, problems with storage during transportation that lead to rot, hold-ups in customs all affect the availability of bulbs coming through wholesale services. 

Our order finally arrived to us 4 days past the date the wholesaler asked me to stay home all day to receive the shipment. When I called to see if I could contact the shipping company directly, it was only reluctantly that the bulb company shared their information with me. 

Luckily, the shipping company was very kind and shared the actual delivery date with us. The driver, however, did not realize he was transporting live plants. He thought the full palette was empty crates. We're lucky that the weather warmed up a bit and prevented the whole lot from freezing on the truck, which took several days to get to us. 

I think we can all understand that the vagaries of nature and other unforeseen issues will likely impact our perishable products, but it can still be hard to swallow a big change in plans with little notice. One area I'd like to see the wholesale industry improve upon (and some definitely do it better than others) is in communication with customers. 

When our dahlia order arrived there was no packing list or warning that one quarter of the order went unfulfilled. (I wish I could say that this was the first time we had this experience with bulb ordering, but it isn't - it happened with last year's tulip order and with the peonies, too.) I had talked to our rep just days before and he offered to ship extra empty bulb crates to us to fill out the palette - bonus - but he did not mention anything about the dahlia varieties we wouldn't receive. 

I also expected that the tubers would be cleaned and divided and "customer ready" as I store all of our tubers each fall. Unfortunately, that was not the case, either. The tubers were packed in separate clumps- one "clump" per tuber ordered. While we were first excited to see the clumps, we realized quickly that almost all of the tubers (except what we call the mother tubers) were broken at the necks. Instead of dividing the clumps, we'd have to clean up most of them and send along mother tubers with eyes to our customers. 

There is no problem with growing the dahlias from mother tubers, as long as they have eyes. I'm sure the bulb company is concerned only with providing a single viable plant per tuber clump, but it was still a bit maddening to have to cut off all those broken-neck tubers (my quality control type A-personality made me do it!). Live and learn. 

To cover the losses due to tuber quality and the unfulfilled items, we emailed and refunded anyone whose order seemed to imply that they were collecting just those certain varieties. For other orders, when it seemed appropriate, we substituted missing tubers with other tubers (at an equal or higher price) that we thought the customer would like based on their other choices. 

Both options were difficult for me to process. I like everything to be just so. If I've ordered something and its been confirmed, I expect it to be as I intended it to be. Fortunately, we know now that our cellar storage system does work and well. We'll be able to sell tubers from our own shop, without depending on a wholesale order again. 

So, will I order from said dahlia tuber company again? I think so, but only for our own farm. I am confident that their products will grow, and well, but they just weren't as nice (looking anyways) as our own tubers. Wholesale dahlia tubers also seem to be pot grown. They are small and a bit stunted in growth, likely for easy lifting and mailing in packaging - like those boxed dahlias you find at the hardware and grocery stores.

I like my tubers big, fat, and healthy. If we run a sale again next year, I'll feel especially proud to share them with others. If you do order bulbs for your small farm business from a wholesaler, note that your orders should be placed when the plant is blooming this year for next year's crop. That is a bit tricky for us, since everything blooms later here. We have to remember to stay on top of our schedule.