Plant and material discounts at big box stores.

Big box stores are seem to be everywhere you go. They offer a wide variety of products too. But as a landscape professional, should you be buying your materials and plant products from them? Are their prices the best you can get or are there other, better alternatives? That is what one entrepreneur wondered when he asked his question on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum. He wanted to find out if he was on the right path or if he could be saving himself more time and money by purchasing materials in bulk from other locations.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I have been buying my plants from the local big box stores that have garden centers. Since I live in a small town, I do not have many options to choose from for plant and garden materials. I asked the big box store garden center department head for a discount on a pallet of mulch I bought, and a large about of plants but she said no way. Is this how it is when dealing with big box stores? It bothers me I do this for a living, use more materials than the average consumer, and yet I pay the same per item as a homeowner buying a single bag of mulch on a weekend.

I do like the one year warranty on all plants I get from purchasing from them but I thought I would get discounts like when I buy lumber from them.

All this got me thinking that I needed to find another supplier and after asking around, I did find a place that sells mulch in bulk and I could try them out. What concerns me about getting mulch dumped in my trailer is the labor cost of digging it out vs. using individually wrapped bags of mulch. Would the bags save me labor and time?

Plant discounts at big box stores.

Plant discounts at big box stores.

The job I am working on now that I am getting the mulch for, is to redo a mulch bed. The bed is full of weeds and crab grass so I decided to spray it all out with weed killer. But now I need to know if it is best to till up the weeds and soil and then plant my new plants followed by mulch and spot spray weed killer when needed or is there a better way to go about this?”

A second lawn care business owner said “I get discounts for bulk item purchases from at least two local big box stores as I signed up with a contractor account. Yes there are restrictions and minimum amounts you need to purchase but at times I find it works for me. Even with that, I do not buy much in the way of plants or mulch from them. In my state to get a discount for plants from nurseries you need to have a landscaper certificate which costs $200. Most of the nurseries require them and track all of your live plant purchases as well as sod. Some nurseries will simply give a 20% discount even without the certificate. Even without the discount, the nurseries are usually cheaper than a chain store.

I’d suggest try talking to someone else at the big box stores and see if they have a contractor price. Considering they often have a sale on mulch at $2.50 per bag, it shouldn’t be hard to get a discount from the regular price on mulch when buying 75 bags on a pallet. Even at $2.50 per bag of 2 cu.ft x 75 bags would be 150 cubic feet (just under 6 yards) for $187.50 plus tax. Where my full 6 yards of bulk mulch would run about $120 to $130 + tax.

To me, I feel the benefit of buying plants at a discount from a nursery would outweigh paying more for the big box warranty. I save about 30% on my plant purchases from nurseries over the cost of the box stores easy. When properly installed and after educating the customer on care of their new plants, especially in summer, I also find that I have much better initial success with the plants from a nursery. For whatever reason they always seem to do better.

As far as redoing a mulch bed, I would usually wait about 7 days after spraying weed killer on a bed and then till it. Spray it again with weed killer and and try to wait another seven days before plantings. That’s me though, I am not sure how thorough others are about their weed killing procedures.

A good 4 inch layer of mulch will greatly help deter any surviving roots or seed below from coming through.

When it comes to emptying your trailer of mulch, I’d suggest using a snow shovel on a flat wood trailer and a 5 tine pitchfork. I can load, move (at a distance of 50′ from the bed) and spread one yard of mulch in under 30 minutes this way. This equals 13.5 bags of mulch to be carried or rolled, opened and then spread. I will usually only use the bags when they are on sale. That way even though I feel I may only save as much as 15 minutes in labor per yard, what I do like is that the bag is usually treated to kill weeds for 6 months as well as ‘guaranteed’ to hold its color for a year. It’s much easier to store out of the weather as well.”

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