Cameron Cantrelle, co-founder of Plantbid

Cameron “Cam” Cantrelle has been around the horticulture industry long enough to understand its problems. For more than 20 years, he’s worked as a landscape contractor and business owner. But as the rest of the world adopted different ways of buying and selling goods, he watched his industry continue to rely on piles of paper order sheets and the fax machine.

He was spending too much time staring at dozens of growers’ availabilities, poring over spreadsheets, making phone calls and waiting for callbacks. The process was hectic and chaotic, and he decided it was time the green industry developed a better way.

That was the problem Cantrelle set out to solve when he launched Plantbid in January 2014 with a small group of wholesale growers. Plantbid is a plant sourcing system that aims to streamline communications between buyers and sellers for the professional horticulture industry. Participating nurseries simply email their availability list to plants@plantbid.com, and they become visible to a multitude of new buyers — retail garden centers, big box stores, home improvement, landscape contractors, landscape architects — anyone who has the ability to buy wholesale product. There is no cost to join Plantbid and list your inventory. Plantbid’s software sorts through long buying lists and finds the best nurseries to order from, factoring in not only plant prices but also shipping costs.

“The sellers are the backbone to everything buyers need,” Cantrelle says. “But the current messaging process puts all the burden of cost in their hands. The selling network markets their material in all these different places. It’s up to the buyers to go hunt and peck for what they need. The problem with that is you don’t have enough participation. So the buyers don’t get a good look at what the sellers have, what’s out there.”

Live Oak Gardens, a wholesale nursery based in South Louisiana, has been using the service for about a year. General manager Mike Richard says it took about five minutes to set up.

Louisiana’s Live Oak Gardens has used Plantbid for more than a year.

“We upload our inventory into the system, then we get requests for quotes,” Richard says. “If a customer is looking for plants to source on jobs, it makes it easy to fill out and submit bids. We’ve found quite a few new customers through them, too.”

The new customers are a boon, but Richard says his existing customers like using the service, too, because it takes less time for them to source plants.

“They just submit their list to Plantbid, and it finds things for them,” he says. “They also call, too, it’s not just the automated system. You can talk to an actual human being.”

TOP: Plantbid filters through the inventory lists of all participating nurseries, and factors in shipping costs to provide total project pricing, including shipping costs. BOTTOM: Buyers can use Plantbid’s software to send a request for proposal to all nurseries, or a select list of favorites.

Live Oak Gardens grows shrubs and perennials in small and large containers on 40 acres, in addition to 150 acres for field-grown B&B trees. The nursery already was emailing Excel spreadsheets with its current inventory to current customers, so it didn’t have to do any extra work to reach a broader range of customers.

“It takes a lot of the headache out on my end,” Richard says. It’s easy to submit… it’s much faster than manually typing in everything or writing up a quote. Boom, it’s off and they’ve got it. It streamlines the process a lot.”

Plantbid buyers typically shop in one of three ways: self-source, send out a request for proposal to the seller network, or hire a broker and let them handle all the logistics.

Plantbid offers a few different ways to use the network. For buyers, the standard plan ($20/month) includes unlimited access to the quote tool. In addition, buyers can perform self-use searches through the software for 2.5 percent of the materials sourced. For buyers not yet comfortable with software or too time crunched to verify the product offerings, Plantbid's sourcing team will take the buyers plant list and  verify the selling networks offerings for free. The buyer only pays a fee, which is based on the total amount of materials sourced, if they decide to receive the verified product.

Sellers can respond and win targeted requests for pricing at no cost through Plantbid, because the platform was designed to help sellers acquire new customers. By becoming part of the network, growers can reach the right qualified customers for what they grow, and focus on building personal relationships with those customers to grow their business.

Cantrelle says about $1 million of product has been placed by nurseries that have gotten new customers with Plantbid.

Plantbid has its highest density of users in the Southeast, where the company is based, but is currently shipping across the country. Last summer, many Texas buyers were shopping for xeriscape plants due to the drought. Texas nurseries didn’t have enough, so Plantbid sourced plants from New Mexico, California and Arizona nurseries to be able to handle Texas’ needs. Plantbid has a large network of independent haulers and shippers, and it helps organize that process.

“At the end of the day, we’re a facilitator,” Cantrelle says. “We’re trying to manage the process and help the industry save a lot of time, and potentially good money, by having this visibility and movement of plants across our culture.”