I started working from the ground up (kind of like a plant) in 2004 for my father-in-law, here at Sunbreak nursery. I was overwhelmed by the amount of product that was sent out the door from the small 2 acre nursery. What amazed me the most was, that in the 21st century, all this business was being done with a fax machine crammed in a metal locker inside the greenhouse.
In 1966, the first mainstream fax machine was used, weighing in at a mere 45 pounds. A short three years later, the first moon landing occurred. Technology has come a long way since then. So why, almost four decades after later, was the green industry still feeding paper into a machine to reproduce a copy of it on the other side of a phone line? One reason is that we are creatures of comfort. We do what we know, and we do it well. My father-in-law (now 66) and many others could work that fax machine like a harp when all I wanted to do was beat it with a baseball bat.
Fast-forward to 2011: I am on the road, meeting with customers and calling on some new ones. Those repeat customers are asking for emailed availabilities instead of the fax! HALLELUIAH! The new customers I talked to ONLY wanted email. So what was the change?
I definitely think that there has finally been the paradigm shift that I was expecting when I first started in this business. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has an email address, whether it’s to communicate with family members, do business or comment in the opinion section of the newspaper (now online). The need for a faxed piece of paper has gone the way of the dodo bird, for the most part.
However, for some, the fax machine still has merit, preventing it from disappearing completely. Their reasoning makes sense: it is nice, when ordering plant material, to walk through the nursery with sheets of paper to see what is needed or not, without having to print it. I agree, but think of it like in terms of the amount of paper the fax machine system goes through. My standard inventory is 3-5 pages (not including the cover page). I know that when I print 3-5 pages, then the person receiving it uses the same amount of paper. That is for only one customer; multiply that by 30 and that is 90 to 150 pages of paper BEFORE I receive a response. I would use almost 2 reams of paper a month. For those counting, that’s almost 1,000 pages of paper.
Luckily, there are a variety of alternatives to fax machines in the year 2011. I use a service called RingCentral, which converts a fax sent into an email, and there are hundreds of others. Then, I have a digital reproduction of the all the information I need, all the while saving 7 pages of trees. If necessary, I can print it or I can just read it, edit it or send it on to someone else. The World Wide Web is amazing.
We started a website this year with an online inventory and store. My customers can now receive a fax, email, or order online. If they wanted, I would send a carrier pigeon. My goal is to make ordering as trouble-free as possible for my customers. What is easy for them is easy for me. I have decided not to fight the fax but adapt. If you want a fax you will get it, but what I really what people to understand is that there is a better or more efficient way to do business. We are in the green industry so let’s practice what we preach.