Not even sleep is safe from work concerns.

There are sweet dreams of being on the golf course, but fears about an unexpected fungus ruin the moment and the dream becomes a nightmare. The level of concern escalates because there is no product on hand to combat the enemy. The supplier says it will be at least a day before he can deliver it. Tossing and turning makes for restless sleep.

After waking up in a cold sweat, breathing hard and heart racing, you realize it was only a dream and the relief brings a sense of calm. But in the back of your mind, there is angst because you know that dream could become reality. There will likely be a time when there is no product on hand, or no spare part for broken-down equipment. How do you protect yourself against downtime?

“That’s when having a great relationship with your suppliers is important,” says Paul Cushing, an agronomist and territory manager for Calcium Products, a consulting agronomist, and a former superintendent for more than 25 years. “They know how important minutes and hours can be. Suppliers are important to your success, but even more so when you find yourself in a tough situation. You try to be prepared for anything, but you don’t always have everything at your fingertips.”

1. Stocking Up

From a product standpoint, participating in early-order programs (EOP) have proven to be popular when trying to build inventories in a cost-effective way, especially for fertilizers and chemicals. The beauty of the arrangement is having the product on hand – having secured lower prices or accumulating rebates – with the ability to spread out payments over an extended period of time. EOPs were originally established decades ago for golf courses in the Northeast that would experience uneven cash flow over the course of the year. Today, 71 percent of golf courses participate in such programs, according to Superintendent’s Distributor Experiences Survey (p. 10)

Suppliers make the EOP attractive because it helps them plan how much product to make in a year.

“I like the early order because it saves me money,” says Kasey Kauff, director of grounds at Trinity Forest Golf Club in Dallas. “We use our rebates and savings to do things for the staff. We’ll serve meals and have parties for them. It saves us money and allows us to do something nice for the staff.”

Cushing, who consults for several golf courses, sees the positives of EOPs but cautions that superintendents need to put pen to paper. EOPs can be counterproductive without proper planning. The result could be a shortage of product with no available funds to make up for the shortfall, or excessive inventory supplies tying up funds that could be used elsewhere.

“You really need to do your homework and know your course,” Cushing says. “That is where record-keeping is important. Your suppliers can also be helpful because they talk with other superintendents and have a larger pool to work from. They can help you determine the proper quantity.”

2. Negotiate Your Savings

Sean Hoolehan, superintendent at Wildhorse Resort and Casino in Pendleton, Ore., is a rarity because he doesn’t order early. He does, however, negotiate hard to secure the lowest prices.

“I have been in this area for a long time, so I probably could order in advance and nail it fairly close in terms of what I need,” Hoolehan says. “But I don’t like storing a lot of product. I ask my suppliers for the lowest price and purchase based on that when I need it. I feel that gives me a chance to get the best savings.”

He uses a similar philosophy for his equipment, but acknowledges that he is a bit unusual because his course generally pays cash up front.

“We have good cash flow, so we can purchase our mowers with cash up front,” Hoolehan says. “Again, that gives me the opportunity to negotiate.”

3. Dollars and Sense

Pricing is important, especially when the belt remains tight from the Great Recession more than 10 years ago. But price is not the only consideration, superintendents say. Although cheaper generics are available, some superintendents still rely on more expensive branded products because of trust, loyalty, and/or the desire to support companies that do the actual research.

“If I use a brand-name product and it works, I stay with it,” Kauff says. “You don’t want to sacrifice what works to save few dollars when you know the consequences could be major. Plus, I like to support the company that does the research and supports the profession. But I understand why people use generics.”

Similarly, relationships and policy guidelines dictate the extent facilities go out for bids. Facilities owned by governmental entities (municipalities, counties, states) are generally required by law to periodically send their purchases out for bids. Private and daily-fee facilities generally have more latitude, and they weigh price, relationships and efficacy of the product or equipment when deciding whether to go out for bids.

Courses can also save money by joining buying clubs, which offer lower prices in exchange for an annual membership fee. Again, it is important to do the homework. Some of these clubs offer facility-wide applications, so those in the golf, banquet and other operations stand to benefit as well.

4. Look for Help and You Will Find It

Having the proper tools to do the job begins with knowing what the options are. There are a number of ways a super can stay up-to-date on what’s available: a tight-knit network, a supportive supply chain, industry publications, social media and regional/national trade shows are just a few of the ways they can learn about the resources available to them.

“The suppliers are great,” says Tim Nielsen, superintendent at Creekmoor Golf Club in Kansas City. “I’m sure it’s this way in other parts of the country too, but the guys here are so helpful. They talk to quite a number of golf courses, so I rely on them to share what is working and what is new. I value their input and knowledge.”

Hoolehan says Twitter is an efficient way to communicate and gain information from all parts of the world. He says that hearing about a product or piece of equipment in another area gives him the opportunity to ask his suppliers and fellow superintendents about its potential for his course.

“There aren’t any secrets anymore,” Hoolehan says. “Social media allows me to see what others are doing in real time. I don’t have to wait for an annual conference or a chapter meeting.”

Similarly, the Internet has become an important resource for superintendents. While it has not offered the strong marketplace that some had predicted years ago, supers use it for purchasing and procurement. The primary benefit has come from finding products and parts that are priced significantly below what is available locally, are hard to find, or are no longer in production.

5. It’s Showtime!

Although technology has greatly enhanced our ability to communicate with our peers, regional and national trade shows and educational conferences remain a valuable resource. These physical meetings of industry professionals provide an opportunity to view and test products, and to talk with others about what works for them.

“After going to the shows for several years, I still spend a considerable amount of time setting up appointments to meet with the vendors,” Cushing says. “I find that it helps me learn about the new products.

“But I also learn more about how they are being used, and what problems they solve. There is something about being face-to-face with someone and having a conversation. There’s always change. There’s new research, new products, new applications.”

“You can’t help but learn something just by walking the show floor and talking with other superintendents,” Nielsen says. “Everyone is facing the same challenges, so you take note of what works for others.”

And that helps everyone sleep a little easier.