Beekeepers never know exactly when the honey is going to start flowing, or how much will come flowing in. With that in mind, Stowers are not just providing New Zealand made drums to store that honey in, but being a responsible business partner to beekeepers by offering flexibility of supply and stable and predictable pricing, along with excellent and accessible customer service.
“What we really like to promote is that every one of our drums is New Zealand made,” Stowers national sales manager Richard Sims explains.
“It means we can control everything from the production to supply, rather than having to rely on overseas companies and freight getting it right.”
Stowers is part of Pact Group, a leading plastic packaging, recycling and reuse company operating in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a large company, but the Stowers arm has just one function: distribution. With two steel drum production facilities serving them – one in Avondale, Auckland, and another in Temuka, South Canterbury – they can quickly and reliably fill that function too.
“As soon as the drum is made it is shipped over to our Stowers warehouses in Christchurch and Auckland, where we will then manually expect the drums and if they're not up to quality, we then send them back. So, you get a second quality assurance in there before they go out to customers. That doesn’t slow up any orders though, because we're holding stock and we can supply from our stockpiles. It's about supply and demand and making sure you guys, as the growers, as beekeepers, have the drums when you need them,” Sims says.
The Stowers partnership with beekeepers is not just about being fast and reliable in supply though, it means being able to flex and change drum orders as beekeeper demand dictates. Sims explains how that works in practice.
“We go out to our honey customers and we say ‘give us a forecast, what do you think you may need?’. That forecast may move backwards and forwards through the month and quantities might change, but that’s ok, because we've got a safety stockpile of drums at our distribution centres. So, when we get to the month the honey producer has indicated, we'll say, ‘hey, are you still good for that 100 drums now? For that day?’. If the answer is ‘yes’, then we’ve got them ready to go. If it’s ‘no’ we can easily push them out another few weeks. That's absolutely fine.”
That level of service just makes good business sense, for both Stowers and beekeepers.
“Beekeepers are reliant on whether the bees are flying and nectar is flowing, or not. So, the last thing you want to do is tie up capital into drums, which may sit there for an extra three weeks, four weeks or, worst case scenario, there were guys who bought drums from another supplier last season and never used them. That spend has been tied up as unusable capital for 12 months because they can't return those drums.
“So, being a supplier who is very flexible and can adapt quickly to beekeeper requirements is what makes us a good partner. We work in partnership with you guys. Because if you guys are doing well, we're going to do well,” Sims says.
Being a good business partner means having reliable relationships and communication channels too, especially when your sole role is distribution. With that in mind, Stowers have multiple channels to make sure beekeepers can always reach them and get fast action.
Six company reps cover New Zealand from top to bottom, while four Pact branches, in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch have two call centre staff each, ready to answer the phone and put orders into action.
“The reps on the road get around to talk to our business partners and see what the needs are. That allows them to shape supply and pricing to get everyone the best service and best deal,” Sims says.
Right Size and Pricing
Beekeeper requirements for the amount and type of drums they prefer is changeable, and so Stowers supply three different types. The largest is the 225L “South Island” blue drum, then there are the 210L “open top” with removable lid, and the “North Island” 205L red drums.
Pricing differs depending on order quantity, with quantity breaks in pricing based off three tiers; tier one pricing is for up to 48 drums, tier two 49 to 96 and lowest pricing is for orders of 97 or more. Regardless of what tier a beekeeper falls into, pricing is stable for 12 months.
“Ahead of a new year, we sit down with the manufacturer, VIP Steel, and assess the steel price, electricity and labour to determine our per-drum prices. Then a commitment is made to the market to hold that price for the full financial year. From July 1 to June 30, it doesn't matter when you order or pay, the price is the same from us.”
More Than Just Drums
While drum distribution is the core of Stowers service, they also have a range of smaller packaging options. Honey packers, whether they need one unit or 10,000, can come to Stowers for recyclable PET jars from 90mls to 1.5L, then also larger honey pails.
On top of that, they import a wide variety of products which are valuable in honey extraction plants and beekeepers’ sheds, from wheelie bins to spill containment packages.
“Distribution of drums to beekeepers is at the heart of Stowers role, but we also partner with beekeepers and honey packers by supplying a lot of other products. So, I recommend people get onto our website to see the wide range we offer,” Sims says, adding “it’s now also time to make sure beekeepers have their drum requirements fulfilled for this season, and to look ahead to next season too, so they should give us a call to touch base with their local rep.”