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Cultivating a reputation as Europe’s largest producer of high quality turf has been no bed of roses or even a walk in the park for Rolawn, Britain’s leading supplier of high quality sustainable soft landscaping products.

The Rolawn brand has taken root as the recognised benchmark of quality and service, achieved through a commitment to advanced production processes, innovation and attention to detail in all areas of its business for over 40 years. Such innovations include developing bespoke equipment to more efficiently produce and harvest the turf and landscape products, as well as the unique patented Profresh® process which extends the shelf life of the turf after it is harvested. You can grow the most technically advanced turf, develop the most nutritious topsoils, mulches, barks and composts, but without a sustainable model of getting it to market – the garden centres, landscape customers, new housing developments, award-winning Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) showcase and show-stopping garden designs- the landscape could be far from green. And this is on top of dealing with the ‘day job’ of getting a highly perishable living product direct to consumers, small and large, within very tight time restraints. During the last four decades, the North Yorkshire business has sold enough turf to lay a one-foot strip twice around planet Earth, travel to the moon and make it over half way back to terra firma.

In the fledgling early days during the mid-1970s, green-fingered customers used to come to Rolawn in Elvington, near York, to collect their turf on their low-loaders, vans and even in the boots of their cars. But with growth, comes growing pains, and with the advent of new products such as topsoil, which today represents 40 per cent of business turnover, the family-based firm has switched its model from collection-only to one that was distribution-led. It set up regional depots and used third-party local haulage companies to distribute products, but lack of national consistency and transparency, as well as invoice complexity and limited control over accurate delivery targets, resulted in Rolawn changing its logistics model. As a result, distribution was consolidated back to the centre of the business at the Company’s 22-acre site at Seaton Ross.

At the same time on-line sales, offering the green, green grass of home delivery was rapidly increasing. This is where partnership with one national delivery partner, Palletline, and its regional shareholder members has worked to minimise the growing pains. Initially, Rolawn struggled to find a reliable nationwide delivery partner because, as Sales and Marketing Director Jonathan Hill explains: “The product is dirty, heavy when wet, and requires larger 1200 cm pallets to transport the products - it is difficult to work with and deliver.”

“We have been at the forefront of the industry since 1975 mainly through innovation and we needed a national organisation that could grow with us. The link with Palletline has been good for both businesses, as we have shared the growing pains, and found new ways of working which is vital because it is not all about what we grow, but how we cost-effectively distribute the products. “What we were asking was massive for both parties, particularly Palletline as they had never had to distribute our type of products on that scale before.”

Allison Brooks, who manages the supply chain and distribution for Rolawn, takes up the story: “The landscape industry is slow to change – but we needed innovation and a partnership that provided capacity and a consistency in terms of route to market and customer interface. We now provide information into one portal and then it’s delivered by Palletline’s 80 different member companies - a far cry from what we had before.” We had tried other third-party providers and pallet networks until we arrived at Palletline. Now we work closely with Bowker, Palletline’s local haulier serving North Yorkshire because they understand how we work and need to prioritise deliveries of what is in effect a perishable product. The work is all year round, particularly for supply into our customers working within the new build housing sector, however it is also very seasonal as we can go from 10 articulated trucks a day to approaching 100 during the busy Spring peak” she said

Development sites cannot be handed over to new owners until the lawns are laid - a delay in delivery can make the difference between a person moving into their new home on the completion date or having to wait. The partnership is all about communication and managing customer expectation and is now moving towards consignment tracking so that the perishable turf is on site at the right time, every time.

Allison Brooks continues: “We now have an excellent relationship with Bowker and Palletline as both companies have learned to adapt and overcome some difficult planning issues – daily schedules that often have to be ripped up and started again if, for example, a customer rings up wanting to delay a delivery because of bad weather when the location is water-logged.”

The relationship continues to grow and blossom as it evolves into a more sophisticated supply chain partnership, required to meet the exacting expectations of Rolawn’s customers, large and small.

Jonathan Hill adds: “Retail consumers are getting used to very short lead times, with constant consignment updates. Trade customers are working under pressure to react quicker and quicker to client requests. This means working together with our supply partners is a key business objective as we move forward and continue to grow."

Rolawn is soon to uproot from its Elvington HQ after 40 years and relocate closer to its production facilities at Seaton Ross bringing with it greater supply chain efficiencies and transparency. The grass is certainly looking greener for Rolawn as it heads towards the production of its’ 160 millionth roll of turf and one millionth bulk bag of topsoil this year. But it is always looking for the next challenge and, along with Palletline, will not allow the grass to grow beneath its feet as it strives to make Britain a green and pleasant land.