Choosing precast concrete planter boxes for commercial landscaping projects is easy, right? Well, maybe not as easy as it looks! But since planter boxes usually form a long term and highly visible element of most commercial building or landscaping projects, it’s important to get your planter box decision right. Let’s have a look at five things you should take into consideration.

  • Outside planter boxes need to last - so which ones last?
  • GRC suppliers are not all the same – so which suppliers are right for me?
  • GRC manufacturers are not all the same – does it really matter?
  • Not all GRC manufacturers are good manufacturers – so how can I tell the difference?
  • Price is a factor but not the full story – so what do I need to know in addition to price?

1. Outside planter boxes need to last

Commercial buildings are designed to last at least twenty years before requiring significant refurbishment. The investment economics simply don’t make sense otherwise. Therefore, it stands to reason that the substantial elements of a commercial building landscaping or patio scaping should also be expected to stay intact, functional and reasonably appealing for at least a similar time frame. So, you need to choose planter boxes that are going to last. However, most planter boxes don't last !

Planter Boxes can be made from a seemingly endless array of different materials such as clays, plastics, fibreglass, metals, stone, wood, blockwork and a wide variety of composites. And if made well, planter boxes from any of these materials can look great. But are they suitable for long term commercial projects when you consider the following: -

  • Clays, plastics and fibreglass breakdown with long term exposure to harsh weather conditions
  • Metals tend to be expensive and/or corrosive
  • Stone is heavy and tends to develop hair line cracks that facilitate water seepage
  • Wood is difficult to seal from water leaks and tends to rot
  • Blockwork is heavy and susceptible to cracking
  • Most of the composites with the word “poly” in their name haven’t been around in the form of planter boxes long enough to know what they will look like in twenty years.

To be blunt, none of these materials really stack up as an ideal raw material for the construction of long-term planter box solutions for outside commercial projects. So why use them? Alternatively, GRC (Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete) is fundamentally concrete with all the long lasting attributes that have made concrete one of the most popular and adaptive building materials for literally thousands of years. So, expecting GRC planters to last for twenty years is not too big an ask!

Concrete has been such a tremendously successful building material because it has great compressive strength, weather resistance and can be easily moulded to virtually any architectural shape. But planter boxes need more than that. This is where the GRC technology comes into play. Glass fibre reinforcement ads flexural and tensile strength which are essential elements in the construction of concrete planter boxes. And the practical result is that GRC planter boxes will last !

2. GRC Suppliers are not all the same

Planter box suppliers are either manufacturers or resellers of manufacturers’ products. Both supply channels have their advantages and disadvantages. Either one could be suitable for your requirements so let’s broadly summarise the key differences to minimise any confusion when you are talking with multiple potential planter box suppliers.

Resellers typically: -

  • Hold readily available stock
    - but don’t usually hold a large quantity of any item on hand because of limited warehouse space
     
  • Have competitive pricing
    but don’t always stock the best quality products because their market is primarily driven by price
     
  • Hold a variety of different manufactures’ products
    but usually import their products from factories that mass manufacture to a price point which often translates into a lower quality product
    have limited, if any, ability to source tailored planter box designs to meet specific project requirements
    and if they can source tailored designs, they have limited, if any, ability to commit to manufacturing delivery schedules
     
  • Specialise in small to medium sized products
    because the larger planter boxes are expensive to hold in stock and take up a lot of valuable storage space
    and it is not economically viable to mass produce the larger form planter boxes for stock holding

Resellers can be good supply options if you are looking for fast delivery of relatively small to medium sized planter boxes, relatively small quantities of a planter box shape or you have little interest in tailored planter box solutions.

A word of warning:- By the very nature of a reseller's position in the market it is the role of a middleman. This is a valuable role in linking buyers to manufacturers but it is a service that comes with a layer of cost that is usually accounted for by either an increase in the reseller's sales prices or a reduction in the quality of their products. To avoid this issue, there are some resellers that promote their businesses in terms of "cutting out the middleman" to imply that if you buy from them you are buying directly from the factory. However, if they are not actually the manufacturer or a middleman it is difficult to understand what they actually are. Therefore, at least that part of their promotional material should be considered questionable.

Manufactures typically: -

  • Hold limited stock
    but can readily produce whatever quantity is required
     
  • Have competitive pricing
    but can manufacture to a higher or lower specification that will be reflected in the price
     
  • Have their own product range
    but are not restricted to that product range because they have the flexibility to manufacture what they like
     
  • Can provide tailored solutions
    because they have their own product engineering team
     
  • Control the manufacturing
    therefore, they can control production delivery commitments
    and they can control their own commitment to quality

Commercial projects often specify tailored sizes in different standard shapes such as narrow trough planters, tall square planters, cylinder planters, rectangle planters, square planters or even specialised architectural shapes, which are generally not available off the shelf from a reseller. Therefore, unless compromise is an option, a manufacturer will need to be involved either directly or through a reseller to a manufacturer.

3. GRC Manufacturers are not all the same

The all-inclusive term “GRC Manufacturer” covers several different types of manufacturers. Therefore, it may also be worthwhile having a broad understanding of the difference between the main ones.

“Job Shop” GRC manufacturers
Job Shop GRC manufacturers are typically small businesses, have limited factory floor space and are primarily geared for the manufacture of GRC products for specialised projects like building cladding and architectural structures. You can expect them to be comparatively expensive and not normally a good option for time-critical volume orders of precast GRC planters because they don’t have the production capacity. However, they tend to know the technology well and make good quality GRC. 

Local Australian GRC manufacturers
Local GRC planter manufacturers geared to produce both quality and volume are a rare commodity in Australia. The high factory overheads and staff costs in Australia must be recovered somehow and this will normally be reflected in their pricing. The only way they can survive in the Australian market is to be good at what they do and charge accordingly. Therefore, the ones that survive tend to make high quality products at high prices. 

Overseas GRC manufacturers
Australia imported over $180 billion worth of goods and services last year. This is massive! So clearly the Australian market is recognising and benefiting from importing overseas products. Since GRC manufacturing is highly labour and floor-space intensive it is an ideal material to be manufactured in countries with a lower cost-base than Australia and this would typically be reflected in lower prices. So why wouldn’t you buy your GRC planters from overseas? Well you would, if you had an overseas manufacturer that was able to produce a quality product on time. Therefore, the real issue here is finding the right overseas manufacturer and that is not an easy task.

Satu Bumi is a hybrid
Satu Bumi is unique in terms of this classification because it is a hybrid with its ownership, executive management, marketing and sales in Australia and its production facilities in Indonesia. This is a distinct market advantage since Satu Bumi has the stability of western management, capital and culture in conjunction with a low Indonesian cost infrastructure resulting in quality product, reliability, very competitive pricing and good customer service. Here is Satu Bumi’s website if you would like to know more about the company: -  http://www.satubumi.com.au

Although GRC manufacturers are not all the same, you can find a good GRC planter box supplier from any of the above categories. However, being able to categorise your potential suppliers will better prepare you to assess their suitability for your GRC planter projects.

4. Not all GRC manufacturers are good GRC manufacturers

Manufacturers have a lot of distinct advantages over resellers. However, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to hear that not all GRC manufacturers are good GRC manufacturers. 

So, what do you need to do? Well, if you want to deal directly with a planter box manufacturer the key is to find one that is committed to the use of quality raw materials and industry recognised manufacturing standards. The document on GRC manufacturing standards called “Specification for the Manufacture, Curing & Testing of Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete (GRC) Products” from The International Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete Association (GRCA) is an excellent summarised guide to the standards that are applicable to the manufacture of good GRC. A copy of this document can be found in the downloads section of Satu Bumi's web site: www.satubumi.com.au/downloads/

If a manufacture cannot show a commitment to the use of quality raw materials and recognised manufacturing process standards, then move on and find another manufacturer. It’s as simple as that. GRC is easy to make but good GRC is not and there should be no tolerance given on this issue if you are expecting to source GRC planters that last. There is no doubt that I am going to put Satu Bumi forward as a trustworthy manufacturer but there are also other GRC manufacturers that supply into the Australian market that do a good job. You just need to avoid the "GRC Cowboys" that cut corners to reduce manufacturing costs and there are plenty of them.

5. Cost is a factor but not the full story

It goes without saying that cost will always be a factor in any commercial purchase. But when you are sourcing GRC planters be careful not to mix up the concept of cost with value. There are plenty of war-stories of cheap GRC planters that have completely fallen apart or cracked because of poor quality raw materials or poor manufacturing practices. Be aware that not all GRC is good GRC.

When GRC planters cost less than the opposition there is generally a reason and you need to be careful it is not simply because of cost cutting from high volume producers. As you could imagine, when there are multiple layers of distribution between a manufacturer and yourself there are also the same multiple layers of on-cost. Therefore, to keep the end price competitive when resellers are involved, manufacturers at the front end of supply chains are under great pressure to keep their manufacturing costs down. This is often reflected in the poor quality of their products.

Conclusion

The most valuable piece of advice you will ever find on the web about sourcing GRC planter boxes for commercial projects is to choose your GRC manufacturer carefully whether you are sourcing GRC planters through a reseller or directly from the manufacturer.