Of all the items on a charter school’s lengthy procurement shopping list, furniture has to be among the simplest to purchase, right? After all, how much nuance could there be to buying chairs, desks, storage cabinets and the like?
Plenty, it turns out. “I would never say [school furniture procurement] is straightforward,” observes Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, for Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of the national office supply outlet. “There are so many things a school needs to consider when they are purchasing furniture.”
As complex and high-dollar as furniture purchases can be, there’s ample opportunity for charter school procurement decision-makers to uncover hidden value and make their dollars go further, but also the potential for them to leave money on the table, and to leave their students and staff with substandard equipment.
In the first of a two-part series, BuyQ speaks with experts from the world of school furniture procurement to uncover their suggestions on how charter schools can succeed with their furniture buys, year in and year out. Part 1 focuses on fundamental strategic considerations to lay the groundwork for smart furniture purchasing. In Part 2, we’ll focus on the practicalities of the actual purchasing process.
- Give true cost more weight than upfront price. Don’t let a low initial price tag overshadow quality considerations, says Bradford. “Do you want furniture that lasts a few years or for decades? You need to look at the total lifespan of the product.” Durability is especially important for high-use furniture, adds Karen Volner, National Business Development Director, Furniture, for the State/Local Government & Education (SLED) area within Staples Business Advantage.
- Consider buying through a group purchasing contract or co-op instead of issuing an RFP or bid solicitation. “Utilizing a group or cooperative contract instead of issuing your own RFP or putting a purchase out to bid will speed up the process, and save you time and money,” posits Bradford. Not only can group purchasing organizations and co-ops provide access to a broader range of vendors and products, along with deeper discounts due to their buying power, they also do much of the work of vetting multiple vendors/suppliers and setting terms, sparing schools compliance headaches and the substantial time commitment associated with managing an RFP or bid solicitation.
- Prioritize your needs. Because there’s no such thing as a bottomless budget, schools should get clear about their furniture procurement priorities before they start the procurement process, says Sydney Bear, a school furniture-focused account consultant for Staples in Colorado. “What’s your priority for a particular purchase? If it’s desks and chairs for students, then maybe you decide to spend more there and less elsewhere.”
- Put a premium on flexibility, mobility and power access. Multiple configuration options are a must in equipping the classrooms of today — and planning for the classrooms of tomorrow. So look for tables and chairs that are mobile and adjustable, configurable and modular, Volner suggests. “I recommend anticipating as few build-ins as possible.” Also consider sit-stand desks, not only for their flexibility but for their ability to address childhood health and obesity concerns. And because cutbacks in custodial staff mean fewer hands to move furniture, consider purchasing furniture that’s easy for classroom instructors to move themselves. In a digital-device-centric learning environment, “power is the number one commodity people are looking for,” she adds. So be sure to specify furniture that comes equipped with enough power outlets.
- Pay attention to compliance requirements and quality benchmarks. Some jurisdictions require that certain types of furniture carry indoor air quality certification. Others must adhere to product quality or sustainable materials benchmarks. Be sure to do your due diligence to confirm if any such requirements apply to your organization. Asking the legal counsel or compliance officer for your organization is a good first step.
- Get input in advance from key staff members. Chances are the people for whom moving furniture is part of their job description — maintenance, custodial and buildings & ground staff — will have some valuable insight into what types of furniture work best in certain spaces. The interplay between tech devices and lighting in specific spaces may also factor into the type of furniture chosen for those spaces, so be sure to consult tech staff early in the process.
Interested in learning how Staples Business Advantage can help you furnish your school, classroom or cafeteria? Contact Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, Staples Business Advantage, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336.207.5554.