Building a good, solid, durable piece of furniture requires attention to detail and a grasp of the intricacies involved. The same can be said for the process of purchasing furniture for a charter school, says Karen Volner, National Business Development Director, Furniture, for the State/Local Government & Education (SLED) area at Staples Business Advantage, the business-to-business division of the national office supply outlet. “A lot of it is common sense and being observant.”
Here in the second of two articles offering charter school decision-makers suggestions on furniture procurement (click here for Part 1), we focus on execution, with six more tips to help schools navigate the nuts-and-bolts practicalities and nuances of the actual purchasing process.
- Order early in the buying cycle to ensure timely delivery. It’s every school’s worst nightmare: Students and staff show up for the first day of school to find classrooms missing critical pieces of furniture because they’re on back-order. Dodge that scenario by placing orders before the purchasing season glut inundates manufacturers, suggests Shannon Bradford, Senior Manager, Vertical Markets – K12, for Staples Business Advantage. “The earlier they can get orders in, the better.”That means initiating conversations with vendors in the fall, explains Sydney Bear, a school furniture-focused account consultant for Staples Business Advantage in Colorado, then deepening those conversations early in the new year, and placing orders during the first quarter of the calendar year, to provide manufacturers with plenty of lead time.
- Place orders with manufacturers during their off-season/non-peak season. Getting an early jump on furniture procurement can give schools an edge, according to Volner. “Place orders in the winter months with manufacturers, during their off-season, and you may get a better price.” Typically that off-season runs November through February, she says.
- Take advantage of all-inclusive deals that package design, assembly/install and other support services. Oftentimes schools can get the most value from one-stop-shopping, where their furniture supplier also provides planning/design and installation services. These services “can be a lot more expensive if you’re paying for them separately,” Volner notes. It’s also worth noting that those package deals often give a school access to a team of service providers — a designer, an install specialist and an account coordinator to oversee the end-to-end process.
- Consolidate spend and the number of vendors with which you do business. Safety is paramount for schools, so doing business with fewer vendors/suppliers helps control who gains access to school grounds, Volner points out. Consolidating spend with fewer vendors/suppliers also may benefit the bottom line. “This is a volume-driven business,” she says, “so if you know you’re going to need a certain furniture product now, and you’re going to need more of that product in a year or two, when you build a new school, then it makes sense to consolidate that order, because you’ll most likely get a better price and better freight rates, too.” Likewise, instead of ordering similar products from multiple manufacturers, consolidate that order with a single manufacturer to access volume discounts.
- Kick the tires before committing. “Don’t make decisions based on the photography you see in a catalog,” Volner advises. Instead, reach out and touch the actual products you’re considering buying. Ask a distributor to bring in product samples. Visit a showroom. Or, preferably, visit another school where that product is in use, to experience how it functions, and how it has performed and aged over time. “You would never buy a car without driving it first. Why not kick the tires on furniture before you buy it?”
- Know what’s in the warranty or guarantee. Much of the value of school furniture lies in the warranty associated with a product. So be sure you’re clear on the warranty that backs the products you’re considering, keeping in mind that sometimes distributors and suppliers offer their own warranties or guarantees to backstop those offered by a manufacturer. Then be sure to read the fine print of the warranty. A warranty can reveal much about the expected quality of a product. If it comes down to choosing between a low-cost desk with a one-year warranty and a desk that’s slightly more expensive but comes with a lifetime warranty, the wise move might be to choose the slightly more expensive option.
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.