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. 

  1. 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. 
  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 
  1. 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?”
  1. 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 shannon.bradford@staples.com or 336.207.5554.

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.”
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 shannon.bradford@staples.com or 336.207.5554.

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