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Maximize your purchasing power.

Among the many hats we wear as laboratory managers is that of chief purchasing agent for our department. Even though hospital have purchasing departments that approve and issue purchase orders, we should be calling the shots regarding the technical supplies and equipment we need for the clinical laboratory.

It's true that in the scheme of things, the prices of reagents, consumables, and other supplies pale in comparison with personnel costs. Still, it is easier to control things than people. Paying close attention to what's available can often achieve substantial savings without negatively affecting our operations or staff, especially over time. Like the wise shopper who does research, clips coupons, and hunts for bargains, lab directors can and must buy wisely for the laboratory, too. Simple rules for intelligent purchasing follow.

* Scrutinize "deals." Suppose a salesperson approaches you and says, "I want to give you a free Mercedes." You ask, "What's the catch?" "No catch," the individual replies. "You just have to buy all your gas at my gas station. By the way, the gas costs $10.00 per gallon and you have to buy at least 100 gallons a month." You would surely think twice before signing up for such a deal. Why then are so many supervisors and managers bamboozled into acquiring so-called "free" analyzers to use in the laboratory?

We must resist this over-convenient way to acquire capital equipment. Before purchasing an instrument, ask vendors to supply three price quotes: one for purchase, another to lease, and a third to rent. Only then can you select the best deal for your institution.

* Shun dubious guarantees. "Of course we'll take it out if it doesn't work" is a vendor's usual response when asked what will happen if a product falls below expectations. Realistically, however, count on a great deal of finger pointing on both sides if disagreements ensue.

During negotiations - usually the only time you have any leverage with the vendor - try to hammer out levels of performance, how performance will be measured, and what actions will be taken if established performance criteria are not met. Urge the vendor to put his money where his mouth is. If he's selling a top-quality product, he should stand behind it. If he can't, you should look elsewhere.

* Avoid phantom reps. It's amazing how quickly the sales representative who camped outside your office for weeks disappears as soon as a purchase order is signed. While it is understood that salespeople need to move on to the next sale, part of their job is to stay in touch with clients to keep them happy.

Reputable sales reps check in with their customers occasionally and respond quickly to any problems or concerns. They view their relationships with the client as a marriage. Stay away from salespeople who treat you like a one-night stand.

* Explore alternatives. Have you ever noticed how many complacent lab managers continue to renew major orders with the same vendors year after year? Have they made sure the product continues to outclass those of all competitors? Understandably, harried managers frequently can't find the time or energy to perform correlation studies, implement methodology changes, and facilitate other activities necessary for making major changes in supplies, suppliers, or equipment. Furthermore, laboratorians may hesitate to offend friendly sales reps with whom they have done business "forever." Nevertheless, even if you are satisfied with a vendor's merchandise and service, you should routinely bid out products to be sure that you are consistently receiving the lowest price and the most favorable terms available.

* Examine the fine print. While it is easy to gloss over the fine print of a contract or purchase order, such an oversight can come back to haunt you. Ignoring such details as shipping dates, freight costs, and invoice payment schedules can cut into cash flow and nullify much of the saving for which you negotiated. Before you dose a deal, know precisely what you are about to sign.

In shopping for the tools of our trade, we must model ourselves after Ralph Nader. Paying attention to our purchasing duties helps keep our departments running effectively, It would be a tragedy if our negligence of the bottom line forced us into more serious budget reductions - such as staff cuts.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Author:Maratea, James M.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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