Archive for June, 2011

Health Canada, a tool for buyers in Canada that costs little yet contains a lot.

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

In Canada, it’s as simple as visiting the Health Canada Website. According to Wikipedia Health Canada (French: Santé Canada) is the department of the government of Canada with responsibility for national public health. Here you can find news releases, speeches, media notices and research a variety of data related to health and food safety within Canada.

Just as yesterdays post  “Buyers; Do you need a great place to research product quality and recall issues” that talked about The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission  the Canadian Government has many tools that buyers can use that also cost nothing. You just have to spend a little time on their site.

Sometimes the best tools are the ones you don’t have to pay for.

We look forward to and appreciates your comments.

Buyers; Do you need a great place to research product quality and recall issues?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children. The CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products – such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals – contributed significantly to the 30 percent decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

 Recalls and Product Safety News can be found at the CPSC’s website and can be searched using a number of categories, dates and other criteria such as those below.

1. Recall Number
2. Company
3. Product Type
4. Product Description
5. Hazard
6. Country/Administrative Area of Manufacture
7. Recall Date
8. UPC

You don’t always have to buy something in order to get your job done. Sometimes just knowing where to find the information can be the hardest part of your job. Now you have one fewer places to look.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Rain, Wheat and Pasta!

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

For weeks, North Dakota and Montana, the nation’s two largest producers of durum wheat have been pounded with heavy rain that will likely mean a drop of up to 47% of durum wheat production. 

Durum wheat, or “macaroni wheat”, is the hardest of all wheat types and that together with its high protein and gluten content make it the perfect wheat to be used in the manufacturing of pasta.

Due to the heavy rains farmers have been unable to get crops planted and even now they are out of time to plant crops in time to avoid the pre-winter frosts and will likely have a little more than half of the durum wheat production as normal, affecting prices of related products all over the world.
Durum wheat was up over 52% in May and the May U.S. pasta prices were the most expensive on record while other durum wheat producers like Canada saw prices jump 47% in May.  With fewer acres of wheat being produced the pasta prices will be affected accordingly.

Companies producing pasta products like Kraft with their Macaroni and Cheese and Campbells with products ranging from noodle-based soups to Spaghettios, have already announced increases in many of their products due to the lack of durum wheat production and subsequent higher durum wheat prices.

In product categories such as this one it is more important than ever to make sure that you are doing everything you can to keep the cost of goods controlled with tighter contracts containing index terminology and keeping the pricing you receive as competitive as possible. 

When the supply of product takes a huge decrease in relation to its demand, the opportunity for competitive pricing events becomes a little more difficult, as vendors will have plenty of places to sell their product. 

This may be a time to get more creative in other ways as far as length of contracts, other services or products you may agree to take on, or other considerations that will allow you to get competitive pricing on a high demand product category.  It is hard to predict what climatic conditions such as all of the spring rain will do  to agricultural products, but smart procurement professionals can learn to leverage other techniques in order to keep their costs for products affected by these conditions under control.

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist your company with sourcing these goods and services, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We hope you have enjoyed last week’s  Five Part Series and look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Sourcing with RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and Surveys – Part 5 of 5

Friday, June 24th, 2011

This week we have covered a lot of ground in defining the different methods of gathering internal and external details needed to help make important procurement decisions.  Today we will wrap the discussion up by tying those processes into the final piece of the puzzle of gathering competitive pricing.

The Request For Quote, RFQ, process is usually one of, if not the last process, that occurs before a company begins contract negotiations with a vendor.  It can take many forms from online bid submission, to blind paper bids to a popular new method which many people refer to as a “reverse auction”.  The goal of this phase no matter how the information is collected is the same; procure the most competitive prices on a specific spend so that a contract can be negotiated.

Many times the RFP process will double as an RFQ where the details about a company and their capability to deliver the items or services you need are combined with a collection of specific pricing information as it relates to the project.  When this occurs vendors are encouraged to submit their best pricing but that pricing alone will not determine the award of business.
Even if the RFQ portion is included in the RFP, many companies will take a handful of vendors or a “short list” and allow them the opportunity to be more competitive in their pricing, especially when vendors are so similar in what they are offering in every other way.  This gives vendors the opportunity to differentiate themselves in the process in a way they may not be able to do in the way of experience or in the goods they are bidding on alone. 

RFQs can often be run with no additional information gathering at all.  For instance if you have purchased 100,000 plastic bags for the past 25 years, you know the breakdown goes to these 4 locations and you have all the specifications defined, it is appropriate and even beneficial for savings to go straight into an RFQ.  This event allows companies to stand out in an area they have control over in order to get your business.  In this case, going straight to an RFQ makes perfect sense and in order to begin realizing those prices as quickly as possible it should be the move every company proceeds with. 

The other nice thing about RFQs is that they can provide a small channel to gather information from the vendors that would help clarify any other value they might be able to offer.  This is useful for situations where price is the most important criteria but you want to provide the possibility that vendors may be able to give you additional services or terms that would allow them to distinguish themselves in ways they may not be able to do in price alone.

At the end of an RFQ you will have details about the suppliers and their capabilities either from historical spends or through an RFI/RFP process and you will have all of their pricing needed to make a decision on who the best supplier for your company will be, taking you to the “endpoint” of the process which is contract negotiation.

In the past five days we have covered several different processes in procuring products or services, but it all boils down to this: you have a beginning point which is the need for something and you have the end point which is the signed contract defining how that need will be fulfilled.  In between is the place where the type of information you have and the type of information you need must be evaluated so that the journey from beginning to end is as smooth and organized for your company as possible.

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist your company with sourcing these goods and services, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We hope you have enjoyed this week’s series and look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Sourcing with RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and Surveys – Part 4 of 5

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

For the past 3 days we have been focusing on the gathering of external information in order to make the proper procurement decisions.  Today we will be looking into when it is necessary to gather internal information before reaching out to the suppliers even happens.

Looking back at Monday’s blog there were some basic questions that need to be asked before every sourcing project. 

• Do you know who you vendors are for a specific item or service across your company and do you know how much you spend with each? 
• Do you have current contract or agreement details?
• Are your divisions, regions or offices pleased with the quality of product and service they get currently?
• Are there other companies out there that parts of your business would like to include but don’t currently today?

The answers to these questions will dictate whether or not you know enough about the sourcing project you are about to begin to proceed with a Request For Information/Proposal.  Before any communication goes to the external supplier community it is critical to have an understanding of what your company is doing today and where the potential holes are in the procurement processes for these goods or services.

Proceeding with an internal survey involves a number of factors to consider.

• What tool will I use to collect the information from the company and does that tool allow for submission of the survey without requiring login information?
• Who will handle the survey process including the initial communication, gathering and return of the collection of responses? (Many times your 3rd party sourcing partner will provide this service for you)
• Who do I want to collect information from?  (Many times this will be dependent on how your company is divided, ie Districts, States, Divisions, Territories)
• What information do I need to collect in order to move forward intelligently with an RFI/RFP?

The keys to internal surveys are to make them as succinct as possible and to make sure you include everyone you need input from.  The first way to derail a sourcing project is to find out 2 weeks into it that someone’s input was not collected and sends the project back to the beginning.

Another very important key for internal surveys is to attach a manageable but small window for answering.  More often than not, the more time you provide respondents to answer the worse your response rate is and the more delays you introduce.  Tight timeframes usually lead to respondents taking the time right then to answer as soon as they get the invitation to participate.

In the end the goal of the internal survey is to have the information needed to begin speaking with suppliers.  To refer back to a phrase used in Monday’s blog, internal surveys are conducted in order to “know what you don’t know.”

Tomorrow we will wrap up this series by discussing how all of this information ties into the formal detailed price gathering or Request For Quote.

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist your company with sourcing these goods and services, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Sourcing with RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and Surveys – Part 3 of 5

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Yesterday’s post began to uncover the search for information needed to make important sourcing decisions by highlighting the Request For Information (RFI) process.  Today we take a look at the Request For Proposal (RFP) process, how it compares to an RFI and when you need one.  Let’s begin by looking at how the two processes are different.

Project details – Typically you will not have all of the details necessary to provide the suppliers on what it is you are going to do in an RFI.  With an RFP it is necessary to have those details and be able to effectively communicate to the suppliers what the sourcing project is going to look like, complete with the quality and amount of product or service you need and if necessary to what regions of the country/world this project applies.  It takes much more time to prepare an effective RFP than it does for an RFI because you need to supply as much information about what you want as the suppliers do in answering.

Pricing – As touched on above, there is a much more focused request for pricing details in an RFP than in an RFI.  RFIs ask general questions about fees and how a supplier charges for their products or services while an RFP requires specific pricing as it relates to their project.  (i.e. An RFI would ask “What types of fees are associated with buying your product?” an RFP would ask “What are the fees associated with buying 25,000 of your product with these specifications and having it delivered in 3 groups to 5 regions throughout the U.S.?”)

Next steps – The other major way the two differ is in the expected next steps.  With an RFI a customer is looking to gather basic information about companies in order to determine the handful they wish to proceed with seriously considering.  Conversely, in an RFP the goal is to collect much more detailed information about the supplier and their capability to deliver as well as enough project specific pricing and product or service details to allow you to proceed immediately into negotiating a contract.  In some cases there will be a short list of vendors invited to compete further on pricing or present their offering to the customer before the final contract is completed.

Going back to Monday’s blog, in an RFI “we don’t know what we don’t know” and we gather accordingly.  In an RFP, “we KNOW what we don’t know” and that process is the time to collect it from your selected vendors.
Tomorrow we will focus on internal information gathering in the form of surveys, when to use them and what to expect from them.

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist your company with sourcing these goods and services, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Sourcing with RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and Surveys – Part 2 of 5

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

According to, a Request For Information is a “request made typically during the project planning phase where a buyer cannot clearly identify product requirements, specifications, and purchase options. RFIs clearly indicate that award of a contract will not automatically follow.”

RFIs are generally externally facing and have a sole purpose of gathering enough information about a company, their experience and details about their products or services to create a list of suppliers you want to pursue, each of whom has a legitimate chance to be awarded the business.  As mentioned above, this is rarely a final step before the “award of business.”

During an RFI you want to understand who a company is, how long they have been in business, who their customers are, what industries they service and specialize in, how many employees they have dedicated to the business you are looking to award them, as well as details about what they are offering for a good or service.

This stage of the information gathering process would be equivalent to that first trip shopping for a new car; where you let the salesperson know up front “We are just starting to look and gather information.  This is not a decision making day as we have other dealerships to visit before we narrow it down.”  The reason for this is twofold.  First you are doing the suppliers the courtesy of not investing too much time in a process where 30-40% won’t make a short list for round two.  Secondly, it saves time in the initial evaluation of the responses as RFIs generally involve 15-20 (or more) companies.

Looking back at the basic questions from yesterday’s blog, let’s see how they fit within the definition of an RFI.   If the answer to “Is this something you have purchased before?” is “No” and you are looking for a service or the specification for the product is not well defined, an RFI should absolutely be standard practice.

Also, if the answer to “Are there additional features or services you are not currently purchasing that you would like to gather information on from suppliers? “ is “Yes” then investing in the RFI process will save you an incredible amount of time later when you get closer to deciding who you want to gather quotes from.   Going back to “you don’t know what you don’t know”, new services generally fall into the “don’t know” bucket and RFIs can help with that to a large extent.

The object of an RFI is to gather enough information about the project so that you can provide the vendor community enough data to give accurate details and pricing for their involvement in a more focused next step which is usually a Request For Proposal (RFP).

Tomorrow we will cover RFPs, how are they are different than RFIs and when you should use them.

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist your company with this process, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Sourcing with RFIs, RFPs, RFQs and Surveys – Part 1 of 5

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Information rules the world and the sourcing world is no exception.  It is often said “you only know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know.”  This may seem like a simple concept but it is amazing how often it gets ignored and decisions get made without people having all the facts they need to properly make those decisions.

In this week’s series, we will be exploring how simple information gathering techniques can help make better million dollar decisions and we will finally answer the reoccurring question “What really is the difference between an RFI and RFP and an RFQ and when should I use them?” Before we do that let’s focus on determining what, if any of these things, is needed to make the right purchasing decisions.

When faced with an upcoming purchasing decision there are several factors that need to be determined to know which direction to take should you need to gather additional internal or external information.

• Is this something you have purchased before?
• If this is not a new purchase, do you have current copies of contracts or agreements for these items or services?
• Is it clear who is providing this product or service across your entire company?  (In many cases, the larger the company the hazier the answer to this question becomes.)
• Are the current suppliers national companies or is there a mix of regional vendors included?
• Is it clear within your organization how much is being spent and is that information broken down by region, state, division or some other fashion?
• Are you pleased with the performance and quality of the item(s) or service(s) your incumbent supplies?
• Are there additional features or services you are not currently purchasing that you would like to gather information on from suppliers?

These are the basic questions that need to be asked before determining if more information needs to be collected.  In the end all of these questions lead to this, “Do I have what I need to supply information to potential vendors and then properly and fairly evaluate their responses in order to make a purchasing decision?”

Later this week we will dissect the different methods of information gathering as it relates to the questions above, explaining the purpose and expected result of each in order for you to determine, project by project, which will serve you best.

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist your company with this process, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Getting to know your specifications.

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Here is a challenge: Pick a product that you purchase and write out a specification. Be specific and include components and peripherals. Take it a step further and write down how many and how often you purchase. Finally, what is the price you are currently paying for this product? Is that the same price you agreed to pay when at the beginning of the contract?

This exercise may seem basic, but this knowledge is a vital component of the procurement process. Here is a list of potential red flags that may mean it is time to research your products.

     1. All of your product data is in the form of a vendor invoice.
     2. You are uncertain of your order volumes or frequencies.
     3. You have been placing the exact same orders for years.
     4. Your pricing fluctuates often.

Be honest with yourself; is there room for improvement in product knowledge? I would encourage you to reach out to your strategic sourcing partner for suggestions. Aside from dollar savings results, you will also benefit from having a complete set of product specifications, vendor information and more at the completions of your strategic sourcing process. 

For more information on SafeSourcing and how we can assist with this process, please contact a Customer Service Representative for more information.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.

Do your buyers ever consider what type of auctions they need to run or the features they should use within each e- negotiation session?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Today’s strategic sourcing platforms have incorporated many features within their overall offerings that are there to drive behavior in your favor. Most companies don’t use many of them.

Can your supply chain leaders tell you what a blind auction is? How about an RFQ or a turbo auction?  What about a Dutch auction? Can they tell you what a reserve price is? What about the difference between and RFI and an RFP. How about when to use and RFI,RFP or RFQ?

Today’s reality is that many supply chain professionals can not give you a clean definition of the many types of auctions or the tools used to enhance participation within the auctions. This is really too bad because most of the terminology has been adapted from traditional procurement practices and negotiation strategies. Understanding these terms and where they play in the negotiation framework can help procurement professionals whether they are negotiating with on line tools or in person.

If you are already using on line negotiation or e-procurement tools, your solution provider should have a checklist they go over with you for each e-negotiation sessiont. This checklist should cover all of the options available to you and your provider should be able to discuss the strategy behind the use of these features.

Don’t be blind to the opportunity to drive maximum savings by not discussing strategy with your solution provider on every session you run. If you are doing everything yourself  i.e. self service, it might be time for a one day work session from a leading provider in order to make sure that you have all your bases covered.

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.