How Do Procurement People Buy Flowers? Or, Using Procurement Smarts in Everyday Life

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Procurement is basically shopping with a strong emphasis on value. Does that mean procurement people also better shoppers in their everyday lives? To find out, I asked around the office: “What have you recently used your procurement smarts to buy for yourself?”

“I don’t buy that much,” says Andrew Karpie, our research director of services and labor procurement. “And when I do, I probably don’t have any procurement smarts.” But see, a basic rule in both procurement and personal shopping is not to buy something unless there’s a very good reason to buy it.

Take, for example, flowers. They are ordinary and yet can be exorbitant in cost. And despite what it may seem, this is a complex purchasing category.

How to Source Flowers

First, Karpie says, you have to consider a list of criteria, which procurement professionals should do in any situation, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are some questions that Karpie recommends that you ask yourself:

  • Who's the recipient and what is your relationship with them?
  • Is it a one-off? Do you expect never to see them again? What would happen if you did?
  • What is the occasion? Mother's Day? Romantic? Get well soon? Funeral?
  • Does your neighbor have a lovely flower garden that you can slink into at night to source some flowers? Do police patrol your neighborhood with spotlights?
  • Can you get by with realistic artificial flowers? What if the recipient has poor vision and sense of smell?

Once you’ve answered these questions and have an idea of an appropriate item and budget, it’s time to figure out where and how to source it. Karpie says:

“Do you go to the best-in-class florist in town? The one with the brand that is sure to impress? Here’s some advice from an experienced buyer: find the self-service area where you can create your own bouquet and make some frugal choices from the marked-down flowers and twigs made available there. Usually the wrap-up with branded paper is free, but make sure they don't charge extra for ferns.

Do you go online and do the e-procurement/marketplace thing? There are some really beautiful flowers online, but they don't always cost less. If you are getting flowers for someone in another state, then you have to bite the bullet. But if you live out in the sticks and you are going to a neighbor's dinner party that night, it's not really going to work. Better to look for some wild flowers. The care you've taken will be valued more highly than a pricey bouquet. This can also work well on a date, but it depends on the person, so be careful.

Another option might be a lower cost supplier, but not the lowest. Trader Joe’s is my go-to supplier. Decent quality, pretty good selection for limited occasions and reasonable prices. OK for people you know are not picky and will be ecstatic just because you thought of them.

Then there is the low-cost provider: the supermarket. This is a last resort or good source for someone you don't care about. Some flowers are dyed, some have seen better days. If you love somebody (and want to be loved), don't purchase flowers here.”

There’s also the problem of wasted time and labor. Procurement can’t afford to agonize too long over every purchase, which is why it’s good to have a list of trusted suppliers. When in doubt (about flowers), Karpie recommends sunflowers for their value and stun factor:

“I often follow a balanced purchasing strategy based on a standard product: sunflowers. Sunflowers come at a reasonable cost, but they impress and delight. They are big and bright, [so] that's a lot of flower for your money. If properly cared for, they're good for a week, so the recipient knows they'll be getting good value for an extended period. Finally, sunflowers are unpretentious. The recipients of your flowers — unless they are snobs — will see you as a genial, authentic person, so there's a little kick-back to you as well.”

How to Source Everything Else

Well, not exactly everything else, but my colleagues have managed to use their procurement smarts to buy a wide variety of things.

“For me, it’s all about letting technology do the heavy procurement work for everything I buy. I use apps like Wikibuy to tell me if I am getting a good deal while shopping online, Skyscanner for solid flight deals and I always purchase my afternoon tea using the company’s app (Argo Tea), so I can score points and free tea bucks. I’m just doing the things I normally do, armed with smart tech apps that ‘care’ about my spending.” — Brianna Tonner, client services manager

“My wife and I had a baby late last year, so our budget and indirect spend, so to speak, have changed a lot. One procurement concept that helped with this is the idea of a purchase threshold. Basically, if a small or extra purchase fell below a certain dollar amount, we didn't need to bring it up to the other person. Not that anyone was going out and buying a new TV without talking about it first, but when your spend tendencies are, well, opposites, it helps to set a threshold for what purchases require a sourcing process (e.g., a new car seat) and which ones don't (e.g., a new pack of socks for the baby — how do babies lose so many socks?).” — Nick Heinzmann, editor of Spend Matters

“A pair of Italian leather Oxford loafers for fall. I sourced them with other savvy — and dare I say, stylish — buyers on a crowdfunding platform. I accounted for the longer manufacturing and shipping times by starting my search months in advance, and saved a pretty penny on an even prettier pair of practical shoes.” — Kendra Cato, client services manager

"In looking to buy something not only for myself, but my whole team at work, the simple tactic of re-negotiation presented itself. The thing is a (mostly, from our viewpoint) consultative value-based service offering, which — as we’ve learned from recent reporting — is a tougher peg to fit into procurement's and broader stakeholders’ ROI holes. However, a meeting in the middle for all parties involved is necessary to achieve benefits on all sides, and patient internal-stakeholder and external-facing supplier negotiation seems an effective way to get on the right path. Sigh, it’s Friday... I just want to get back to my maverick fermented-beverage spend..." — Taras Berezowsky, managing editor

As for me, I had to buy a good amount of furniture recently. So did my neighbors. So we combined our purchasing power and headed off to the local used furniture store, where we picked out lots of pieces, including probably a dozen chairs, and split them. We are also splitting the delivery costs. Think of it like a purchasing consortium, if you will.

How do you use your procurement smarts when shopping for yourself? Leave us a comment!

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