Knotweed and Incontinence Products Show Variety of Public Sector Procurement!

We recently published our analysis of the differences between public and private sector procurement, starting with the four fundamental differences, then getting into the arguments one might have over which sector was “better” in procurement terms. In reality, it is not a case of being better or worse, but there are some significant differences.

We said that one positive in the public sector is the wide variety of people that many procurement professionals get to work with – from soldiers to nurses, from member sof the general public to leading political figures. But we should also have added that the public sector probably buys a wider range of goods and services than the private sector.

The breadth of that range of purchases was highlighted for us at the recent Procurex South event. We stopped at a number of exhibition stands for a chat, and two of the highlights cold not be more different.

Japanese Knotweed is a company that – surprise, surprise – specialises in removing Japanese Knotweed! That is pretty much all the firm does, but it has grown to some 40 people. Their clients include private individuals and construction firms, but often it is local councils or housing associations who engage their services. The plant itself is a menace; extremely difficult to kill off, and capable of growing through foundations and buildings.

Removing it and making sure it does not come back is an expert job, and the firm had some great pictures around their stand showing the lengths they go to in order to eradicate the knotweed. “There is a lot of bad advice out there; go onto the Internet and you will find people recommending options that won’t work and in fact help the spread of the plant”, one of the team told me.  "It is illegal to just dump it at the tip, for example! " We guess that the KPIs if you engage the firm are simple anyway; get rid of it, and make sure it doesn’t come back.

Another stop on our tour of the hall was at a stand where at first, we couldn’t work out exactly what the firm did – lots of pictures of something branded “Intends”.  But luckily their commercial manager, Stacey Corbin, an ex-nurse herself, was there to fill us in – “incontinence products” is the category.

OK, not very interesting, you might think, but in a short conversation we touched on supply chain structure issues – the parent company, Domtar, is a paper and pulp manufacturer so has that vertical integration through to making the final product, unlike some of their competitors. Then there are also the market dynamics to consider. Domtar is not the market leader, but the firm claims to have a better product, so is trying to get that message over to clinicians and procurement folk.

I asked whether they spent a lot on events and promotions aimed at those clinicians. That used to be quite a problem for procurement people, with clinicians making product selection decisions sometimes based on the wrong reasons. No, said Corbin, those days were gone – “you really can’t do anything like that today, the rules are much stricter”. That’s good news anyway, and it was also good to see Corbin’s genuine enthusiasm for both her product and for helping the NHS and citizens.

So some of us in procurement get to buy fashion, VIP travel services or fancy vehicles. Some of us get to buy knotweed removal services and incontinence pads. But there are interesting aspects to every market, supplier, product or service once you dig into it a little. I guess that’s one of the reasons so many of us do think procurement is still a pretty good place to work, whichever sector we’re in.

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