What price quality?

Mike SerridgeI know procurement professionals are trained in ethical trading, good quality and reliable supply chains. So why do many professional buyers seem to forget these principles the moment they qualify?

If purchasers invested half as much time researching quality and reliability as they do squeezing price, they would know more about what they are buying and secure best value more often.

My own buyer is a tough negotiator and does a good job for my company, but in the early days of his employment 
I had to reel him in because he was 
buying sub-standard products and using unreliable suppliers, both of which were causing problems. He said he felt the more he could squeeze suppliers, he would be recognised as doing a good job. Thankfully, he now takes a balanced approach.

I supply school furniture, often as a sub-contractor, to large contractors. Such is the pressure on their staff to find savings and protect margin, they pay lip service to all other criteria and an enormous amount of energy and time is consumed in pursuit of every half of one per cent.

Many suppliers are left with no alternative but to exploit every weakness and ambiguity in the specification to find 
a saving. Many will even gamble on the inability of the buyer to identify any difference between what is specified and supplied.

Many suppliers secure work on this basis, and the product fails a long time before the end user expects it to last.

You may say we need tighter specs, and suppliers have to get better at promoting quality. But that is easier said than done if the purchaser does not have to use the product or service they are buying.

I have always said to buyers that I’m prepared to work ‘open book’ with them, but they have no interest. The need to 
pay my suppliers a fair price, keep my workforce employed and the right to 
make a living does not feature in their pursuit of the lowest price.

While I would never suggest all professional buyers are the same, my views have formed from dealing with a large number in the past 40 years. If anything, it is a more aggressive and less honourable environment now than ever before.

They are not bad people, but it is clear they operate in a culture that compels them to apply working methods others would question. This is regarded as ‘normal’ and with a ‘business is business’ attitude. Everyone has a first duty to their own, but some seemingly have little or no sense of duty to the wider community.

A cultural change is needed. But how will that happen when large corporations of every type operate with a single-minded focus on directors’ bonuses and shareholders’ dividends?

☛ Mike Serridge is the managing director of S+B UK

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