If you fail to devote enough attention to your purchasing, your cost of doing business could rise to an unnecessarily high level.
As operating expenses increase, profit margins shrink, you would either have to live with lower profits or raise your prices, and neither of these choices is appealing. By keeping your costs under control, you’ll be able to keep your prices at competitive levels and maintain a desirable profit.
To purchase wisely, you need to buy the right quality and quantity of materials or products at the best possible price and at the appropriate time from the best vendor.
The purchasing process is much more streamlined in small companies than in larger businesses, especially when the businesses are still fairly new. The owner usually decides what to buy, when to buy, where to buy, and how much to buy. As the business grows, however, the owner may no longer be able to handle this task and will have to delegate it to others. While a small business probably won’t need to create an entire purchasing department, it will need to have a purchasing manager. By selecting one person to manage all of the business’s purchasing activities, you will decrease the risk of duplicating orders for the same materials.
- The purchasing policy, according to the SBA, should answer the following questions:
- Who has the authority to purchase items for the company?
- What items can that person purchase? Are there any spending limitations?
- What are the business’s requirements for adequate supplier competition and what criteria will be used to select possible vendors?
- What is the company’s position on the acceptance of gifts?
- Which types of contracts can the business enter into with successful bidders or vendors?
- What is the company’s position on conflict of interest and personal loans from suppliers?
- What kinds of information does the company consider confidential?
- What is the procedure for dealing with legal questions?
The Ordering System
The steps your employees and purchasing manager will follow to request, order, receive and pay for goods and materials make up your ordering system. A good ordering system will help maintain satisfactory supplier relations, improve cash management, aid in inventory control, and increase the overall profitability of your company.
The Purchase Order
Once the purchasing manager has received a requisition, her or she will need to select a supplier and check the price of the items ordered. After agreeing on a price, the purchasing manager will send a purchase order to the supplier. This order is a formal request to the supplier to deliver materials or supplies according to the terms and prices agreed upon. Purchase orders, like requisition forms, can help small businesses keep track of their purchasing activities. Firms can refer to their purchase orders to see if suppliers have shipped the correct goods in the correct quantity. They can also see if suppliers are delivering goods on time. Purchase orders can also serve as support in any legal disputes if they arise between you and the supplier.
Although you can write out purchase orders by hand, you would give a better impression if you used standard multi-part forms that you can purchase at any stationery store. They should include information such as the type of product or service you are ordering, the quantity desired, price and delivery terms. The orders should also have an area for any additional information. Purchase orders should also include your company name, address, telephone and fax numbers, and logo. You can simply write in this information, stamp this information on your purchase orders with a rubber stamp, or design and print your own purchase order forms. Purchase orders should have at least three parts: a vendor copy, an internal file copy, and an accounting copy.
A packing list will accompany orders you receive. Make sure that the items shipped match the items indicated on the packing list. Inspect all of the items shipped carefully, paying special attention to items that appear damaged. Initial the packing list to verify receipt and file it in a folder until you receive the invoice for the shipment. In many cases, you won’t have to send payment with your order; your suppliers will either include an invoice with the shipment or send the invoice to you separately soon after sending your order. When the invoice arrives, check it against the packing list and the purchase order. Write a check for the appropriate amount, note the check number on a copy of the invoice, and file the invoice and packing list.
Although purchasing is certainly an important task and deserved careful attention, you will not be able to spend the same amount of time on all of your purchases, nor should you. More expensive items, for instance, deserve more careful attention and consideration than less expensive ones. The following four considerations will help you decide what items deserve the most attention, according to the SBA:
- Unit cost. The SBA recommends that you give more attention to costly items than to less expensive ones. The more money you have tied up in a given type of inventory product, the more attention you need to give to that product in your purchasing, even if you sell few of these expensive items.
- Extended cost. The SBA points out that some items may have a low cost, but you may buy and sell them in high volume. In this case, you may need to give a higher priority to these items, although their unit cost is fairly low.
- Lead time. You need to consider the time to allow between ordering an item and receiving it. If a low-cost item has a long lead time, for instance, you would need to make regular checks on its delivery status. In that case, the SBA says, you may need priority.
- Shipment rejection. If there is a high possibility you will reject an item because of technical problems or deficiencies in quality, the SBA suggests assigning it a high priority.
The Costs of Buying
In addition to the cost of goods you buy, you also have to pay and account for the costs of acquiring and carrying inventory.
Before you can approach a supplier, you need to know where to find them. You need to be aware of where you can find suppliers both before you begin business and after you have started. Keep looking for new suppliers. To look for suppliers in your area, search online and consult the Business-to-Business Yellow Pages and your local Chamber of Commerce. To broaden your search, consult websites, publications and associations pertaining to your industry; these sources should be able to give you a number of leads.
Many trade associations and publications publish directories listing suppliers to their industries. If you require industrial or mechanical equipment, consult manufacturers’ directories such as the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers. Finally, talk to your employees. They may know of excellent suppliers you might use.
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