The majority of your furniture purchases throughout the year may be sporadic. Maybe you choose to use any extra money at the end of the fiscal year to buy furniture products that you need but haven’t made a priority. Unless your procurement team has a major building renovation or school project, you likely haven’t dedicated the time and resources to budgeting for furniture needs that eventually always pop up.
Adding a cooperative purchasing organization to your procurement strategy can provide you with the necessary insight and guidance into furniture products and solutions to budget for that'll meet the needs of all your stakeholders. Through cooperative purchasing, you can achieve deeper furniture discounts and make transactions happen faster. This is because your cooperative has strong, long-term relationships with industry-leading furniture suppliers that’ll ensure you avoid issues with installation, warranty and overall furniture quality.
As you work to accommodate the needs of employees and students in evolving environments, you might find valuable perspective from OMNIA Partners lead agency City of Charlotte. We’ve talked to several of their department leaders taking advantage of the immense buying power, time and cost savings of cooperative purchasing as they source innovative furniture and design solutions for buildings across the city.
Read on to hear how the City of Charlotte’s purchasing leaders are leveraging cooperative contracts to meet tight deadlines and realize major cost savings in the furniture category and beyond.
City of Charlotte Purchasing Leaders Experience Success Through Cooperative Purchasing
"City of Charlotte’s City Procurement serves as the lead agency for furniture on behalf of OMNIA Partners," says Kay Elmore, Chief Procurement Officer. "City Procurement issued the competitive solicitation in alignment with N.C. General Statues and city policy to ensure departments have access to the products and services they need in a timely manner. City Procurement understands the value of using cooperative contracts related to economies of scale, volume discounting, improved terms and conditions, ease of use, availability, and decreased administrative burden. Cooperatives are a contract vehicle to allow us to have an agile and robust response to a variety of operational challenges on the fly."
The City of Charlotte’s Department of General Services designs, constructs, maintains and sustains capital infrastructure project, public facilities and grounds among other key responsibilities.
Nancy Tatom is the Space Planner for the City of Charlotte in the Department of General Services, Facility Operations Division. Responsible for planning, managing, and projecting space needs in the 15-floor Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, Old City Hall, and several other city-owned buildings, Tatom is frequently called upon to assist with furniture acquisitions while ensuring the furniture conforms to the building standards.
Tatom reveals her perspective now that she uses cooperatives in her strategy.
"I’ve been surprised that it’s just so easy to work with them [cooperative purchasing organizations]," says Tatom. "From the user standpoint, it’s really simple.”
In May 2020, the City Manager of Charlotte tasked Tatom’s group with overseeing and managing renovations throughout a major government building to provide safe post-pandemic workplace and ensure that other departments and divisions throughout the city had the furniture improvements needed to protect their employees and work environments from the spread of COVID-19.
“The sheer size of the project necessitated that we use our OMNIA Partners supplier Herman Miller (Alfred Williams, dealer) and utilized supplier partner Knoll (CBI, dealer) for work outside of the building,” says Tatom. “Doing this ensured that we did not have to go through time-consuming competitive bidding, endless research, etc. We were on a tight schedule to have furniture ordered, manufactured, and installed and using Alfred Williams made it a very seamless process.”
The cooperative purchasing route allowed them to complete the two-year project in five months! Not only did they cut the project time down by 75 percent, but they were also able to develop valuable furniture standards to use for future purchases.
“We were able to obtain all the product that was needed at a significant discount and in a timely manner along with updating and refreshing most all of the furniture in the building,” says Tatom. “Prior to this project, the staff used obsolete and outdated 30-year-old cubicle furnishings. Now the building has a new, fresh appearance with flexible, modern furnishings.”
Through Tatom’s experience and the perspectives of the following department leaders you’ll hear from, there’s no doubt the role of cooperative purchasing continues to gain momentum in the procurement and government spaces.
“Large municipal governments, like the City of Charlotte, will continue to grow and expand in the coming years,” says Tatom. “Having the ability to leverage the great benefits of cooperative purchasing solves many challenges that local governments face.”
Charlotte Water is the largest public water and wastewater utility in the Carolinas, serving more than a million customers in the City of Charlotte and greater Mecklenburg County. Developing Charlotte Water’s furniture purchasing strategy is Facilities/Property Supervisor Ben Smith.
Smith explains that it’s beneficial that cooperative vendors have the experience and resources to handle a variety of commercial furniture needs.
“It's one thing to go pick out a desk chair. It's another thing to plan a large-scale, multi-seat install or replacement, especially if the configuration and function are changing,” says Smith.
What is a procurement challenge you face and how do you believe cooperative contracts address that challenge?
“Any furniture request we receive that is over $10,000, which happens several times a year, these [cooperative] contracts save us a lot of indirect costs (chasing down quotes, presenting numerous options, establishing/maintaining relationships, etc.),” says Smith. “Plus, contract pricing is significantly lower than retail, whether bulk or one-off.”
What should other public agencies do to get the most value from cooperative contracts?
“1) Bring the account manager into your space early, whether or not you have a pressing furniture need,” says Smith. “Let them get a feel for what you already have so that they can be better prepared when you do have a request. 2) Provide up-to-date CAD or Revit drawings of your floor plan(s). If you don't have them, it's a good excuse to get them. This saves the added prep time of having to come out and measure any time a workstation setup is needed. 3) Accept that there are only a handful of particular items like desk chairs. These have been designed and tested for commercial use, and all have different configurations to match preferences and budget. Ask for demo units to try out for a few days.”
The Charlotte Department of Transportation (CDOT) is committed to enhancing the driving, bicycling and walking experience through planning, operating and maintaining the City's transportation choices for residents and visitors. An important objective is sustain, maintain and enhance the City's transportation infrastructure. Leading the furniture purchasing process is Michelle “LJ” Littlejohn, CDOT’s Business Division Manager.
Leveraging a cooperative in her purchasing strategy, Littlejohn says the biggest draw to cooperative contracts is the “competitive pricing.” As she works to serve stakeholders, Littlejohn’s procurement goals include ensuring needs are met as quickly as possible since most furniture purchases aren’t anticipated until a need arises during the fiscal year.
She explains they order furniture when they have the money and shared an example of how they’ve benefited from the strong vendor relationship that a cooperative offers to agencies.
“Recently, an office space wasn’t quite ready to receive the furniture we ordered so our vendor, Alfred Williams, held onto the furniture for us and didn’t charge a monthly fee,” says Littlejohn.
What should other public agencies do to get the most value from cooperative contracts?
“I think they should project what the needs are for the next fiscal year and see if a bulk purchase would be more cost effective by getting a discount,” says Littlejohn. “Perhaps have the ability to create a city-wide purchase order with standard items so departments can purchase items as needed throughout the fiscal year (if departments tend to use the same furniture/finishes).”
Solid Waste Services
Charlotte’s Solid Waste Services provides Charlotte residents with garbage, recycling, yard and bulk waste collection services. Their mission is to remain customer-focused and continually evolve to adopt more convenient, environmentally-friendly solutions to help keep Charlotte clean. Managing the furniture purchasing process is Business Manager Louie Moore. Solid Waste Services doesn’t have an internal procurement staff so Moore says they rely on citywide goods and services cooperative contracts and support for their needs.
Moore shared they were recently challenged with converting a single use office into a multi-function office, and cooperative contracts helped them do this successfully.
“Through products and solutions in the cooperative contracts, The office was outfitted with workstations that were compatible with existing furniture and workspaces existing throughout out facility,” says Moore.
Working out a relatively newer facility, Solid Waste Services’ upcoming furniture needs are generally going to be small in nature and one-off scenarios but Moore plans to continue tapping into the time and cost savings of using cooperative contracts.
“We appreciate the cooperative contracts’ ease of use when not having internal staff to conduct procurement activities,” says Moore. “This allows us to maintain consistency and uniformity with our existing office furniture.”
Streamline & Save with Cooperative Purchasing
Whether you’re purchasing for furniture, IT or facilities, your cooperative purchasing organization can help you save on time and cost while providing robust buying power that your agency or school may not have on its own. Being part of the cooperative means our subject matter experts are an extension of your team providing you industry insight into some of the most complicated categories. Leveraging cooperative contracts frees up some of your time and resources to dedicate to other organizational priorities and can make a significant impact on your team's success.
To learn more how cooperative purchasing industry-leading solutions in the furniture category, check out part 1 of our furniture blog series: Achieve Deeper Furniture Discounts through Cooperative Purchasing | OMNIA Partners