How to Choose the Right Supplier
Your drawings and your request for proposal are ready to go. You've worked with welded aluminum vessels, dewars, shields — all the elements of "dumb" components of your detector system — but never purchased any of these parts before. You've seen how parts built right make your integration tasks a breeze. Maybe you've seen how parts built wrong can make those same integration tasks a nightmare. The big questions before you are:
Based on thousands of customer discussions, and our yearly customer surveys, we present the following with the hope that it will help you make the right supplier choice for your situation.
Who to send the bid to?
- Today most people start their search for suppliers on the internet! Focus your search terms as tightly as possible, then broaden if needed. Word of mouth references from colleagues in the field are also a good source of suppliers.
- Follow up your research with a phone call. Things to ask and think about include:
- Before you start, make yourself a checklist or use our Supplier Sourcing Checklist. You'll be talking to a number of people, no doubt with lots of normal interruptions. You want to prevent confusion.
- If you ended up in voice mail, how long did it take for a return call? This could be an indication of the supplier's responsiveness.
- Identify yourself, your institution, the project you are working on, and supply contact information. The more a supplier knows about your needs, the more connections they can make to previous projects to help you decide if they are a fit.
- Ask straight out: Have you built "X" before? For whom? What project? When? What size/shape were the parts? If you're not satisfied with these answers, move on to the next call.
- Other good questions are: What do you do in house? What do you subcontract? Who would be my contact for technical or schedule issues? Contract issues? Are your welders qualified to ASME Section IX? Do you do your own helium leak testing? What size parts can you do? Can you assist with manufacturability issues? What level of detail are you used to working with on drawings? What sort of pre-weld and final cleaning procedures do you have in place?
- THIS IS IMPORTANT. Ask for references. Explore possible mutual connections with the supplier (six degrees of separation). The best reference for both of you will be someone you both know.
- Follow up and contact the references.
- How do you decide to whom to tender a request?
- If their references don't check out, skip them.
- Follow your instinct. You're sending out the request, not an order. If you've received good reference feedback and had a good conversation, try them out.
- If you want to be analytical about it, look at your checklist. Assign a weight (0-5) to each item. Add up the scores — voila — pick your winners.
How do I identify the best offer? or How do I pick the right supplier?
- If initial bid price is all that matters, then your task is easy. Send out the bids and pick the lowest.
- We make buying decisions all the time. Most are trivial, and some are really important. I think we can agree that the selection of the supplier for the vacuum vessel, dewar, etc. will make the difference between real "plug and play" integration vs. a more complicated process to integrate the component.
- From our yearly customer surveys we see five factors that influence buying decisions. These are PRICE, QUALITY, SCHEDULE, EXPERIENCE, and RESPONSIVENESS. Each customer values these factors differently. The evaluation of these factors based on the bid responses leads to the determination of the BEST COST.
- EXPERIENCE: Who are the supplier's customers? What value contracts do they give them? Are the references enthusiastic or lukewarm about the supplier?
- QUALITY: Hard to quantify. Use the supplied references. Ask for more if you are not sure. Anyone you are asking to bid should be able to supply three good references, but what about six or ten?
- RESPONSIVENESS: Again, what do the references say? How were you treated during the bid? What sort of information/feedback did you get in the quotation? Did you get a price or a reasonable explanation of what to expect?
- SCHEDULE: Be up front with the supplier about schedule. Tight schedules often can lead to higher prices. If the schedule is important, indicate it in the request document. Ask the references about delivery.
- PRICE: Easiest to evaluate, but the lowest price is not always your best choice.