Web Resource Propels Post-Katrina Procurement
Located about 10 miles north of Baton Rouge, the City of Zachary, LA, was spared extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina but quickly stepped in to assist those in need after the storm hit.
Combining the resources of a metropolitan area with the charm of small-city living (just over 11,000 residents), Zachary boasts one of the better school systems in the area, so it was natural that the city would welcome New Orleans students.
Before the storm, Zachary’s four schools (two elementary, one middle, and one high school) had a student population of 3,200. After Hurricane Katrina, school enrollment jumped by more than 10 percent, as close to 400 new students from Camden and New Orleans arrived within weeks of the storm’s passing.
The Zachary Community School District’s infrastructure could not support the students, and additional classroom space was needed.
The first resource Gordon Robertson Jr., Business Manager, Zachary Schools, turned to was the Internet. While using a search engine to locate information on modular buildings for student classrooms, Robertson discovered an online request-for-quote service.
“Basically, because of the influx of students, we needed buildings,” says Robertson. “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security) required that we take quotes on them, so I went on the Internet and searched for modular buildings.
“BuyerZone popped up,” says Robertson. “I logged on, read what they did, and it looked like it would save me some time and energy–which it did.”
The request-for-quote service reduced Robertson’s time spent locating vendors. Using BuyerZone, Zachary school administrators were able to communicate with multiple national vendors and locate several modular buildings within days.
“The way our service works, is a buyer typically gets matched up with four to six different suppliers who respond to a request for quotes,” says Scott Healy, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for BuyerZone.
Depending on the procurement code of a particular government agency, oftentimes the process and number of bidders is enough to meet requirements.
“That afternoon I had two responses, and next day I had three or four more,” says Robertson. “There were eight or 10 vendors that were on the [modular buildings] list.”
The BuyerZone database includes more than 3,000 suppliers across about 100 different categories. Products and services that are more local provider-focused tend to have greater numbers of suppliers. For example, copiers and office equipment, in general, tend to be sold by local dealers, so those categories include hundreds of suppliers. Categories, such as e-mail marketing services, which can be purchased nationally, include fewer suppliers.
Across all BuyerZone categories, the average purchase is $4,000. Purchases range significantly from low-end office chairs at less than $100 each to phone systems for large offices priced at $200,000.
“We have people coming in and purchasing one copier and others requesting quotes for 20 copiers for multiple offices,” says Healy.
School Reduces Sourcing Time
“I didn’t have to find out from various sources who the vendors were and then call them all and tell them what I wanted,” says Robertson. “Not having to deal with each vendor individually saved time, and everyone got the same information and specifications at the same time–unlike when you are dealing with vendors individually.”
Because FEMA did not ask for sealed quotes for this procurement, the service met requirements.
“The vendors either faxed or e-mailed me their quotes,” says Robertson. “As long as the quotes were written down, they were acceptable to FEMA.”
Within weeks of the request, Baltimore, MD-based Williams Scotsman delivered three, leased modular classrooms. Once class was in session, school officials soon realized that even more space was needed. Using the original quote, Zachary Schools acquire two more classrooms from Williams Scotsman.
Williams Scotsman operates a fleet of more than 97,000 mobile, modular buildings that are leased through a network of more than 85 locations throughout North America.
“We felt it was very important to have as many communication conduits open to our customers as possible as they recovered in Louisiana and Mississippi,” says Michele Cunningham, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for Williams Scotsman.
Williams Scotsman has been working with BuyerZone for two years.
“We have been working in the education community for decades,” says Cunningham. The company’s educational, modular offerings range from portable classrooms to multi-story schools.
Service Pinpoints Suppliers
“It’s a good service anytime, but especially if you have something that you need to do quickly when you don’t have time track down vendors,” says Robertson. “Oftentimes you get transferred three or four times before you find the right person.”
Buyers visiting the Web site are required to log in to get free quotes from multiple vendors. Once logged in, buyers then complete the quote request form. In the case of modular buildings, the form includes 11, mostly multiple-choice questions, and takes about one minute to complete.
After answering the first question, “What is the primary intended use of your modular building?”, the buyer may be taken to another form to narrow the request. Other questions cover approximate square footage requirements, financing preferences, and style of construction.
If the buyer is unfamiliar with the differences between steel and modular buildings, the quote request form includes a link to BuyerZone’s “Quick Guide to Choosing a Pre-Fab Building.”
“The information is all right there,” says Robertson. “They know what you want, they have a list of vendors, and it eliminates talking to people that don’t even have the right product.”
Another benefit of using a request-for-quote service is the connection to competitive local and national suppliers.
“The Internet has opened up the entire world to the click of a mouse, but people also can fall prey to information overload,” says Cunningham. “We think BuyerZone helps buyers get the type of focused access to resources that they need.”
According to Healy, “Suppliers know that they are competing for your business. As a result, they tend to be more aggressive on their pricing quotes than they might be if they found the buyer through another method.”
For a marketplace of this type to work, it has to offer good value to each side.
“On the buyer side, we get great feedback about how the marketplace helps accelerate the purchasing process,” says Healy. “People feel comfortable that they are getting a good price and talking with a set of reputable vendors who have been accepted into our network.”
A supplier must meet a number of criteria prior to joining the network, including good credit history and years in business. After a supplier joins the network, BuyerZone regularly seeks feedback from buyers. Ten days after quotes are requested, the buyer receives a supplier ratings survey via e-mail. If a supplier does not score well or receives consistently poor ratings, the company is removed from the network.
According to Healy, unacceptable vendors tend to be in categories without large brand names.
“We do our best to screen companies beforehand, but in categories, such as Web site design or credit card processing which include lots of small businesses–we occasionally have to remove a supplier,” says Healy.
On the supplier side, the online service provides access to purchasers that are ready to buy immediately or in the near future.
“BuyerZone is a different type of lead source,” says Frank DiJulio, Manager of Lead Qualification Team with Williams Scotsman. “It has a high-quality requirement on their end, just like Williams Scotsman.
“We find similarities in our business models as far as caring for customers and making a quality connection,” says DiJulio. “Because of that, we tend to work more closely with BuyerZone because they offer that type of communication.”
DiJulio’s team worked seven days a week for the first three weeks after the hurricane.
“The expectations for someone using an online source are heightened in terms of turnaround,” says Cunningham. “If I send a letter, it’s a week, a phone call is days, and an e-mail is hours.”
Once an RFQ is forwarded to Williams Scotsman, DiJulio’s team contacts the buyer to verify the information on the request-for-quote form. The group may request additional information to speed the turnaround time. Once confirmed, the request is forwarded to the sales person in the local area.
“The turnaround to a quote is usually very quick,” says DiJulio.
DiJulio stresses providing clear, detailed requests helps buyers to speed the process further.
On With the ABCs and RFBs
Williams Scotsman has several branches in Louisiana and Mississippi in areas that were impacted by the hurricane. “We felt the impact of Katrina as both a company whose operations were challenged, as well as a recovery partner,” says Cunningham.
The company has placed more than 600 units in the post-Katrina impacted areas through a variety of procurement channels.
As for the Zachary Community School District, many of the students displaced by Hurricane Katrina have gone back home.
“We’re doing OK,” says Robertson. “We started out with a little over 400 and now [as of late November] we’re down to about 241. Things have settled down.”
At the time of the hurricane, the Zachary School District was already full and in the process of building a new middle school and a major addition to the high school. As a result of the storm, the district plans to open new bids in January and February for both projects affected by post-Hurricane Katrina construction price increases.