Charles S. White , Jay R. Smith Mfg. Co. Inc.

All of us are in the business of buying products - either for ourselves or our company - whether they are consumer or commercial. As purchasers, we are better informed about the products we buy than ever before. We know what we want and how much we are willing to pay for them. The proliferation of information in print, on the Internet or through sales demonstrations has made us all "experts" in our own right.

If you review just about any satisfaction survey concerning buying habits, the top three elements listed in the selection/purchasing process are generally 1) quality, 2) service, and 3) price.

Of these three, we all talk the most about price. Price is an issue, but maybe it should not be No. 1. Would you really build a commercial building or residential property with the cheapest products, materials and labor? Of course not. Because you know, deep down, that not all products are "or equal." So once you get beyond the common debate over price, quality and service issues are the larger matters. In light of this, what are some of the other important factors in the purchasing decision?

How long has the company been in business?

Length of service in provision of products designed and built for applications under consideration establishes the track record for the company. A poor track record usually spells a short business span for a company and a good track record spells success and longevity for a company - factors not to be overlooked during source consideration.

What is its reputation for quality and service?

As key elements of a track record, both quality and service bear heavily on a company's longevity. Lack of either or both usually precedes a company's quick demise.

Does the company stand behind its products? Will it replace them if there is an issue?

These questions fall within the scope of a company's terms and conditions, which definitely merit scrutiny in the selection process.

Is there a professionally trained field sales staff to assist you?

This important component of the total picture is frequently lacking with companies specializing in "shelf" or "over the counter" products offered in lieu of those specified as less costly "equals."

Will field sales people call on you and answer your questions before the order is placed? Are they willing to visit the job site to help when needed?

These important questions, frequently overlooked in the procurement process, also merit careful consideration. Such personal service, normally standard with established specification product companies' professionally trained field staff, is usually unavailable with "price first" companies. They just can't afford it.

Can you call the factory or the manufacturer's rep and get help right away?

There are times, as you know, when this type of service is absolutely essential, not only during product selection and procurement, but maybe even more importantly, as the job progresses to avoid errors and delays. A company that does not provide such essential service should be questioned as a reliable manufacturer.

Is the manufacturer willing and able to handle special needs or redesign products to meet special installation requirements?

Such requirements are treated as normal business by established specification products producers who consider them as building blocks to their success in the industry. On the other hand "price first" companies normally shun special "job specific" requirements, preferring to concentrate on frequently specified "non-job specific" products where volume reduces cost. Seldom can they satisfy the complete project needs.

Are there local inventories? Are deliveries on time and complete?

In today's construction market, where on-site material stocks are maintained at absolute minimums for day-by-day use, on time complete deliveries to coincide with construction schedules are a must. These vital questions should be close to or at the top of the list of manufacturer considerations.

Is there technical literature, a Web site or an electronic catalog where you can easily find and retrieve product information?

Comprehensive product literature containing accurate product descriptions, specifications, standard and optional features, application, installation, and comparison data at your fingertips as a reliable guide for educated product selection are a must. Established specification product companies provide such documentation with revisions and general updates as normal business.

"Price first" companies, on the other hand, deem such support material as too costly and as a rule provide modest catalogs (if they have them) with minimal product information and prices.

There is a reason products are referred to as "engineered" or "specification" products. These products have been tested and proven to work under the most stringent conditions and to comply with code. Beyond the product, there is also the company that stands behind the product. Ask yourself the preceding nine questions the next time you are purchasing or installing products. See if they influence your decision.

Beyond the price issue, a lot of effort goes into making products work. There is also a lot of effort behind the products you purchase to keep them working day in and day out.

So which products do you want to install? If price is your only criterion for what to install, then you might just get what you pay for. If you are concerned about quality and service, think specification or engineered products. Don't always listen to what the salesman is telling you; check the products out for yourself. Make sure they meet your standards.

I won't tell you that price is not important, but price is not the end of the story. Consider everything, then make an informed decision.