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Making Product Selections Under Tight Deadlines

March 23, 2010

If you make informed decisions when it comes to product selection, you’ll further ensure your project delivery date

There are many considerations that factor into making educated decisions relevant to product selection. In addition to cost, you have to think about performance, durability, environmental impact, code requirements, and even vendor allegiance. But the factor with the greatest impact on your project deadlines is product availability.

An off-the-shelf product might be delivered overnight; another one might need to be ordered before construction can even begin, contingent on the project’s timeline and the product’s availability. While a product may be stocked at the time of design and installation, it may not be available when the project is ready for delivery and installation. Timing should also be considered; it applies to the construction schedule. Product delivery must be synchronized with specific phases of your building project.

It Starts with the Drawings
If you’re dealing with new construction or a retrofit project, it’s ideal to make product selections prior to the construction start for a variety of reasons. Price, time, and quality are the driving factors. The process begins on the drawing table, where you should make certain the project details are spelled out with great care. If the drawings aren’t adequate, it’s not possible to arrive at true costs or accurate construction schedules.

The specifications for finish items, such as carpet, flooring, and specialty lighting, are often indicated as the dreaded “TBD” (to be determined) – in which case the contractor will assume you haven’t made a decision. If the intent is known, it needs to be communicated on the drawings or the contractor will default to the standard and make an educated guess or allowance for the item in question. Even if the exact product specification hasn’t been determined, you should provide specs that define the unique features you’re looking for so the contractor can arrive at a realistic SF cost. For example, the desired look may call for 24-inch or 30-inch tile on the floors or walls. In the case of large-format tiles, not only is the material more costly than it would be for standard tile, but the installation cost is often greater, too. To accurately determine the tile cost, materials and labor must be taken into account.

Additionally, you should indentify products on the plans or bid documents that aren’t typically stocked and carry long lead times, as well as items that are owner-supplied. If ample upfront notice is provided to the contractor, sufficient time will be allocated for procurement of specialty items and to coordinate the required lead time for delivery and installation.

Buy Domestic or Locally Stocked Items
Expect longer, more unpredictable lead times when buying internationally. Containers must go through customs; delays are possible. The greater the distance the products travel, the greater the risk due to weather or improper handling (dropping or crushing).

Case in point: An owner working on a building project specified chairs manufactured in China. Based on the promised 10- to 12-week lead time, the product was ordered in a timely fashion. All furniture was crated, in containers, and ready to ship, but localized flooding caused significant damage. The net effect: Off-the-shelf, more expensive furniture needed to be reselected from available stock, which meant fewer options. As a result, the furniture budget ran over and the opening deadline was not met.

If an opening date is pushed back, negative byproducts include lost revenue and increased costs. Due to many unforeseen variables, in the case of quick turnaround projects, it’s best to avoid overseas items unless they’re locally stocked and availability is guaranteed.

Establishing Vendor Accounts
It makes sense to set up key vendor accounts if there’s sufficient volume. It’s important to have quick product access to keep the schedule on track by eliminating the lead time typically required for the standard ordering process.

Quick product turnaround is made possible by working out an arrangement with the vendor before starting a project whereby the vendor agrees to stock a minimum quantity of an item. This avoids the need to make a last-minute switch, which can result in an inferior, more costly end product. The benefits include easy product access, potential discounts, and quality control. Additionally, the vendor has a vested interest in the success of your project because you’ve implied a commitment to an ongoing, two-way business relationship.

Pre-Purchase Benefits
To gain further control over product availability and obtain quantity discounts, it can make sense to pre-purchase mass-produced or volume custom products. Pre-purchase and storage is a viable option when large-volume products or materials are needed for multiple project locations over time.

One of the primary benefits of pre-purchasing is the increased buying power that results from quantity discounts. In the case of program rollouts, for example, multiple lighting, equipment, and furniture packages can be procured ahead of time and used as needed. Angst is eliminated concerning product availability, quality, and consistency since the item has already been purchased and you have full control. This offers built-in quality control, with no surprises showing up at the jobsite, such as the incorrect size or color, or the wrong item.

Pre-purchasing and storage options can also be applicable to custom-designed products. Mass production of custom items in a single large run can eliminate costly set-up fees and long lead times. For example, custom-designed wrought iron fencing is much less costly when purchased in a single production run of 500 sections as opposed to the 50 sections of fencing produced for each project.

Unfortunately, there are downsides to pre-purchasing products, including storage of items. Furthermore, you’re responsible for any damage. Warranty considerations also need to be addressed (most warranty coverage begins at the time of product delivery). If a product sits in storage, the useful life of the warranty period is shortened.

Consider the following: You decide to purchase 600 chairs at a deep discount for use at several sites. At first glance, it makes sense to purchase the item at the right price with the comfort of knowing that this item has been procured. But almost everything comes at a price. The financial benefit of the discounts and convenience must outweigh the storage costs and warranty limitations. The decisions aren’t always readily obvious when storage costs are weighed against the fact that the product fits the bill perfectly and is accessible when needed.

Manufacturers are sometimes willing to store large orders or long lead-time items. If that’s the case, the clock won’t start until that portion of the order is delivered.

Attention to Detail Early in the Process
It’s difficult to predict the timeline for delivery of specified products – whether it’s for a single project or a multi-site program rollout. Since the variables are infinite, common sense says to avoid duplicating mistakes that impact project schedules in the case of multiple locations. Sometimes, attention to the simplest details, such as identifying product lead times, can reduce big delays toward the end of the project and avoid unanticipated cost overruns.

Renata Rottinger is design manager for Interplan LLC (www.interplanllc.com). She can be reached at
[email protected].

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