Category Experiences: Window Washing
The very first sourcing project I ran on my own was for window washing services. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? At the time it seemed like so much money - do you ever compare category spend to your salary? - but in retrospect it was worth next to nothing. And yet, for the "smallness" of it, I learned more lessons from that one category than I would from many larger and more strategic projects to come...
Question the basics The window washing services included about 100 storefronts. Half were having their windows washed twice a month, and half were having their windows washed every other week. In the course of reviewing the almost final award scenario, my mentor asked me, "Why not just switch every location to twice a month and take the additinonal two washes a year as savings?". It seemed so obvious in retrospect that I felt ridiculous for not having thought of it, and yet I couldn't see that particular forest for the trees. When you are in the thick of a project, don't miss an opportunity to get input from a colleague on additional opportunities and ideas. Or better yet, allow yourself the oportunity to sit back and think before you make anything final. And never NEVER accept a costly specification as gospel.
A cooperative category expert can make all of the difference Okay, so we're talking about window washing - really. But one of my internal clients was a woman named Sally. Sally knew her stores and her requirements and her suppliers backwards and forwards. She represented only a third of the locations being sourced, but boy, did she know her stuff. Everyone else connected to the category was too busy or too important to call me back. What a gem she was - and I had no idea at the time how few "Sally's" are out there. In so many cases, the category owner/expert is uninformed, or overworked, or sees procurement as making more work for them by following this complicated process when they could just re-sign conracts with their incumbent suppliers. When you have a really solid category manager, make sure get all of the information and input you can.
Professionalism (or the lack thereof) makes a permanent impression I was so new to sourcing that I was following the process diagram like an instruction sheet. One ot the steps was "notify all suppliers when an award has been made". I was TERRIFIED, but I'm a rules follower, so I made the calls - even the ones to the suppliers who had not been awarded business. I had prepared notes for each supplier, wanting them to feel that they got something productive from the bid process - feedback on their proposals, or some information on where they placed or why we made the decision that we did. One supplier actually yelled at me and hung up. At the time, I felt sick. (In case you've never met me, I'm pretty harmless and not the kind of person people usually hang up on in anger.) Looking back, I can only be glad that he didn't win any of the business. Shame on him for forgetting what a small world it is. I will remember that supplier's name until the end of my days.