Cooperative Buying Strategies

Partnership and collaboration are themes we’ve hit on repeatedly in the Cookbooks. When you’re buying technology, higher volume usually leads to better prices and better service. You can collaborate with state purchasing agencies, state libraries, regional library cooperatives, municipal IT departments, local colleges, K­-12 schools, K­-12 libraries and on and on. For more on partnering with other organizations, see Effectively Collaborating with Other Libraries and Partners. Also, be sure to review our How to Buy Cooperatively Quick Reference.

Why Buy Cooperatively?

  • Save money. Purchasing cooperatives offer vendors access to more customers and high-volume contracts, which gives cooperatives an edge. They usually can negotiate better deals than individual libraries.
  • Bypass the RFP process and other procurement rules. State contracts in particular almost always satisfy local laws and regulations with regards to RFPs and competitive bidding. Other joint buying agreements may also comply with these laws. In other words, depending on the situation, there’s a good chance that you won’t have to issue your own RFP and wade through the responses.
  • Get better service. Most vendors assign their most experienced sales representatives to their high-­volume contracts. In other words, when you buy through a state contract or a similar joint buying arrangement, you still have someone at Dell, HP, Verizon or wherever who you can turn to for assistance and advice. Often, it takes months or years to find a competent sales rep and build a relationship with that person. When you buy off a state contract, the relationship is already in place. You might also find that the contract guarantees a higher level of tech support. In short, you might get replacement parts quicker or your calls might bypass the less-­experienced, first­-tier help-desk technicians.

Key Actions

Talk to local experts or do your own research to ensure that you’re authorized to buy off of a particular contract. States and localities have different rules about setting up purchasing cooperatives and buying off of contracts that someone else negotiated.

Stories from the Field

In Montana, a lot of people don’t know this still, and I’ve been trying to educate people, but our state government, when they negotiate contracts with vendors for software or hardware, they almost always throw in the clause that local government agencies are allowed to purchase off those contracts. So we get a pretty hefty discount for a lot of things — not only hardware, but software and services like my cell phone; my business cell phone is through a state term contract….We’re lucky enough in Montana that our state government has a contract with Novell. It’s called a master license agreement, or MLA, and when they negotiated that MLA, they also put in a clause that local governments are allowed to purchase off that contract. So whatever list price is, I get, like, 42 percent off list price. And it’s a licensing thing, so I’ve got, I forget my numbers, but it’s, like, 40 some desktops that use ZENworks. So I pay an annual maintenance fee on those licenses, which means I get support and product upgrades for free.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

I don’t even look at the retail pricing anymore. Even if I called Dell, for example, and I ask for a quote, they already know that I have a state contract, so I get the state contract pricing by default. I don’t know what pricing I would get if it wasn’t for that. But I was looking at a laptop, and it was at least $500 difference between what was on their W ebsite versus what the state contract pricing was. It’s great...I found out about it just because the person before me was aware of it. And I have a feeling that the way we got onto it in the first place was [that] we were using a state contract for purchasing vehicles. And you know, vehicles are such a significant purchase. You’re always looking for the best way to get it...Ongoing paperwork is nothing. It’s just fill in your organization address and send a check to participate in the Cooperative Purchasing Ventures, as they call it in Minnesota. And the fee is small. I’m guessing it’s just to cover administrative costs.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, MN

Many times, they’ll have a state contract and then they’ll have a rep for a particular piece of that state contract, so that person will know about the differences on that particular piece of the contract and can tell you who to get in touch with and that type of thing. Another advantage is that a lot of times, at least in Texas, the way that contracts work is if you buy off the state contract, it’s legally binding. It meets all bid requirements, regardless of what local bid requirements are or anything like that. So from that point of view, it makes it easier because you don’t have to mess with doing all the legal stuff. In some states, if you go above a certain amount, you have to go out and get three bids or something like that. In a lot of places, if you have that state contract, you don’t have to go out and get those bids. You already have. It’s already been negotiated.

Chris Jowaisis
Texas State Library, TX

And you don’t have to buy off the state contract if you can find a better deal somewhere else. You’re not limited to the state contract. It’s just that if you do buy off the state contract, then there’s something called the Uniform Procurement Law in Massachusetts, and it governs when you have to get three bids for something. It has thresholds for when you have to get three bids for a service or when you have to do a sealed bid. If you buy off the state contract, then parts of that process are already done for you and you don’t have to go through all of it. But you’re not restricted to the state contract if you can find a better deal somewhere else.

Sia Stewart
Kingston Public Library, MA