Government contracts aren’t for the faint of heart. Rick Lamb, marketing manager with Frank’s Supply in Albuquerque, NM, understands the arduous truth of that statement better than most. Jason chats with Rick about the complexities inherent to General Services Administration (GSA) certification and why it might make sense for other suppliers to jump through those hoops.
Rick has had a knack for side-stepping the easy way. I thought it was going to be real simple and easy because I’ve been calling on distributors and so forth for a long time, he says of his transition from a position with a corporate manufacturer to Frank’s. There was a big difference leaving the corporate world and going to the family-run business.
When Frank’s found itself in a position to bid for its first government contract in 1996 for Los Alamos National Lab, Rick found himself in the thick of it. We had never even attempted something like that, he says, but two Frank’s employees who knew just enough about GSAs to convince the company to put together a bid. Nine months later, Frank’s phone rang. It was Christmas Eve, 1996. We get a call from the head of purchasing at Los Alamos, and they go, Be ready to start the contract April 1st.’ Frank’s first scramble was on.
While the bid timeline has shortened somewhat since the mid-90s, other aspects, like authentication and security clearance, have grown increasingly rigorous. There’s a lot of technical information [the government] wants. It’s not just what price are you going to sell it at, but they want to know how your whole business system operates, says Rick, explaining that vendors must detail every level of the contract’s implementation, from the level of support to chain of responsibility to security clearances and quality assurance programs,
But is the GSA route profitable? A couple of things happened that became very favorable that we did not anticipate, Frank admits. Increased cash flow was the first positive revelation. They pay you every ten days. And the other? We were able to put more inventory of different types of products in, he says, adding, All of a sudden, our customer service level to various commercial customers went way up.
Frank’s GSA division is a win-win-win any way you look at it.
I was used to everything being done a certain way and all that–and at a family organization, it was a little looser.
They’re buying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment every month, and you’re getting your money in 10 days. And all of a sudden, you are cash-rich. That was probably the biggest advantage of the Los Alamos contract: our cash flow improved.”
When you pay your suppliers on time and that when you need special favors and so forth so on, whatever situation arises, they tend to be more agreeable when they see they get paid on time.
Once you have it in place, it’s more administrative. The biggest pitfall of the contracts is compliance. You gotta be compliant, and you know, the compliance is up to you, not to the buyer.
The whole idea is, you know, these organizations that you belong to, you get out of them what you put into it. And, you know, just trying to give a little bit back to the organization so that it can be successful.
There’s a lot of things that have happened through my career that I would have never been able to do without being in this industry. And these manufacturers have made a lot of these things possible, and, you know, I’ve got to see things and do things that I might not have been able to do.
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