Tips for Successful School Bids


School bids can be frustrating. At some point, you’ve probably spent hours working up a bid, only to lose to a competitor. Still, there’s money to be made in school bidding, if you go about it the right way.

Here are five ways to win in the school bid business.

1. Do the research. Know your state and local procurement codes. If you haven’t studied them, you need to. They are readily available on your state or school district’s website. You will gain credibility with band and orchestra directors if you can be a resource for them, as they often find the bid process frustrating, too. Is there an allowance in the procurement code for in-state-owned and -operated businesses? Minority- or woman-owned businesses? Small businesses? Most importantly, is there such a thing as a Competitive Value Bid in this district? This is a special type of bid that will let factors beyond price be considered, such as prior service to the school, availability of local warranty service and more. In this instance, price is just one of many stipulations.

2. Do the groundwork. Music industry accountant Alan Friedman says, “The best time to look for a bank is before you need one.” The same goes for school bids. The wording used in a bid can’t be changed once the bid is sent out to prospective bidders. So, if you can work with the director on the bid’s wording before the bid is sent out, you may be able to help ensure the director gets what he or she really wants. Perhaps the director would benefit from a Competitive Value Bid, where he or she can specify that follow-up service and local repair services must be available. If so, this must be noted in the initial bid request, and the special factors must be specified in detail.

Other requisites that may help ensure the director got adequate service for his or her instruments can include the following:

• Instruments must be delivered and fully set up by a representative of the selling company. This way, instruments like marimbas and chimes can’t be shipped disassembled, leaving the director to figure out what’s in that box and how it all goes together.

• Seller must be able to provide free pick up and delivery for all warranty work. This means that the director won’t have to ship the instruments (perhaps even at the school’s expense) for any necessary warranty work. Not only is this inconvenient but it can also take weeks for the simplest of repairs.

Again, keep in mind that no changes can be made in the bid specs once it’s sent out to prospective bidders. In most cases, if no conditions are set forth, the lowest-priced instrument will win, whether it’s really what the director wants or not. Work with your director to get it right.

3. Do the math. Check your pricing from suppliers carefully. Will there be free freight if the instruments are shipped to your store or to the school? Are there school bid discounts or terms? An early pay discount? You may or may not want to factor these into your bid—most companies that win bids are required to at some point. Are there any clearance or show stock lists available that might give you an extra discount?

So that we can better manage our financial operations and keep our bid prices lower, our school invoices are net 15 days instead of net 30. These terms help us get paid by our customers before we have to pay our suppliers. The terms also let us borrow less frequently from the bank and take advantage of early pay discounts.

4. Do it right. Deliver in person. Anything you deliver should be checked thoroughly and set up properly, with all the packing corks taken out and any necessary adjustments made. String instruments should have bridges set up and be properly tuned. Mallet instruments should be set up, including the frame. Marching percussion and carriers should be fully assembled. All instruments should be clean and ready to play. This is the main distinction between you and another company, so make the most of it. Perhaps your director will want to make this service a requirement the next time he sends out a bid.

5. Do it. If you service your customers well but let them look elsewhere for their school bids, you might give them the impression that your prices are higher on other items you carry. In effect, you hand competitors the opportunity to win your customers away. Even if school bids are not the most profitable segment of your business, you can use these larger purchases to build better relationships with your customers and your suppliers. You may be able to use the bid purchases to take you to a better discount level with that supplier for future purchases. In any case, you will be showing customers that servicing their school is more important to you than making a large profit—something that means a lot to directors who are struggling with ever-decreasing budgets and ever-increasing time constraints. That will pay dividends in the long-term.