This post grows out of a conversation I was having about how scientists purchase supplies and equipment at smaller institutions. It would be helpful if you could leave comments with information and experiences you have. (You can do this anonymously by leaving fields blank.)
Big vendors sell stuff we need. It is business as usual for ThermoFisher and SigmaAldrich to offer huge institutional discount rates.
If you go to their websites, and aren’t logged in with an institutional account, you’ll be flabbergasted at the cost of some very basic supplies! “Wait, I’m supposed to pay a couple hundred dollars for those microfuge tubes???!” [Logs in.] “Oh, no, it’s actually just 38 bucks.”
Of course, the big vendors don’t advertise the discount rates they give to their customers. However, it’s abundantly clear that institutions that spend a jazillion dollars per year on supplies, order equipment on a frequent basis, have the purchasing leverage to negotiate a very deep discount.
If you’re working at Podunk State University or Middle Ofnowhere College, they won’t be falling over themselves to give you that discount. And the rep probably doesn’t even really want to talk to you that much, because they see working with you as the least lucrative part of the job.
If you’re in a small shop, have you had difficulty getting the discount rate that other labs at bigger universities get? How do you deal with this? Do you have any experiences or suggestions for people who are at institutions that are small in size while working with big vendors?
Another way this plays out is the cost of starting a new lab. For example, Fisher has a New Lab Start-Up Program. The idea is that once you’re set up with buying stuff from them in a new position or with a new grant, then you’ll stick with them for the rest of your career. (Under the same reasoning, middle schoolers get offers for free deodorant.) The first step is to “apply.” I’ve applied to this kind of program twice, by contacting my sales rep, each of the times I’ve set up new lab. Both times, they told me I didn’t qualify because of my institutional affiliation. To which I thought, “eff you.” But to which I played naive and asked why if I had X amount of dollars to set up my lab, Y level of existing and planned federal funding, then I’m curious about why they wouldn’t want any of it. After being annoying enough, they relented and gave me the new lab discount. That was long enough ago that I can’t recall many specifics. It mostly just recall the bad taste in my mouth.
As there are a bunch of people who are setting up new labs in the fall, I’m sure they could benefit from tips about how to make startup go as far as possible!