Chambersburg, PA January 12, 2004 - With many printers starting the new year with eyes on breaking into new markets, long time consultant ABC Advisors is offering some tips to new vendors entering the Federal Government Printing Office (GPO) marketplace. If you do not know the rules, you won’t have a good experience dealing with GPO. Fortunately, new vendors are rather pleased to discover that GPO’s rules and regs are surprisingly short and concise. There are five items that a new vendor should become familiar:
• Contract Terms
• The GPO Style Manual
• Paper Specification Standards
• Quality Assurance Through Attributes, and
• Billing Instructions
Working knowledge of these areas, along with keeping a copy of each handy, can allow a vendor to successfully do work from any of the GPO’s 21 procurement locations. All use the same rules and regs.
Look for opportunities outside of your closest offices
Since each GPO office follows the same rules, you should feel confident in trying to obtain work from any or all procurement sites. The vast majority of volume leaders in GPO understand that matching capabilities and open production times to jobs cannot be accomplished effectively by viewing bid invitations from just one or two offices. By doing so, you are beholden to what those offices release and may not find enough bidding opportunities that match your capabilities and needs.
Once you have that large pool of opportunities, make sure you only bid on jobs where you know the schedule can be met. If in doubt about your ability to make the delivery, don’t bid!
GPO makes this process rather simple by providing the prospective bidder with a spec that includes a date the material can be picked up, the number of days a proof can be held by the government, and firm delivery dates to location or locations. By eliminating the guesswork, the bidder can work backwards by first looking at the ground shipment days, and then figure the minimum number of production days.
Track results to gage pricing competition
No other market exists where data on the pricing by your competitors is so open and readily available. Information on competition and the market goes further than just individual bid results. Through the correct source, such as a GPO Marketing Service, example of reports you can obtain include:
• the amount of work obtained by competitors;
• the exact amount and size or orders placed under term contracts;
• the amount of the type of work you produce and from where it is being bought;
• automatic calculations of your bid prices against the winning bid price.
Related to the last point, successful GPO vendors use the available data to find out where they are most competitive. When there is an increased need to gain contribution jobs to fill in between commercial work, you may bid on a wider range of products or run lengths. Generally, however, you want to find and continually bid on jobs in which you are finding the most success.
Gain the highest quality rating possible
Since printing is so unique, the GPO set up a program called QATAP, or the Quality Assurance Through Attributes Program, to set standards for printing, finishing, and binding. This system allows the government to maintain a standardized objective system for measuring quality including a variance in acceptable defects. Most bid solicitation includes a level rating that must be met ranging from a low of 5 to a high of 1. This obviously means that a GPO vendor wants to obtain as high of a rating as possible, a process handled by the GPO’s Quality Assurance Section.
The QATAP program may be the most complex set of regulations concerning GPO, so it is important to have an understanding of how this system works.
Retain good records for use in disputes and invoicing
While GPO is surprisingly devoid of the “red tape” that exists in most government procurement, keeping good records is required, and indeed wise to make sure you are able to get the most from your business relationship in the market.
These items will also be key to making sure you obtain the total payment you expect and should include:
a.copies of all correspondence regarding change orders
b.copies of all proofs with Author’s Alterations or change instructions
c.shipping receipts including quantity and jacket or print order number
Good record keeping will assure you not only receive the correct payment, but assure that you receive it 21 days after the delivery date…a very good payment term!
Nurture relationships with GPO buyers
While it is essential that you know and understand GPO’s regulations, it is also essential to keep in mind that those rules are applied by humans. Work is awarded uniformly and fairly to the “lowest responsive and responsible bidder”. That is a rule with little wiggle room for the Contracting Officers who must award a job to the low bidder unless there are reasons that can be documented and indisputable.
At the same time, GPO buyers, just like private sector print buyers, will be more apt to work with you when a problem occurs after awards are gained. The best way to keep on the good side of a GPO Contracting Officer is to simply establish a good track record of quality and on time delivery. They will notice this because a lack of problems on jobs invariably keeps Agency customers off their backs.
ABC stresses that GPO, and indeed all government and non-government markets, require homework to gain a strong knowledge of that market. If you understand and use certain available advantages unique to GPO, greater success and profits can be obtained, and you might just find the Federal Government to be your easiest customer with whom you deal.
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