How do schools buy?
Let’s take a few examples of different types of schools and school buyers and examine how each group buys from the private sector.
Academies – academy schools are only prevalent in England, not the rest of the UK, and have grown significantly in number over the last 5 years. The key thing to remember when looking at how academy schools buy is that they are free from local authority control. Academy schools can make their own purchasing decisions on things like catering facilities and grounds maintenance. So, if you are a catering supplier who previously had the mammoth (and potentially lucrative) task of becoming an approved local authority supplier, you are now able to go directly to the school to deal with them. Although the contracts may be smaller they are potentially easier to obtain. Academy schools buy in a different way, therefore, to many other types of school who are under the guidance of the local authority.
Independent schools – independent schools buy from the public sector as they see fit. The clue is in the name, and we will focus here on fee paying schools. They follow the national curriculum like all other schools, but beyond that independent schools are just that – independent. They choose which pupils they take in, they choose which teachers they employ, which subjects they offer, and most importantly, what they buy. Independent schools will almost always have a Bursar or Business Manager whose job it is to oversee the procurement process, and who would often be the first point of contact for any private sector looking to sell to independent schools. The second thing to note about how independent schools buy is that their annual budgets are much less strict. Public sectors schools buy according to a fixed budget, if they don’t spend it all they can be penalised the following year. As independent schools are run as commercial operations, this is not the case. They set their own budgets, which means these schools buy all year round, so you can sell to them all year round.
Maintenance staff – maintenance staff in schools buy according to a long term need, rather than the here and now. These school staff buy based on a long term requirement, and will often use the same supplier over and over again on fixed length contracts. Examples might be maintenance contracts they have with alarm companies, CCTV suppliers or gardening businesses. These can be potentially lucrative contracts to win as budget will be allocated to you for a couple of years rather than a one off payment for a one off supply. All UK schools buy these facilities and contracts from third party suppliers, and here a longer term view is required. You may not be able to knock on the facilities managers door and become the new alarm contractor, but a steady process of relationship building and a good inbound marketing strategy will help you win contracts with these school buyers.
Heads of department – heads of departments in schools buy according to a set budget, but unlike maintenance managers who will have long term contracts, these staff buy based on a fixed budget and a current need. They are more likely to buy school textbooks and learning resources according to current demand and current supply. Offering a head of department in a school the chance to buy a new book or a new interactive resource is far easier than trying to get a grounds manager to replace the CCTV system. If your product or service is aimed at these school buyers, then you should consider marketing to them at key budget intervals, such as the beginning and end of the school year. These buyers will always look to allocate 100% of their budget in order that it is maintained the following year and so these departments’ heads in schools buy according to what they need now.
In brief, schools buy in a variety of different ways. Indeed budget holders within schools buy in a variety of different ways, according to their needs and their budgets. It is worth considering therefore, who is your target, how do they go about making buying decisions, and what is the most effective way to become a supplier to them.
EdProcure is the UK’s largest online portal helping schools buy and private sector enterprises sell to schools.
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