In today's market, many businesses are tempted to buy less expensive imported laboratory furniture. But, is this always a good investment?
If you only look at the price on your quote, then the answer is probably no.
When inexpensive furniture including, lab tables, lab benches, workstations and fume hoods are purchased, there is more to the cost of that investment than just the purchase price. More often than not, money (sometimes significant sums) are spent after the purchase repairing, replacing and renovating the original purchase.
Going beyond just price and factoring the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) into purchasing decisions can alleviate those risks.
What Is Total Cost of Ownership?
Total cost of ownership (TCO) is a financial estimate that factors the purchase price of an asset plus the costs of operation plus end of life disposal. When choosing among alternatives in a purchasing decision, buyers should look not just at an item's short-term purchase price, but also at its long-term price, which is its total cost of ownership. The item with the lower total cost of ownership will be the better value in the long run. (Source: Investopedia)
When assessing competing proposals and quotes for new laboratory furniture, lab managers often choose the most inexpensive contender that checks off all the necessary boxes.
On the surface, this line of reasoning makes perfect sense. After all, why pay more than necessary for something as simple as laboratory furniture? Why not choose the least expensive product as long as you believe it satisfies your minimum requirements?
For many managers, showing an ability to cost effectively implement a build-out or refurbishment can be perceived as an indicator of negotiating acumen and managerial competence.
Yet, counter intuitively, investing more upfront can deliver better long-term financial results for your organization.
Base price is just the starting point for your financial decision.
Factors Affecting TCO
If your evaluation only considers the initial purchase and installation costs, you implicitly assume that every other subsequent cost is going to be equal among competing products. This is rarely the case. The initial purchase price never encompasses the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an asset.
A single-minded focus on short term cost management is often short sighted— an action that saves money at the beginning. But, over a longer period of time, this thinking results in more money being spent or wasted than was saved in the first place.
Total Cost of Ownership considers not only the cost of acquisition whenever a capital investment is made, but also factors in the hidden costs of any transaction. Here are a few to consider:
- Shipping and Handling - Freight charges, taxes, any packaging or special handling required and services, such as assembly and installation are significant factors affecting your purchase.
- Durability - Industrial furniture that can withstand the operational rigors of your lab environment are less expensive in the long run than those that must be replaced regularly because they are of lower quality.
- Maintenance – Maintenance crews, replacement parts and lost work hours negate any cost savings from cheaper furniture.
- Replacement Parts – Access to replacement parts is crucial. If your manufacturer is overseas, what is the turnaround time to get parts and shipping cost?
- Upgradability - Industrial workbenches that are manufactured to enable upgrades avoid becoming obsolete as your facility requirements change.
- Flexibility –Customization and modularity are important factors when designing your lab. As your needs change, can your furniture change with your new requirements?
- Quality – High quality furniture leads to higher efficiency and productivity and decreased downtime and worker frustration.
- Warranties – These are not standard. It’s good to know upfront what is covered and for how long.
TCO Theory and Practicality
Estimating all the direct and indirect costs associated with your furniture over its entire life cycle can be a difficult process. However, this simplified example can give you glimpse at what purchasing a cheap Mexican or Chinese import workbench might truly cost you.
The simple scenario above shows the impact of how a costly repair might impact your business factoring in long lead times for replacement parts and the lost productivity of the work bench during a wait for parts.
You might be thinking, this is a basic workbench, how is that kind of damage possible? Picture your lab environment and visualize a chemical spill that damages an inferior laminate table top that would need to be replaced. That is very feasible.
How would a long lead time affect your productivity? Could you live without one of your workstations for that long a lead time?
While this is a hypothetical comparison, intuitively, products that are manufactured with higher tolerances and methods are expected to have fewer instances of maintenance and repair costs over their lifetimes.
Laboratory Furniture is an investment, not just a cost.
It’s easy to view your laboratory furniture as a line item on your balance sheet, but it has one of the most significant impacts on your lab. Factoring in other variables including downstream costs is important for organizations that realize furniture is an investment. TCO allows a more complete assessment of a purchasing decision and examines not only the acquisition cost of your capital purchase, but maintenance and replacement costs that are likely to affect the productivity of your lab.
A true life cycle cost analysis includes the initial purchase cost and any cost to maintain the product over the life cycle time period. Initial purchase cost, installation charges, maintenance costs, mid-life modification costs, plus the actual expected life must be factored into the analysis to yield the true financial outlay for your company.
Choosing cheap lab furniture may end up costing more in the long run!
If you purchase an inexpensive workbench, table or workstation that is not designed to withstand the requirements of your lab environment, it may break down sooner than anticipated, and you will have to replace it with another or be subjected to workspace shutdowns or loss of functionality.
This is a drag on your results and will affect your bottom line.
By subjecting yourself to inferior quality, you negate the initial savings of opting for the inexpensive furniture over a more expensive alternative designed to withstand heavy wear and tear.
Safety is another factor. Workstations that have electrical assemblies that are not UL Listed subject your labs to fire hazard.
You don’t want to be the lab manager that is responsible for a disaster in your building because of the purchase of shoddy equipment.
The least expensive product might satisfy requirements the day it’s delivered and installed. But is it sufficiently “future proof?” For example, after six or nine months of use, does it develop a wiggle or does the finish wear off?
This is a simple example of how a low cost solution can leave you in bind, becoming either unusable or a source of frustration for your technicians before the expected end of its useful life.
Purchasing high quality lab furniture is a smart choice. Thinking beyond purchase price and looking at the Total Cost of Ownership will ensure that you make the very best decision for your organization and make the deliver financial results in the long run.
Invest in quality, well-manufactured American Made laboratory furniture that will serve you well for years to come.