Intelligent Negotiating

The purpose of this blog is to help you understand the techniques for negotiate pricing with scientific suppliers. As you look to buy supplies or equipment for the lab, there are plenty of opportunities to overspend. Be careful! So how do you make the most of your money?
There are three concepts/processes you should understand to help you along the way:
  1. How suppliers and sales reps operate
  2. How and when to ask for a discount
  3. Industry pricing and the term “List Price”

List Price

Don't Pay This Price
In simple terms, List Price is the price of an item listed publicly on a supplier’s website. It is helpful to know if the List Price is a “fair” price, and if you have room to negotiate. We performed a case study, go to here, where you can see data showing how much wiggle room there is to negotiate pricing from the big suppliers. Generally, for the suppliers who sell anything and everything (Fisher, VWR, MilliporeSigma, etc.), you should try to NEVER pay list price.
Please take note that the price you should pay can be up to 80% off List Price. Shopping at scientific suppliers is nothing like Amazon where a market dictates pricing based on quality, reviews, and lots of competition between sellers. You have to be much more diligent with scientific shopping.
For companies that sell a specific line of products (Abcam, NEB, Teknova, etc.), paying List Price is acceptable most of the time.

How suppliers and sales reps operate

There are three branches of a supplier that you’ll interact with: Customer service, technical support, and sales reps. Suppliers hire sales reps to visit labs, call scientists, and email you to buy their supplies. A few points you should know:
  • It is their job to get you to buy from them.
  • Their income is based on two things, 1) how much you buy from them and 2) how close to List Price you pay…the closer to List Price, the more money they make.
  • Some have a science background, many don’t.
Most sales rep are in the “field” visiting scientists. Therefore they can be very unresponsive. Set your expectations accordingly when asking them for help. You can call customer service, but rarely can customer service help you with pricing. You should only call customer service when you need an order update or there’s a problem with the order, but not for pricing info or discount quotes.
The process for getting a quote is usually not fast. Your request first goes to the sales rep, who is possibly out in the field. Then, the sales rep might not have the authority to grant a particular discount, so they have to go to their manager for approval. This takes time, so if you need the items ASAP you might not be able to wait for a quote.

How and when to ask for a discount

The best times to request a quote are:
  1. when buying new and used equipment
  2. bulk quantities (five +)
  3. with a set shipping schedule (aka “standing order”)
  4. when your current price is List Price
Some tactics that help:
  • Use data. “We’ve spent $10,050 with your company this year, at what point do we qualify for the next tier of discounts?”
  • Use the competition. “SupplierX has quoted us this price, but we’d much prefer to buy from you. Can you beat or match their price?”
  • Sample request. “We’re interested in trying a new item in the lab – is it possible to get a discount or free sample?”
  • Be nice. Sales reps are people too. Kindness can get you lower pricing.
  • Don’t take no for an answer. If they provide a quote with a small discount and you think you can do better, don’t be afraid to ask for a larger discount – the worst they can say is no.
No matter the price, never ignore these three factors which can significantly increase the backend cost of the item:
  1. Shipping cost
  2. Timeline to deliver (delays mean your lab is paying your salary to wait)
  3. Product quality. Keep in mind…you get what you pay for. Low cost products are probably low quality. If you’re experiment fails because of low quality supplies, what is the cost of that lost experiment? Was it worth saving $50?
Happy spending!

Glossary of useful terms

  • List price – the public price of an item on a supplier website before applying lab discounts or promo codes
  • P.O. – Purchase Order. A document stating what you intend to buy.
  • Quote – a documented price that is not List Price
  • Sales Representative (sales rep) – contact person at a vendor/manufacturer. They responsible for managing your labs account and pricing, and can help out with order issues. They are assigned to regions of the country, state, or city.
  • Standing PO/order – An order for a fixed quantity of items with a recurring shipping schedule.
  • Supplier– a company that sells goods and services to your lab. They may or may not be a Manufacturer.

Thank you for Supporting Our Mission

We are grateful for our scientists, suppliers, and accountants.

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The Virtual Lab Manager team at HappiLabs sends thank you cards to scientists, individuals at suppliers, operations managers, and accountants that genuinely help us in our work to make scientists happy and improve the quality of their research.

We thank scientists for being scientists working to improve our world and our lives.

Thank yous 2

HappiLabs knows it takes a team and special effort to change the world and we say thank you to those helping us do that.

What is the Busiest Day for Ordering Lab Supplies?


Fridays are 20% slower in terms of orders compared to the rest of the week.

HappiLabs took a snapshot of the last 10,000 orders placed by the Virtual Lab Manager team by day of the week.



Why ordering slows on Fridays 

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are busiest for order requests, perhaps reflecting scientists ordering for the next work week or VLMs working hard to get orders in that will deliver by week’s end.

Scientists may not be making as many order requests on Fridays because the weekend is calling. Scientists like to have fun too.

Many suppliers will  not ship on Fridays or process an order until the following week (especially if a West coast scientists requests an item from an East Coast supplier on Friday afternoon). VLMs know this and may hold off on ordering until Monday morning because the order will not ship or sometimes even be processed until then anyhow. Scientists likely have a sense of this as well.

It just goes to show that scientists and the scientific supply chain are working for the weekend.



Handy Glove Guide

Hands are an important tool in science.  Protecting them so you can safely work in the lab is important.

Science often involves being around chemicals, sharps, scalpels, boxes, metal, liquid nitrogen tanks, and more that can be damaging to exposed hands.

Enviro Tech put together this guide matching glove material and their advantageous and disadvantageous shielding properties.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 10.05.49 AM
The first two of ten gloves in Envirotech’s glove chart.

Gloves are only one part of being safe and responsible in the lab, of course (wear all of your PPE!).

The primary tool of staying safe is scientists’ own brains working to develop protocols to address and solve problems that might arise to keep the entire team as safe as possible as progress is made.

Cover Inage Photo credit: MaxPixel, CC0

Too Subtle Product Differences

Mimicry is pretty common in nature. As in nature, so with lab supplies.

An ever-evolving ocean of distinct products exists. No one scientist needs all products available in their career, of course. However, even when focused on basic items, confusion can occur due to what is essentially mimicry, AKA “branding”.

For example:


That “plus” makes all the difference for whether tissue will stay on the slide’s surface or if it’s just a slide where tissue won’t adhere.

It’s easy to see a lab stocking both kinds of slide for various purposes.

This issue could easily come up when ordering too. “Get me more Superfrost” slides…and the “Plus” gets left off.


A lab manager could store each slide in separate places, or mark the Superfrost Plus slides to be distinct when they are delivered.

Manufacturers could help by making packaging distinct (in this case, they don’t).

Fisher and other suppliers can do better.

In the mean time, lab managers and scientists will have to be hyper-vigilant in making sure they order and use the right product for their work, especially when near-mimics exist.

Photo credit: Heliconius butterfly mimicry. Wikimedia commons, CC 2.5, from Meyer A, PLoS Biology, Vol. 4/10/2006, e341 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040341.