Don’t Default to One Supplier

A woman stands in front of two doors, one blue, one red

A request comes in. It’s a supplier with an eCommerce site. To get the item ordered, the lab manager clicks a few times on a supplier site and the order is placed! Done. 

Except. It can pay to slow down a little and do a bit of comparison shopping. 

For example, this GeneJET kit is available through both Fisher Scientific and Thermofisher Scientific’s websites. Fisher wasn’t having a sale on this item, but Thermofisher was. By changing a website, money was saved! 

Item from Fisher Scientific Catalog. Source: Fishersci.com.
The same item on sale at Thermofisher.com (aka Life Technologies). Source: Thermofisher.com

EMD Millipore and Sigma are another example where this can work. EMD Millipore doesn’t often have promo codes. Sigma often does and EMD Millipore items are often available through sigmaaldrich.com.

Again, ostensibly, these are one company, Millipore-Sigma, but their web portals sometimes don’t behave that way.


These both are special cases of a general rule: if something is offered more than one place, definitely compare pricing, availability, and the lab’s relationship with supplier. Last: ask a preferred supplier to match a competitor’s better price when deciding where to buy an item. 

Cover Photo Credit: Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash.

Resolve to Organize Orders and Invoices

Keeping orders and invoices organized is as important as keeping a good lab notebook.

Keeping track of orders

Lab Manager Claudel Faugio placed an order – hooray! It arrives, the box is opened, and turns out half a sleeve cell culture dishes has been crushed into pieces. Assuming Claudel didn’t stomp on the box before receiving it, that means he needs to contact the supplier to ask for a replacement. The supplier is going to ask for a few pieces of information, including order or PO number, which the lab should easily have handy if it’s organized. 

An image of a Macbook air on a wood table with a phone and notebook in parallel and a coffee cup to one side.
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

Minimum order information to track:

  • Order date
  • Item description and item number
  • Confirmation number/PO number
  • Order subtotal
  • Tracking information
  • Whether items have been received (& some idea of where they are kept in the lab)

Having this information readily available will be helpful for inventory and should any issues arise with an order. 
There are several ways to keep track of this information from least to most complicated:

  • File any emailed order confirmations in an eponymous folder in the inbox
  • Set up a spreadsheet with the order information as columns
  • Procurement softwares
  • Keep a physical binder of confirmations and packing slips (this method is not as easy to search through). 

Keeping track of invoices & receipts

Now Claudel is rushing to place an urgent order through NEB needed for an experiment tomorrow. NEB is awesome and they get the order in. BUT! The order doesn’t get shipped because there is a hold on your account. The lab hasn’t been paying their invoices on time and now his labmate Chlobe’s experiments are going to be delayed. 

A jar of coins spilled on a floor. More coins are on the floor than still in the jar.
Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash


Keeping track of invoices and receipts doesn’t seem necessary when doing important science, but situations like this happen often if no one’s minding the books. If Net 30 invoices don’t get paid, a supplier can place a hold on your account until at least some of the outstanding invoices are paid. It is also necessary to have invoices and spending/financial information for taxes and if the lab goes through an audit. 

A basic first step is to get all invoices emailed to an inbox and filed in an invoices folder in the inbox. After that, some methods to keep track and organize invoices and receipts include:

  • A spreadsheet (e.g. add an invoice number column to the orders spreadsheet above)
  • A folder in your Google drive
  • Accounting software such as QuickBooks or bill.com
  • Procurement softwares
  • Accounting services like InDinero or Scrubbed
  • Hiring an in house accountant/bookkeeper to handle invoices/payments to suppliers.
  • Keeping a hard copy binder of receipts and invoices.

Resolve to organize lab orders and invoices

Whether a lab of five or 50 people in a lab, organization of orders and invoices will keep the science going and scientists happy.

A chaotic world of scientists, suppliers, and lab supplies funnels through HappiLabs resulting in a much more organized picture where scientists are happy.
Hiring HappiLabs is also a way to organize your orders, invoices, and lab.

Glossary

Order – A request for goods/services from a supplier. 

Confirmation number – Unique coding of a specific order created by a supplier when an order is placed

Purchase Order (PO) number – Unique coding for an order created by the lab generating the PO

Subtotal – Cost of goods/services not including taxes and shipping. 

Tracking – A unique number to designate a shipment with a delivery company (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.)

Received – Confirming delivery of an item and coding it as received in the lab’s inventory system

Invoice – Request for payment from a supplier

Net 30  –  An agreement to make a payment in 30 days as opposed to upfront by credit card or check

Receipt – Proof of payment for credit card purchases. Proof you have paid. 

Accountant – Person at a company (or outsourced) that handles the financial aspect of the business. 

Spreadsheet – A matrix to track data, both quantitative and qualitative.

Procurement/Bookkeeping Software – Third party software designed to keep track or orders and expenses (e.g. Quickbooks, Coupa, Bill.com, etc.)

When the HPLC Water takes a Tour of Wine Country (Parcel Misrouting)

The item is in stock in the local warehouse, the order confirmation comes in, the item ships as predicted, and then it all goes sideways. The package has gone to the wrong place and the item you thought was a sure delivery is now not going to deliver as predicted.

A map of the San Francisco Bay area with a pin in Suisun City, California, near Fairfield north of Oakland and the bay.
UPS misrouted a package from Tracy, CA. Instead, it made it to Suisun City, CA. In this case, they caught their mistake and corrected it.

Managing Delayed and Misrouted Items

UPS and FedEx make mistakes. Busy times for them exacerbate these (e.g. holidays). 
The best defense against delayed shipping is planning ahead and not being in urgent need of any item/reagent.
However, once it’s shipped and misrouted/delayed, here are some actions to be taken.

  • Don’t panic
  • Check tracking page and see if it updates within a day: UPS and FedEx do catch misrouting and correct it.
    • This works if it’s a non-temperature sensitive item that can be delayed a bit
  • If other delays crop up, contact the supplier and have them contact UPS/FedEx (they have direct contacts with shipping scientists don’t):
    • Customs delays – ask what FedEx/UPS need (usually a form)
    • UPS/FedEx claim an incomplete address – ask supplier to inform of full address
    • Weather delays/system issues – contact the supplier for a replacement if item is temperature sensitive

If a scientist does need to contact FedEx/UPS, call and say “agent” over and over again to get a human. Sometimes you can get a human by interacting with their online chat and say “no” when their automated system asks if they answered a scientists’ query (the systems then ask for a phone number and will call you quickly).


Misrouting and delays is one strong reason to pay attention to tracking numbers.

A UPS tracking page indicating a delay in delivery. It also indicated the last scanned location as Suisun City, CA.
An example of a UPS tracking page with a misrouted parcel that UPS caught and was working to re-route.

In the end, the misrouted HPLC water did enjoy its tour of wine country and was only a day later than scheduled.

Glossary

Local Warehouse/Delivery terminal – a distributors closest warehouse/hub to a delivery location
Tracking number – an alphanumeric code that allows tracking of shipments with a delivery company (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc) 
PRO number – an alphanumeric code that allows tracking of a shipment with a freight company (YRC, R&L, UPS freight, FedEx freight, etc)
Tracking page – web page to check status of a shipment and any potential delivery issues/delays
Temperature Sensitive – an item that is perishable/has to be kept cold for it to remain viable as a reagent

The Fastest way to set up an Account With Suppliers

Have a generic credit application on hand. We even made a sample one you can use as a reference below. This is a document to provide basic info to a supplier about your lab that includes

  • Lab shipping and billing addresses, 
  • bank info and contact
  • FEIN and D&B number 
  • date founded and where it was incorporated
  • Contact email addresses for purchasing and invoicing

Credit applications generally also include trade/credit references. These are suppliers who can say your lab reliably pays its bills on time. 

This document can also allow you to get credit terms with a supplier. Rather than pre-paying for everything with a credit card, the supplier will invoice the lab and they will have 30 days to pay that invoice by bank transfer or other means. 

Suppliers Vary in Account Setup

Suppliers vary widely in their requirements to set up an account and extend Net 30 credit terms. The simplest is registering online and ordering (Amazon). Some suppliers require more work to set up account, but extend terms immediately (Thermofisher). Some are draconian, requiring the most stringent requirements like multiple bank accounts to check as well as full financials of the lab (BD Biosciences). 

Some account set up requirements are negotiable, some aren’t. No matter what though, a generic credit app will save your lab time in getting set up to order with suppliers.

Glossary of useful terms

FEIN – Federal employer identification number (like social security number for a business)

D&B number (DUNS number) – The D-U-N-S Number is a unique nine-digit identifier for businesses. It is used to establish a business credit file.

Credit application – vendor application to get Net30 terms extended

Credit terms – the company has extended a line of credit to you for making Net 30 purchases. There is a spending limit.

Example Generic Credit Application

A generic Credit application with key info to set up an account on Net 30 terms or when filling in a web form to set up a new account with a supplier.

Thank you for Supporting Our Mission

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

thank yous 1

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.