Upper management often doesn't take purchasing too seriously, regarding the personnel who procure the company's supplies as merely clerks whose job requires no specialized skills.
"Everybody thinks they can be a buyer," says Elaine N. Whittington, a purchaser for Lockheed Aeronautical Systems. "But a good buyer has insight into costs and how to negotiate a deal."The problem with overcoming the purchaser's lack of respect, as Whittington sees it, is purchasers tend to sulk about being passed over or taken advantage of, when they should be milling among management passing the word about what purchasing has to offer.
Whittington, president of the National Association of Purchasing Management, was in Salt Lake City last week inspiring the troops to stand up and be counted.
"People don't recognize the part you play," she told the Purchasing Management Association of Utah. "People need to know who you are and what you can do for them."
Whittington encouraged purchasers and material managers to take up "management by walking around," rather than sitting at the desk filling orders by phone.
Material managers need to let those in the company making a purchasing request know what has been done in negotiating a deal to insure quality, reasonable warranties and other elements an unknowing manager couldn't cover.
Whittington told the Deseret News that on the average a company purchases 60 percent of its products from outside suppliers, so the purchasing agents play a big part in determining a firm's profit.
She said her organization's program to get the word out on the importance of purchasing is working and management is paying more attention to its purchasing departments.
"Purchasing is undergoing a metamorphosis and chief executives are beginning to recognize the contribution purchasing is making."
She said her organization is trying to capitalize on this newfound knowledge and stepping up educational and research programs to help purchasers become better prepared and informed as to their responsibilities.
Universities are beginning to offer courses, and several offer business degrees, emphasizing materials management and purchasing. Whittington is an adjunct professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, teaching "Fundamentals of Purchasing."
Studies are also being done by NAPM's staff in Tempe, Ariz., on trends and issues facing the profession. An example, Whittington said, is an ongoing study on overseas purchasing. She explained that buying from a foreign country presents new challenges to negotiating, shipping, exchange rates and insurance that many material managers have never faced.
Of course, it's not as though NAPM has never been known or respected. Its monthly "Report on Business" is regarded by private and government economists as one of the most reliable economic barometers available, Whittington said.
Through polling members throughout the country, NAPM collects data on production, inventories, new orders, employment, prices, short supply and general remarks on business conditions. The responses reflect the buying patterns of industry nationally, reflecting the state of business and the economy.
NAPM, founded in 1915, has a network of 161 affiliates throughout the country.