Bulk/Discount Buy Group Management
November 29, 2011 2:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm a member of a few different groups that periodically put together a bulk orders from wholesalers as a way to get a discount and also to bring products to our small island community that are hard to get otherwise. I'm managing one of these groups, and am finding that as it grows the amount of time spent keeping track of everybody's orders, calculating how much everyone owes, and dividing up the order after it's been received, has been increasing with each larger order. I've incorporated spreadsheets and a mailing list into my process but it still involved a great deal of manual processing. I've started writing some scripts to help out as well, but it occurs to me that others doing this must have faced these problems as well. I've tried some googling but haven't found much information out there, so I'm wondering how the rest of you do this.

Some particular questions I have: (but feel contribute anything relevant even if it doesn't fit exactly into one of these questions, since no doubt there are areas I haven't thought about)
  • Are one or two people primarily responsible for keeping track of orders coming from different people at different times, or does the whole group meet to take care of the management together?
  • How do you do the physical work of dividing up the order and distributing it to all the members?
  • Do you use any software to help manage everything? If so, what, and how do you use it?
  • If one or two members of the group do more of the work, are they compensated somehow? If so, how?
And, if you want, some background might provide helpful context:
  • What, if any, are the frustrating aspects of your group?
  • About how many members are in your group?
  • Who do you order from?
  • How often do you order?
  • About how much is a typical order worth?
posted by Emanuel to Shopping (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't answer your specific questions, but maybe this link to United Buying Clubs will give you a useful lead. I was a member of a buying club that ordered natural foods from them. There was a membership fee ($36/yr), and a requirement that every member contribute a few hours each month to help with the physical and administrative work. It was so successful that it got too large to coordinate, and it folded. I hope you have better luck making it work!
posted by Corvid at 2:45 PM on November 29, 2011

I've never managed this myself, but when I've participated, it was run via a spreadsheet in a yahoo group. If I recall correctly, everyone kicked in either a flat fee or a percentage of the cost to the person who managed it, to make it worth their while. It probably ended up being about $100 per large order total for the manager, at a vague memory, and the orders were maybe 7-10 times that? This would have been either with Frontier for spices, bulk food, toiletries, etc., or with international or US companies for baby gear (e.g., baby carriers, clothes, etc.). Oh, and sometimes Dharma Trading Co. (OMG, I miss my hippie early parenting days all of a sudden.)

The manager would then repackage and either ship to the end purchaser (you'd pay extra for the shipping), have a central location for pickup, or bring it to a meeting for pickup.
posted by instamatic at 3:03 PM on November 29, 2011

One local to me is managed by one person, who collects all the orders and money, and gets a discount in return. Everyone goes to the manager's house to pick up their orders on a specified day and excess is given away at 8 p.m. or something. This isn't very big, though; maybe 30 people or so, and it's food, so it won't (easily) store. YMMV, but I think having one manager per order who gets a discount is very fair.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:16 PM on November 29, 2011

I should have said that each person placed their own order directly into the spreadsheet. So the manager probably checked it to be sure the price, description, and item number all matched, but they didn't have to manage the spreadsheet any more than that.
posted by instamatic at 3:46 PM on November 29, 2011

I use a Google spreadsheet into which members can input their own orders. This is for a small group, 8 or so.
posted by ssg at 6:23 PM on November 29, 2011

Based on instamatic's answer above, you could make good use of Google Apps on the admin side.
  • Create a form for the upcoming order with X supplier, to be placed on whichever date.
  • Email each member a link to the form with instructions to complete it in advance of the order date.
    (have a field for their email, quantity, which ever items - probably best if they have product ID nos, rather than vague descriptions.)
  • Google present you with a nice spreadsheet so you can total up the quantities of each item, calculate costs & place the order etc.
You'd have to work out if you wanted to include an option for every item (laborious if there are many) or trust folk to fill in accurate details, but the basics of form / spreadsheet creation, and sharing it with members is very easy and well documented.
posted by dirm at 6:31 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

https://www.wepay.com sounds like a decent fit for you. I use it to collect rent from roommates, which is basically the same problem, group purchasing. It's free to sign up and 50c/ payment if everyone's using checking accounts. This will handle the money/bookkeeping side quite well (tracks who has paid and who hasn't, nags slowpokes for you), but you're on your own as far as compensating people doing more work and physically dividing the stuff up. If it were me I'd have no problem giving X% per order or a few bucks to a leader as long as it was discussed up front, totally reasonable.
posted by spatula at 7:05 PM on November 29, 2011

The first thing has to be: no money, no order. Nobody goes on the list until you have money in hand. If someone is in need, let someone else deal with it.

Second thing is to make people responsible for getting their own stuff (unless you prefer to do drop offs).

The rest kind of depends on the product and the number of people. But in general, you accept orders until a deadline, publish a final tally and wait for the corrections and the "oh I forgots", and then send it in.

Basically, it's like selling Girl Scout cookies.
posted by gjc at 9:12 PM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers. I've tried the shared spreadsheet in the past, but found that the overhead of technical support and fixing people's problems far outweighed any time savings, so I switched back to manually entering orders in my own spreadsheet. We're in a place that has poor Internet access (many people stuck on 28.8 dial-up or spotty 3G) so things like Google Docs don't tend to work very well.

Corvid, the coordinator support section of the United Buying Clubs site is a fantastic resource. Thanks very much for that.
posted by Emanuel at 5:57 AM on December 5, 2011

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