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17 January 2019
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Caveat Emptor – as true today as when the Romans coined the phrase

9 September 2013

Buyer Beware, or Caveat Emptor as the Romans used to put it, is still very much a truism despite all of the legislation that successive governments, and the EU, have tried to impose to protect consumers.

For business folk, who enjoy less protection when they are working than they do as individual consumers, more care has to be taken over what you are buying and who you are buying from.

Due diligence is a term often applied to this process, and when done well it is applied not just to the initial, pre-contract stage, but also over the duration of the contractual relationship.

A while back we had the adulterated meat problem whereby what was being delivered was not what was expected. As this was an end product being supplied to consumers, the problem was picked up through random testing as part of the consumer protection process, but apparently not by the purchasing organisation(s) concerned. The other day I saw a large sign in one store saying that all of their meat was “100% British or Irish”. That may have been intended to reassure, but it could it doesn’t preclude it being 100% horse, rat, dog or any other sort of meat; caveat emptor again perhaps.

You can’t always get it right no matter how careful you are, but what marks the good out is that the people who are on top of the game are the ones that have assessed the risks well and made appropriate plans in case something goes wrong.

They will know where the potential problems might be, have early warning systems in place and plans ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ all ready and rehearsed in case something does go wrong. It’s akin to the way that pilots face all sorts of emergencies in the safety of the simulator so that they are likely to be able to cope with anything that the real world conjures up for them.

In our own real world of purchasing of course, we are less likely to face such dramas, but there are business critical products and services that, if compromised, could seriously damage the organisation’s health. A dodgy batch of components or products cost sales and dents customer confidence, and a failed supplier will have similar impact. If that part of your supply chain is crucial to your business then you need to keep focused on it, reviewing the risks and doing whatever is necessary to mitigate, reduce or remove those risks.

In July we signed a contract with a new supplier, one that we had chosen from a two-name shortlist after around three months of careful research and checking. A few weeks into the venture our supplier lost their principle contract and with it the opportunity to supply us.

Nothing that we could have discovered by legitimate means could have predicted that happening, but we had a plan ‘B’, and on the morning that this blog is published I will be meeting with legal people to sign off a replacement for the original deal. The interruption has hurt a little, but we have got through it because we had acknowledged the risk and had an alternative available and were able to switch into it.

Caveat Emptor.
Appropriate, really, since our little problem took place in a city founded on a principal Roman settlement. A good job we took their advice, and maybe further proof that Henry Ford, who I name-checked here last week, had it wrong when he said that history was bunk.

John Bowen is an FM consultant