Obtaining a Supplier Response -- by Writing an Effective Product Specification

Buying and Selling Wood on the Internet: Part 2 March 14, 2002

Part 2 of Buying and Selling Wood on the Internet

This is the second in a series of installments written by Klaas Armster of WoodPlanet.com. WoodPlanet specializes in connecting buyers and suppliers of lumber and wood products, online.

The last installment discussed ways for buyers to communicate with suppliers via email more effectively. This article covers an important component of each email communication: a good product specification.

Although the product specification is only part of what you should communicate to a supplier, it is an important part. It sets the tone and may determine whether or not communication will continue. Suppliers often spend no more than 15 or 20 seconds on an inquiry. In contrast to a phone call, it is easy to delete the message and forget about it. And even though this is a potential sales lead, many suppliers are far more skeptical about email leads than about phone call leads.

As a general rule, if you attempt to solicit a response from suppliers, the more specific you are in your request, the better. Unfortunately, you may not always know what options are available or even exactly what you need. In instances where some information is unknown, such as exact quantity or species needed, explain the situation and include these uncertainties. Explain what alternatives you are willing to consider, also. Make the request as flexible as possible while keeping it realistic. For example, if you need some 16í material, do not ask for all 16-footers. Same with widths Ė indicate that there is a range of options to discuss and suppliers will be more likely to respond. If the request is completely open-ended, they are more likely to ignore it.

Donít forget to include a good introduction in the product spec. This should address two primary questions. Who are you and why do you want this product? If you are quoting a project and need prices, mention that. If you are looking for a new supplier, mention that. One sentence often does the trick and can convey the application the material is intended for, allowing the supplier to quickly understand what you need.

Below is a checklist of information for sending an inquiry to a supplier. You do not need a concrete answer for each of these items, but you should address each issue and try to provide as much information as possible.

Product specification checklist:

- What is the product?
Examples: KD, Lumber or Thick Timbers.
- What is the application or end-use for this material?
- What is the species and what other species are you considering? Do you have a specific reason for selecting a particular species?
- What is the grade? If you do not know the exact grade, describe what you want the wood to look like.

- What are the dimensions? Make sure to include thickness, width and lengths.
- Are there any other needs? (e.g. color, grain, heartwood/sapwood, texture, etc)
- What are the quantities? Be sure to include the units of measurement (board feet, cubic meters, tons, pieces, sheets, etc.) If you are looking for a sample quantity initially, make sure to include information on what you are looking to purchase in the future if you like the sample.
- Where is the material being shipped to?
- Will this be an ongoing request?
- What is the moisture content? At the very least, include KD, AD or Green.
- What machining requirements to you have? (S4S, S3S or Rough)
- What is the time frame?

Finally, a good product spec includes contact information. Unless you really do not want the supplier to call you, include your company name (if applicable) as well as fax and phone number. Some suppliers are not good about replying to email, but will call if they see a phone number. A phone number shows you are serious about your request.

The next installment will discuss buying and selling form the sellerís point of view, starting with the keys to an effective web site and web presence.

This is the second in a series of installments written by Klaas Armster of WoodPlanet.com. WoodPlanet specializes in connecting buyers and suppliers of lumber and wood products, online.