Ultimate Orange: Procurement and Supply Chain Lessons From Weight Lifting Supplements (Part 2)

Jason Busch and Richard Lee

Some people say weightlifting is not the sport for intellectuals. We’ve also heard the same thing said of procurement, mind you. But anyone who would dismiss either in such a manner has clearly not done their homework, or clearly has a chip on their shoulder. (Their atrophied, miniscule deltoids, that is.)

External criticisms aside, there are more commonalities between the activity and the profession than not. This includes how to “juice” performance at the expense of longer-term horizons. Yes, as economists like to say, we all die anyway, but how fast we accelerate the decline of our vital signs — let alone balance sheets — or harm P&L performance is really up to us.

As we embark on our highly rigorous holiday season analysis — yes, that was a joke — on how to juice performance of both the muscular and procurement sort with supplements, we will start our discussion with a true throwback enhancer: Ultimate Orange, from the 80’s and 90’s.

Used by powerlifters and gym rats alike, Ultimate Orange was Red Bull before Red Bull.  A serving had three to five times the caffeine of a cup of coffee, was chock full of various amino acids and the now banned ephedra. Back in the day, every professional and recreational athlete drank it like Kool-Aid until less physically inclined baseball pitchers started having heart-attacks during spring training.

I (Richard) drank this stuff — and it tasted nothing like an orange — before every workout, every match, and I remember it all like the clarity of zeroing in on a P&L cost savings line at quarter close. I could lift 10% to 20% more weights, play pissed-off (at the world) and didn’t feel pain. I loved it so much, when rumors of an FDA ban surfaced citing health concerns, I made the trek to my local pusher to go stock up. It turns out GNC sold out of its entire inventory in matter of hours following the announcement. (Kinda like Twinkies when the new of bankruptcy surfaced. Yes, we participated in that melee, too).

Ultimate Procurement

So what are the comparisons here and lessons for procurement to Ultimate Orange? It’s actually a simple one — arguably the easiest. Ultimate Orange is the ultimate short-term fix, regardless of how pumped (i.e., sophisticated, in purchasing terms) you are before quaffing it. Given this, it’s clearly the reverse auction of the supplement world.

Reverse auctions, as a procurement tool, can truly juice performance in the near-term and might actually be appropriate in certain cases. But they’re overused and can give an organization the equivalent of a P&L heart attack if forecast savings don’t actually materialize after it becomes clear that the top-three bids in a given event or lot lot will be costly or impossible to implement (and the incumbent supplier did not budge).
Smart lifters can get away with an Ultimate Orange-like drug on occasion — although we hope a legal one! The same is true of smart procurement organizations that apply reverse auctions to the right sets of categories and events — and understand the broader implications and messages sent in using them. For example, one appropriate use use would be in proving to a fat, incumbent supplier in a competitive market that its 50% net margin is not sustainable and that you will in fact switch 80% of the spend to another vendor.

In the meantime, given the fact Ultimate Orange is no longer available, you’ll have to take our word for it that such a supplement, like reverse auctions, is best used sparingly rather than before every trip to go pound iron — or your suppliers.

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About Richard Lee
Experienced finance and operations professional. Currently partner in five companies, adjunct professor of economics at Columbia College and executive contributor to a small business blog (www.SMBmatters.com); following corporate finance, M&A and management consulting tenures with Orbitz and Diamond Technology Partners; and six years of service with the United States Army.

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