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Three Tips for Joining a GPO This Year

As winter thaws, many catering professionals are in the process of getting ready for the busy season. Creating menus, training staff, stocking inventory, negotiating offers, monitoring profit margins—preparing for the year ahead can feel like a juggling act. 

The good news: You don’t have to do it alone!

If you haven’t yet joined a group purchasing organization (GPO), the best time is before business picks up and keeps your schedule full. GPO membership offers a no-strings-attached opportunity to cut costs, expand supply access, and save precious time from sourcing and negotiating.

Joining a GPO will pay dividends far beyond the rest of the year. If you’re ready to take the step, here are three important tips to make the right choice.

Do your research

Not all GPOs are created equal, so it’s essential to do some homework before selecting the best fit for your business needs. Review purchase orders from the past few years, noting what you buy frequently. Once you have a strong understanding of your purchasing habits, get in touch with a GPO to learn more about how they can help you fulfill your goals.

Inquire about exclusive suppliers, responsible sourcing, food safety, delivery timeliness, and other factors influencing your business’s bottom line. Share past receipts and ask for a rundown of how much you can expect to save on each order. A reputable GPO will walk you through the process and explain how they negotiate on your behalf. There is nothing to hide, so don’t hold back your questions.

Test the customer experience

In addition to cost savings, GPOs can provide concierge services for personalized sourcing and industry consulting. Whether you’re trying to track down an obscure product or looking to increase efficiency in the kitchen, you should be able to trust the member success team to help.

So before agreeing to anything, give customer service a test drive. Is there a local representative familiar with your market? Do you receive timely responses to inquiries, or are you left waiting for days? GPO representatives are meant to be problem-solvers for you and your business, so make sure you can rely on them to come through when you need them most.

Maintain your freedom

One of the biggest hesitations of joining a GPO is the fear of getting “stuck.” As a business owner, you don’t want to feel restricted in purchasing decisions. Fortunately, with a trustworthy GPO, you don’t have to abide by any strict rules. Think of it as adding options to the mix, allowing you to use its resources as frequently as you want.

Make sure to review the contract before signing, confirming that there are no prohibitive policies that lock you into a required membership duration, order frequency, or purchase amount. You should be able to join a GPO and ignore it altogether without risk of penalty (beyond missing out on all the benefits, of course). 

Membership should not force you to change how you operate or prevent you from maintaining existing relationships with suppliers. It’s simply another avenue for sourcing inventory, one that will save you time and money if leveraged wisely.

In that vein, it’s worth noting that GPO membership does not equate to automatic savings. Caterers must use the group’s services to see value; placing orders and working with customer service to ensure maximum savings will produce results. 

When you put in the time and effort to take advantage of your GPO membership, you’ll be on your way to saving thousands of dollars and hours of your time every year. 


Clint Elkins

Clint Elkins is the VP Sales for SB Value located in Charlotte, NC. Clint, a former professional race car driver, was one of the top motorsports promoters in the country by the age of 35. Clint used that experience and passion for business to launch his second career in a sales and marketing. Outside of work Clint enjoys spending time on his family farm and coaching his two daughters softball teams. Clint is also an avid cook and self proclaimed badminton superstar.