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The non standard pipe: A short procurement story

Once more, a story from my Stainless Steel trading job. We got a call from an old customer. The quantity was huge, but the diameter was non-standard. If I remember correctly, he asked for a 67mm Stainless steel pipe.

To put it all in context, the order was about a quarter of our total monthly sales. And we knew that he sent the same inquiry to our competitor. So without time to waste I sent out the RFQ to our vendors.

All of them regretted to quote.

I went online and searched through the US, European, Chinese and Japanese markets. Contacted at least 10 new vendors.

The response was: 

“If you want this specific size, you have to place an order approximately ten times bigger. And pay all in advance.”

 Which was not a feasible option.


So, after 10 days of trying all I could, I had to go to my boss with the bad news. 

“Sorry, I was not able to find the product. 

I tried everything I could.”

Naturally, he was disappointed. It was time to talk it through with the customer and see if there is a way to save the deal. 

He makes the call, while I am sitting in his office, completely demotivated. After the initial courtesy sentences and a short discussion, he starts laughing like crazy…

What in the world happened now?

Here is in short the discussion they had over the phone:

B (Boss): ”Sorry, but the size you have requested is not available”

C (Client): “Got the same feedback from all traders”

B: “What is the actual use for this pipe? Perhaps we could offer some alternative or some workaround”

C: “They are building an office building, I got the material list from the Construction company. Let me quickly check”

C:” You are not going to believe this… It is a stairs railing pipe. The architect has no clue about the standard pipe sizes. He just made up a size he found would be good for the railing” 

B: Laughing 

C: Laughing

B: “OK, you will have the standard size delivered tomorrow. I have sufficient stock available with me.

C: “Fast as always. Done”


Moral of the story: Whenever possible, ask the end user what he needs the product or service for. Every now and then you can offer a more suitable solution. Or avoid doing a lot of work for nothing. 

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