Opinion

Cowan’s decries RDCK furniture contract

Cowan
Cowan's Office Supplies Ltd. bid on the contract to supply new furniture to the RDCK but lost the contract despite having the lowest price.
— image credit: Courtesy Google Street View

Dear Mayor Dooley, Brian Carruthers, RDCK board members,

We would like to extend our appreciation to you for taking the time to read the following letter that outlines our concerns and questions regarding the RDCK's office furniture procurement process. We feel honoured to be a part of the business community in the West Kootenay and we value your support.

After reading about the RDCK's decision to award the office furniture contract to Graphic Office Interiors in Victoria, we were shocked, disappointed and confused to discover taxpayers will be paying $20,000 more for RDCK office furnishings. Having thoroughly reviewed the bid document we also understand that price was not the only criteria used in the evaluation process. However, after evaluating all bids on a 1250 point system there was only a 10 point difference between Cowan's and Graphic — in essence a virtual tie. Considering this, the real difference between bids comes down to $20,000 or 11.1 per cent difference in pricing. As taxpayers and business owners we have to question, how is this justified?

In our opinion the entire procurement process was confusing. The RDCK chose initially to use the government corporate supply agreement, which specifies Graphic as the chosen supplier. Graphic was hired to produce a design layout at a cost of $25,000 to the RDCK. Upon learning of the potential opportunity to provide the RDCK with office furniture we requested a meeting with Brian Carruthers and Stuart Horn to discuss the possibility of Cowan's providing these services. At this time Mr. Carruthers informed us that the RDCK had done due diligence and was choosing Graphic Office Interiors because the provincial government, through their corporate supply agreement, would always find the lowest price. Clearly this is not the case as our bid came in lower. We pointed out that as a local supplier, Cowan's provides many advantages over using someone 12 hours away. These include almost immediate response to any issues, a proven relationship of over 30 years working with the RDCK, the hiring of additional local workers for the installation phase of the project, and of course keeping tax dollars working in our local economy.

By choosing to initially circumvent a competitive bid process with the awarding of the contract to Graphic, the RDCK set in motion a competitive advantage Graphic would realize throughout the process.  By writing the specifications for the project, Graphic could tailor all work to favour themselves, and in some cases lock out competitors from bidding. Furthermore, there was no consideration given for Canadian made products or environmental impact. While our product is made in Canada, Graphic's is made in the US. As well, our product contains 80.5 per cent recycled product with 96.1 per cent end of life recyclability, Graphic's product only contains up to 49 per cent recycled content.

Another issue of concern is that entire parts of the project were never even put out to tender. No other company was given the opportunity to provide pricing on the reception area, boardroom upgrades, or high density filing system. Why are portions of this project being awarded to Graphic without a bid process when, as illustrated above, the bid process clearly favours the local tax payer?

In summary, while appearing to conduct a fair bid process in the tendering of office furnishings, quite the opposite has happened. The RDCK has paid handsomely for a consulting service that allows Graphic to write specifications suiting their product. Furthermore the request for proposal doesn't reflect local concerns like environmental impact, Canadian manufacturing, and supporting the local economy which we suspect RDCK directors and citizens care about. At the end of the day, and all things considered equal, a $20,000 savings to taxpayers should be enough reason for RDCK directors to reconsider their decision and award the contract to Cowan's. We look forward to your response.

Andy and Paul Cowan, Cowan Office Supplies Ltd., Nelson

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