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Look around for the best discounts

A few years ago, buying a copier was a pretty straightforward process. Schools simply contacted their local county suppliers who would tell them which machine they should have. The county suppliers would then buy the copier on the school's behalf and the machine would eventually arrive. But fund holding has changed all that.

Schools can now buy from a variety of sources. The county suppliers are still possible, and an estimated 30 per cent of schools still take this route. The advantage is that the suppliers have considerable purchasing power - buying for 30 or 40 schools means they can negotiate much better rates than if a school bought a copier on its own.

County suppliers are also well informed about copier contracts which have caused considerable problems in recent years. Schools that take this purchasing route are unlikely to experience the contractual horrors that have plagued the public and private sectors alike.

Schools can also buy copiers from what are effectively privatised county suppliers. For example, Epsom-based Professional Supplies Management used to be Surrey Commercial Services but was sold off in March this year.These organisations also have considerable buying power.

This year Professional Supplies Management is expecting to buy some 800 copiers with discounts in the region of 50 per cent off list price. It also offers an advisory service and is able to negotiate good deals on running and maintenance costs. Professional Supplies Management offers a cost per copy of 0.85p on volumes of 10,000 copies per month. It is unlikely that any school could negotiate these terms on its own. Although based in the south-east, the company will buy for schools elsewhere.

Other privatised county suppliers who can negotiate similar deals include Enfield-based GLS Fairway (formerly Greater London Supplies) and CSSL (formerly Berkshire County Suppliers) who are based in Reading. It is estimated that around 40 per cent of schools buy in this way, although the figure is much higher in the old GLS region.

Schools can also buy directly from manufacturers or dealers. This gives them more choice and flexibility, but they are unlikely to get the same level of discount. There are over 20 copier manufacturers and lots more dealers. But remember that in recent years some dealers have gained a reputation for sharp practices. So, be very confident of your negotiating skills before approaching them.

According to the copier manufacturer Konica, primary and secondary schools tend to buy low or mid-volume machines capable of around 10,000 copies per month. Most want the ability to copy from and on to A3-sized paper and to reduce and enlarge documents.

A few also want to copy from and onto double-sided paper - or duplex, as it is known - and about half ask for a document feeder and sorter. However, the last two add substantially to the cost.

According to Kodak, schools were traditionally regarded as the dumping ground of old and unsophisticated equipment. That is no longer the case. As they compete for pupils, schools are increasingly aware of the importance of presenting a good image. Consequently, they are showing more interest in photocopiers that can deliver high-grade results.

CSSL 0734 757075

GLS Fairway 081-805 8333

Professional Supplies Management 081-541 7006

Kodak 0442 61122

Konica 0268 534444

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