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Purchasing agents generally work for organizations that buy at least $100,000 worth of goods a year. Their primary goal is to purchase the best quality materials for the best price. To do this, the agent must consider the exact specifications for the required items, cost, quantity discounts, freight handling or other transportation costs, and delivery time. In the past, much of this information was obtained by comparing listings in catalogs and trade journals, interviewing suppliers' representatives, keeping up with current market trends, examining sample goods, and observing demonstrations of equipment. Increasingly, information can be found through computer databases, and most purchasing transactions are now handled through the Internet. Sometimes agents visit plants of company suppliers. The agent is responsible for following up on orders and ensuring that goods meet the order specifications.
Purchasing agents also frequently work with other employees as part of a "team buying" process. For example, before placing an order, they will meet with design engineers to discuss the product's design, or with production supervisors to learn more about the quality of purchased goods, or with receiving department managers to hash out shipping issues. Gathering this information from various perspectives improves the quality of the purchase.
Most purchasing agents work in firms that have fewer than five employees in their purchasing department. In some small organizations, there is only one person responsible for making purchases. Very large firms, however, may employ as many as 100 purchasing agents, each responsible for specific types of goods. In such organizations there is usually a purchasing director or purchasing manager.
Some purchasing agents seek the advice of purchase-price analysts, who compile and analyze statistical data about the manufacture and cost of products. Based on this information, they can make recommendations to purchasing personnel regarding the feasibility of producing or buying certain products and suggest ways to reduce costs.
Purchasing agents often specialize in a particular product or field. For example, procurement engineers specialize in aircraft equipment. They establish specifications and requirements for construction, performance, and testing of equipment.
Field contractors negotiate with farmers to grow or purchase fruits, vegetables, or other crops. These agents may advise growers on methods, acreage, and supplies, and arrange for financing, transportation, or labor recruitment.
Head tobacco buyers are engaged in the purchase of tobacco on the auction warehouse floor. They advise other buyers about grades and quantities of tobacco and suggest prices.
Grain buyers manage grain elevators. They are responsible for evaluating and buying grain for resale and milling. They are concerned with the quality, market value, shipping, and storing of grain.
Grain broker-and-market operators buy and sell grain for investors through the commodities exchange. Like other brokers, they work on a commission basis.