Everyone loves a bargain! These days, more and more labs need to stretch every dollar as far as it will go. So how do you keep your lab well-supplied on a tight budget? To get a better deal on products you might choose to shop around, buy in bulk or haggle with vendors. However, if you work for a larger employer, then there is a very good chance that the purchasing department has already negotiated for the best deal on your behalf. Many universities and companies have on-site vendors and/or online store fronts providing commonly used lab supplies at reduced prices. Their mission is clear: to support scientific efforts by providing a convenient way to purchase equipment and supplies.

Let’s take a brief look at how this in-house resource might be able to benefit your laboratory. Do the Research Stores (as they’re known at my institution) have the lowest prices? Not always – but often, the prices will be better than a vendor’s list price once you’ve factored in shipping and handling. And if the item that you want is in stock, you can drop by and get it today!

Regularly stocked items may include:

1. Consumables

2. Plastic ware

3. Glassware

4. Liquid nitrogen, dry ice and gasses

5. Safety equipment – gloves, lab coats, goggles, etc.

6. General laboratory supplies – tape, pens, notebooks, microscope slides, pipette tips, etc.

7. General laboratory tools and equipment – thermometers, single- and multi-channel pipettors, microcentrifuges, etc.

8. Acids, bases, alcohols and other solid and liquid chemical reagents

9. Ready-to-use kits

10. Media

There are many benefits to having an in-house resource that sells laboratory supplies. The staff are your colleagues, and your questions can be answered expediently. Just call, e-mail, or drop by in person. If you are unsure about which product to use for an experiment,  knowledgeable staff can help compare similar products to determine the best one to use. And when you need to replace equipment, or add new technology to your laboratory, staff can assist in finding the best deal for large equipment purchases.

Not every vendor item can be carried in inventory, so supplies are often tailored to the types of research ongoing at your institution. When you need the option of a wider variety of items, the next best thing is institutional group purchasing. Investigators can customize their own orders and have the purchasing department submit all of them to a vendor at once so shipping and handling costs can be significantly reduced overall, or eliminated completely.

There are some times where you are better off ordering directly through a vendor instead of from a quick, in-house resource.  Some situations where this may be more advantageous to you include: special order and made-to-order items, such as antibodies, probes, or reagents; next-day orders or rush deliveries; and restricted items that require you to have an individual permit or license.

Laboratories around the world find creative ways to do more with less. By identifying additional avenues where grant funding can be saved – or stretched – more time can be devoted to science, while more of your money can be put towards supplies needed to do the science.

How does your group save money on lab supplies?

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  1. Hello,

    Wanted to let everyone know that after 6+ years of research in the lab, I’ve started my own life science supply company, in response in part to unjustifiably high prices charged by the big two suppliers. I’ve asked BitesizeBio to add my company name to the vendor list but until then, please have a look:


    Thanks everyone and good luck with your research endeavors, John.

  2. order chemicals and plastics in bulk. This can save you 25-75% on almost all everyday items. Many companies run yearly or quarterly promotions, pay attention and buy what you need for a year. This can be tough for labs going day to day, but in the long run will save mucho dinero, and save time. Never buy competent cells, make your own. Group purchase equipment with other labs. Make students write up detailed protocols for each and every experiment before they do them, stress quality over quantity… it is better to do 5 successful experiments than ten with a 50% failure rate. Next time you are watching TV, email/request free polymerase samples during commercials. If you need that 50K piece of equipment for 1 experiment, request a “demo”. When getting quotes for equipment and big purchases, make sure your sales rep know who they are competing against. when subcloning, always gel extract your vector and insert when cloning, and Ant. Phosphatase your vector….. following this expect 90% of your minipreps will have insert, saving costly mini prep columns.

  3. DNA clean up spin columns. We’ve replaced our DNA spin columns with the ones sold in bulk by Epoch Lifescience (1920-250, list price of $95 for 250). You make your own solutions (instructions provided) and the columns appear to work just as well as Qiagen et al for simple minipreps of plasmids and PCR fragments. They’re not the best for agarose gel extractions, but that never works well anyway.. I’ve performed minipreps of plamids up to 16kb, and they appeared to perform well.

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