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Timing your buying

Timing may not be everything, but when it comes to getting the best price on a wide variety of purchases, it can make a big difference. Knowing the best times to make certain buys ensures you’ll get the best deals available, whether on a case of wine, prime rib or new carpeting for the dining room.

While many food products have obvious seasonal best times to buy, other purchase categories aren’t so clear. Here’s a look at a few for which timing matters.

HDTVs—Jan. 1
When demand is high, manufacturers try to make hay. You’ll find deals on high-end TVs prior to the Super Bowl—everybody wants to watch the big game on a big TV—and in the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The winter quarter seems to be the best time to buy a number of commodity products. Economist Ephraim Leibtag of the Economic Research Service at USDA tracked the ups and downs of wholesale prices for seven commodities over the last 10 years. Poultry, pork, wheat flour and rice took the biggest dips in January, while sugar, cooking oil and eggs were the lowest in February. Several factors may be at play here, Leibtag believes. Demand by restaurants and retail is highest around the holidays, so prices peak in November and December, then drop in January and February. The production cycles of pigs and chickens also impact prices, as do crop harvests.

Computers and digital cameras—Feb. 1
A lot of companies release new models in the month or two after the Consumer Electronic Show in January. That means discounts on the models that are being replaced. February is a good time for digital cameras for the same reason as computers. The big Photo Marketing Association Show takes place this month featuring new models galore. Presidents Day sales are worth keeping an eye on.

Wine—Feb. 1
The current economic climate has created a buyer’s market on high-end wines, according to Master of Wine and Master Sommelier Ron Wiegand. “High-end wines have not been selling at restaurants and there’s a big surplus. Prices have never been better. I’ve seen prices 50 percent lower on high-end wines than they were a year ago,” he says. Outside of current economy-driven opportunities, Wiegand says typical best buying times for wine are early spring and fall. “From February 1 until May is when a lot of wines from the previous vintage come out and in the fall, typically in September, lighter reds that need only one year of aging are released.” He adds that early in those seasons is the best time to pick up high-demand esoteric wines that have more limited production. 

Frozen foods—March 1
March is National Frozen Food month, and that’s when you’ll find a lot of manufacturers, distributors and buying groups offering special pricing and promotions on a wide range of frozen foods, from meats, to French fries, to appetizers and vegetables. If you’ve got the freezer space, stock up.

Vacuum cleaners—April 30
New models typically debut in June, making April and May the best times to get good deals as retailers drop prices to clear inventory and make room, says Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon.

Cookware—May 1
Prices in this category don’t have any predictable swings and are very distributor-dependent, says Hugh Rushing, director of the Cookware Manufacturers Association. But you should be able to save some money by planning purchases around major regional or national trade shows. “Manufacturers often feature show specials like free shipping or discounts off an entire order,” he says. Either attend yourself or work with your distributor’s E&S specialist to see what show specials they may be able to negotiate on your behalf.

Carpet—June 1
Alan Fletcher, a consumer advocate and author of The Complete Carpet Buying Guide, says by simply knowing when to buy operators can cut carpet bills by 25 percent or more. “Carpet retailers have busy seasons and slow seasons. If you try to negotiate a better deal during their busy seasons, you don’t stand much of a chance to beat them down on the price,” he says. “However, if you negotiate wisely during their slow seasons then you stand a very good chance of getting a very sweet carpet deal for yourself.” Best times to buy, according to Fletcher, are when consumers are least likely to be purchasing new carpet: between December 15 and January 31; from May 20 to June 10; and during September, especially early in the month.

High-end beef— July 15
If you have freezer space, stock up on prime rib and beef filet for the holiday season in mid-summer, when these high-end cuts are typically at their lowest prices, says Robert Garlough, author of Modern Food Service Purchasing: Business Essentials to Procurement. “You can save a substantial amount if you’re buying hundreds of pounds of these items, rather than waiting until the last quarter of the year when everyone’s gearing up for holiday business and prices go up.”

Laptops—Aug. 1
Back-to-school sales make for the best laptop shopping. Laptop bargains are targeted at high school and college kids, but make for good deals for restaurant owners as well.

Air conditioners—Oct. 1
Common sense prevails here: prices rise and lower with the temperature. Most old air conditioners expire when the temperature goes up which creates a high demand in the summer. “If an air conditioner is a must buy right now, then begin looking for discounts today on last year’s models. If you have a unit that can make it through another season, then the best option is to wait until stores are clearing their inventory at the end of the summer,” says Luke Knowles, founder of FreeShipping.org, a Web site that links shoppers to free shipping deals. “As temperatures cool the prices will drop and you can find great deals.” If you just need to have your current system serviced, the best time to do it is in February, when many companies offer discounts.

Champagne—Oct. 10
October is a great time to stock up, says Sonia Smith, director of the Champagne Bureau USA, which represents growers in the Champagne region. “Holiday demand starts building at that time and prices are most competitive,” she says. “May and June are good times, as well, because demand for the summer season starts to rise. From a producer standpoint, when demand is highest you want to be sure your product is selected to be menued so that’s when buyers see the best prices.” And good year-round advice, she says: “When the euro goes down, that’s very good news for Champagne lovers in the U.S.”

Chicken wings—Nov. 1
While chicken prices don’t typically swing much seasonally, one exception is chicken wings. “If operators can buy ahead or negotiate prices before the Super Bowl season hits, they’ll save some money,” says Richard Lobb, a spokesperson for the National Chicken Council. “Chicken wing demand goes crazy in the run-up to the Super Bowl so if you’re trying to lock in pricing that’s not a good time to do it. It starts going up in December, so get on it before Thanksgiving or after the basketball playoffs.”

Tabletop items—Dec. 1
“Most manufacturers still use January 1 as their markup date, so try to time tabletop buys such as china and flatware before the end of the year,” recommends Garlough, author of the new foodservice purchasing book. “Start identifying your needs in the summer, put bids out in the fall and take advantage of end-of-the-year sale pricing in November and December.”

Equipment—Dec. 15
Equipment dealers typically get price increases from manufacturers twice a year, in January and July, according to Tom Ligocki, owner/president at Lean Kitchen Solutions, a Sheboygan, Wisconsin-based foodservice design and consulting firm. “We advise clients to try to make their buys or lock in prices prior to those times, by December or June, to avoid taking those increases,” he says. Once prices are locked in, they’re usually good for 30 to 45 days, he adds. For used equipment, right now’s a good time. “Sadly, with so many operations going out of business during the recession, there’s a huge amount of used equipment available out there.” 

Cars—Dec. 15
In the market for a new company car? Consumer Reports’ best time to buy is the end of the year to take advantage of manufacturer incentives and rebates. TrueCar.com, a service that tracks real-world car transactions, adds that the end of the month is better than the beginning. That’s because, while all sales are good, it’s those at the end of the month that typically put dealers and salespeople over their monthly quotas. Furthermore, weekdays are better than weekends: The fewer people on the lot, the more likely the dealer is to make a favorable deal.

Airline tickets—Midnight Tuesdays, 21-23 days before departure
For domestic non-holiday travel the lower fares are typically found 21 to 23 days prior to your departure date, says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com, a travel advice Web site. Prices jump significantly from 14 to seven days ahead of departure. Prices are usually lowest on Wednesdays, Banas adds, because airlines make major pricing changes and run fare sales every week, typically on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly and Sunday the most expensive. As to time of day to buy, a recent AARP report says the best fares typically show up just after midnight EST. That’s when airlines decide whether a flight is full and begin cutting prices if it’s not. Fares can drop by anywhere from $50 to $400, according to the report.

Gas—Wednesday morning
You’ll get the most mileage from gas purchases if you time it right, says Knowles, founder of FreeShipping.org and creator of the Go Frugal blog. “The price of gas is usually higher on the weekends as demand increases. Elevated prices tend to hit the pump by mid-morning on Thursday so save by getting fuel on Wednesday or early in the morning on Thursday,” he says. Another advantage to fueling in the morning is you'll get more for your money, Knowles adds. “Gasoline is most dense in the cool of the morning. Pumps charge by the volume and not the density of gas so you will fuel for less.”

Custom-fabricated equipment—Watch the Stainless Steel Commodity Market
For some kitchen configurations, off-the-shelf products just don’t work. While the word “custom” can imply expensive and scare a lot of people off, having something custom-fabricated often isn’t any more costly, says Tom Ligocki, owner/president at Lean Kitchen Solutions. And if you time it right, it can be cheaper than standard models. For best pricing, keep an eye on the stainless steel commodity market, he suggests. “That’s what impacts pricing most.” Just be sure you know what type/grade of stainless steel to watch – i.e., those that are NSF-approved for the manufacturer of foodservice products.

Commercial real estate—Now
For companies with access to cash or financing, the very best time to buy is right now. Michael Bull, president of Bull Realty, a commercial real estate firm in Atlanta, says commercial real estate values are cyclical, and the cycle we’re in right now—recession on the cusp of recovery—is the absolute best time to buy. “The recession phase follows a market contraction,” he says. “Foreclosures increase and property sellers become motivated. Prices can fall below replacement costs, resulting in many opportunities for those with the liquidity.” 

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