Monday, November 1, 2010

Have you been shorted by chemical suppliers?

Like everyone else, I greatly enjoyed Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential"; for those not in the know, Bourdain writes very entertainingly about his twenty-some years in the restaurant business. He talks about a little escapade with one of his mentors, who he called "Bigfoot":
Once, after years of ordering frozen BeeGee shrimp from a reputable seafood purveyor, Bigfoot discovered a hastily applied label indicating net weight. When it peeled off, he realized the company had, for years, been printing their own fake labels, heat-sealing them over the actual weight printed on the box and cheating him out of a few ounces of shrimp every five pounds. Next time the company sent Bigfoot a bill, he simply send them a Polaroid photo of the incriminating box, label peeling off to reveal actual weight. And the next time, too. And for almost a year after, Bigfoot didn't pay for fish. He never discussed it with the company -- and they never said a word. They just kept sending him free fish until they figured all that retroactive skim was paid back. When Bigfoot finally stopped ordering altogether they didn't wonder why.
While nothing that dramatic has ever happened to me, I have had the opportunity to notice when a reputable chemical purveyor (all of you have ordered from them, probably) has shorted me a few percent of actual weight over a few months' of ordering. I knew it was an honest mistake (what good is lying to your customers on an issue this small? Hanlon's razor is relevant, I hope), but I found it to be a little disturbing and irritating. (It was odd how the error was always in their favor, ya know?) Phone calls were enough to fix the problem.

What say you, beloved readers? Ever been shorted by a chemical supplier?

8 comments:

  1. Actually, not so long ago a 5 gram bottle of Aldrich reagent came in at 4.85 g. Being accustomed to their reagents weighed generously or at least (for the pricy stuff) precisely I was nothing short of stunned.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A coworker in my lab ordered 5g of a compound (a protected diaminopropionic acid I think) and got precisely 1g. Turns out the supplier uses the same bottles for the two different sizes. It was quickly fixed with one phone call. Mistakes happen it seems, but I'm always thankful when starting materials are cheap enough that it isn't worth the effort to skim.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A labmate once ordered 250 mg of Rh2(OAc)4 from Aldrich and received only 50 mg. A phone call resulted in a fresh 250 mg bottle free of charge.

    ReplyDelete
  4. While I've not often had the short end of the stick, I was lucky enough to do my PhD in a fairly warm area of the country, and thus received an awful lot of different compounds that, due to sitting in a truck in summertime on a highway, arrived to us as black, literally smoking chars

    ReplyDelete
  5. There was one particular supplier, usually 3rd or 4th on my list after the usual suspects, that regularly had 5-10% less in the bottle than was advertised. I hated ordering from them, but it was also easier than making it myself so I tried to keep my temper in check, especially after being told by their customer service rep that "I needed to make sure to scrape the bottle to get everything out". Really?!? I didn't know that.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My coworker found out yestersay that two 25-gram bottles of a reagent from the Walmart of Chemicals were off by 600 mg. The bottles were from the same batch and received on the same day.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I work at Aldrich and spent some time in our Technical Service department. We package and ship literally thousands of chemicals every day. While less that 0.01% of orders are short-filled, mistakes do happen. If you ever receive a short filled bottle please contact our Technical Service department at 800-231-8327. We want to know about the problem and will be happy to replace the missing amount.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @MatSci Guy:

    Thanks for commenting and adding useful statements! Would you be interested in talking more? If so, e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmaildotcom. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete