If they are not a member, which many vendors are not, then the university puts out a bid, which is registered through the state (through the Arkansas Department of Finace and Administration)
According to the DFA webpage the offical goals are:
"the office of state procurement (OSP) has primary responsibility and oversight for the state wide procurement of commodities, technical and professional services for all state agencies, boards and commissions and colleges and universities. OSP provides training in the procurement law, regulations and policies. Marketing and redistribution, part of the OSP, is responsible for the disposal of state surplus property and equipment. "
The purpose of the bid is to insure that the state and tax payers money is not freverlously wasted on overly priced items. While this in theroy is great, there is a problem with the system. The problem is when a company bids and say wins, and doesn't exactly provide as great a service as they earlier claimed. This means the university buyer must consitinely waste time calling and dealing with them to ensure they deliver what they promised when promised. After the final delevory, if extra parts or service is required, some vendors jump to and make sure everything is satisfactory, while others will hemm and haaa for a while.
When I first started specing furniture for the university, I talked with vendors, picked out who I wanted to work with based on the service I received and the designs, quality of product... the usual things. I figured I could just contact my buyer and they could buy it and boom! We're done. I was quite taken back when learning about the process earlier mentioned. I still am trying to get my arms around it. If I pick out a couch and a fabric from a company, and put it out to bid, the winning bid may not look at all like what I speced. Grrr!
I am still learning all about this process, so if I mis-explained anything- I apologize.