Business owners can use public records requests to learn typically hard-to-find details about their competitors' prices and business practices by requesting contracts and purchase orders whenever a competitor does business with a government agency (municipal, county, state or federal). In one recent example reported by the Oakland Tribune, Diane Griffin, president of local office supply store Radston's Office Plus, used a public records request to learn that her competitor, Office Depot, was significantly overcharging the City of Berkeley. After losing a contract to Office Depot, Griffin wanted to find out how much her competitor was charging in order to offer a more competitive price in future contracts. She submitted a public records request for purchase orders related to the contract and, upon reviewing the documents, realized that Berkeley had paid $262,000 more than the competitor's contract allowed. After Griffin brought the overcharge to the city's attention, the city requested a refund from Office Depot.
Anyone can request contracts or purchase orders from government entities. To learn more, visit the website of the contracting agency and read about their procedures for submitting public records requests.