57 Evaluate and Determine Whether to Accept or Reject a Special Order

Both manufacturing and service companies often receive requests to fill special orders. These special orders are typically for goods or services at a reduced price and are usually a one-time order that, in the short-run, does not affect normal sales. When deciding whether to accept a special order, management must consider several factors:

The capacity required to fulfill the special orderWhether the price offered by the buyer will cover the cost of producing the productsThe role of fixed costs in the analysisQualitative factorsWhether the order will violate the Robinson-Patman Act and other fair pricing legislation

Fundamentals of the Decision to Accept or Reject a Special Order

The starting point for making this decision is to assess the company’s normal production capacity. The normal capacity is the production level a company can achieve without adding additional production resources, such as additional equipment or labor. For example, if the company can produce 10,000 towels a month based on its current production capacity, and it is currently contracted to produce 9,000 a month, it could not take on a special one-time order for 3,000 towels without adding additional equipment or workers. Most companies do not work at maximum capacity; rather, they function at normal capacity, which is a concept related to a company’s relevant range. The relevant range is the quantitative range of units that can be produced based on the company’s current productive assets. These assets can include equipment capacity or its labor capacity. Labor capacity is typically easier to increase on a short-term basis than equipment capacity. The following example assumes that labor capacity is available, so only equipment capacity is considered in the example.

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Assume that based on a company’s present equipment, it can produce 20,000 units a month. Its relevant range of production would be zero to 20,000 units a month. As long as the units of production fall within this range, it does not need additional equipment. However, if it wanted to increase production from 20,000 units to 24,000 units, it would need to buy or lease additional equipment. If production is fewer than 20,000 units, the company would have unused capacity that could be used to produce additional units for its current customers or for new clients.

If the company does not have the capacity to produce a special order, it will have to reduce production of another good or service in order to fulfill the special order or provide another means of producing the goods, such as hiring temporary workers, running an additional shift, or securing additional equipment. As you will learn, not having the capacity to fill the special order will create a different analysis than it would if there is sufficient capacity.

Next, management must determine if the price offered by the buyer will result in enough revenue to cover the differential costs of producing the items. For example, if price does not meet the variable costs of production, then accepting the special order would be an unprofitable decision.

Additionally, fixed costs may be relevant if the company is already operating at capacity, as there may be additional fixed costs, such as the need to run an extra shift, hire an additional supervisor, or buy or lease additional equipment. If the company is not operating at capacity—in other words, the company has unused capacity—then the fixed costs are irrelevant to the decision if the special order can be met with this unused capacity.

Special orders create several qualitative issues. A logical issue is the concern for how existing customers will feel if they discover a lower price was offered to the special-order customer. A special order that might be profitable could be rejected if the company determined that accepting the special order could damage relations with current customers. If the goods in the special order are modified so that they are cheaper to manufacture, current customers may prefer the modified, cheaper version of the product. Would this hurt the profitability of the company? Would it affect the reputation?

In addition to these considerations, sometimes companies will take on a special order that will not cover costs based on qualitative assessments. For example, the business requesting the special order might be a potential client with whom the manufacturer has been trying to establish a business relationship and the producer is willing to take a one-time loss. However, our coverage of special orders concentrates on decisions based on quantitative factors.

Companies considering special orders must also be aware of the anti–price discrimination rules established in the Robinson-Patman Act. The Robinson-Patman Act is a federal law that was passed in 1936. Its primary intent is to prevent some forms of price discrimination in sales transactions between smaller and larger businesses.


The Robinson-Patman Act prevents large retailers from purchasing goods in bulk at a greater discount than smaller retailers are able to obtain them. It helps keep competition fair between large and small businesses and is sometimes called the “Anti-Chain Store Act.” Read the LegalDictionary.net full definition and example of the Robinson-Patman Act to learn more.


Sample Data

Franco, Inc., produces dental office examination chairs. Franco has the capacity to produce 5,000 chairs per year and currently is producing 4,000. Each chair retails for $2,800, and the costs to produce a single chair consist of direct materials of $750, direct labor of $600, and variable overhead of $300. Fixed overhead costs of $1,350,000 are met by selling the first 3,000 chairs. Franco has received a special order from Ghanem, Inc., to buy 800 chairs for $1,800. Should Franco accept the special order?


Calculations Using Sample Data

Franco is not operating at capacity and the special order does not take them over capacity. Additionally, all the fixed costs have already been met. Therefore, when evaluating the special order, Franco must determine if the special offer price will meet and exceed the costs to produce the chairs. (Figure) details the analysis.


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Final Analysis of the Decision

The analysis of Franco’s options did not consider any qualitative factors, such as the impact on morale if the company is already at capacity and opts to implement overtime or hire temporary workers to fill the special order. The analysis also does not consider the effect on regular customers if management elects to meet the special order by not fulfilling some of the regular orders. Another consideration is the impact on existing customers if the price offered for the special order is lower than the regular price. These effects may create a bad dynamic between the company and its customers, or they may cause customers to seek products from competitors. As in the example, Franco would need to consider the impact of displacing other customers and the risk of losing business from regular customers, such as dental supply companies, if he is unable to meet their orders. The next step is to do an overall cost/benefit analysis in which Franco would consider not only the quantitative but the qualitative factors before making his final decision on whether or not to accept the special order.


Jake’s Jerseys has been asked to produce athletic jerseys for a local school district. The special order is for 1,000 jerseys of varying sizes, and the price offered by the school district is $10 less per jersey than the normal $50 market price. The school district interested in the jerseys is one of the largest in the area. What quantitative and qualitative factors should Jake consider in making the decision to accept or reject the special order?


Key Concepts and Summary

Deciding to accept or reject a special order is a choice between alternatives.Accepting or rejecting a special order involves comparing the purchase price associated with the special order to the cost to produce the items.This decision is highly influenced by whether the firm being offered the special order is operating below or at capacity.Qualitative factors would include consequences such as potential loss of current customers or displacement of jobs.

(Figure)Jansen Crafters has the capacity to produce 50,000 oak shelves per year and is currently selling 44,000 shelves for $32 each. Cutrate Furniture approached Jansen about buying 1,200 shelves for bookcases it is building and is willing to pay $26 for each shelf. No packaging will be required for the bulk order. Jansen usually packages shelves for Home Depot at a price of $1.50 per shelf. The $1.50 per-shelf cost is included in the unit variable cost of $27, with annual fixed costs of $320,000. However, the $1.50 packaging cost will not apply in this case. The fixed costs will be unaffected by the special order and the company has the capacity to accept the order. Based on this information, what would be the profit if Jansen accepts the special order?

Profits will decrease by $1,200.Profits will increase by $31,200.Profits will increase by $600.Profits will increase by $7,200.

(Figure)Zena Technology sells arc computer printers for $55 per unit. Unit product costs are:

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A fraternity with which Aspen has a long relationship approached Aspen with a special order for 6,000 pins at a price of $2.75 per pin. Variable costs will be the same as the current production, and the special order will not impact the rest of the company’s orders. However, Aspen is operating at capacity and will incur an additional $5,000 in fixed manufacturing overhead if the order is accepted. Based on this information, what is the differential income (loss) associated with accepting the special order?


(Figure)Marcotti Cupcakes bakes and sells a basic cupcake for $1.25. The cost of producing 600,000 cupcakes in the prior year was:

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The town’s social services has asked Ken if he could reduce his bid to $4000. Should Ken accept the counter offer?
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At the start of the current year, Cinnamon Depot received a special order for 18,000 rolls to be sold for $1.50 per roll. The company estimates it will incur an additional $1,000 in total fixed costs in order to lease a special machine that forms the rolls in the shape of a heart per the customer’s request. This order will not affect any of its other operations. Should the company accept the special order? (Show your work.)


(Figure)Myrna White is a mobile housekeeper. The price for a standard house cleaning is $150 and takes 5 hours. Each worker is paid $25/hour, uses $15 of materials and $0.50 per mile to use their own vehicle to travel from job to job. The average job is 5 miles. Arniz Meyroyan has a family reunion at her house and needs her house freshened up. She offers $75 for this emergency tidy-up service. This service includes vacuuming and cleaning floors, dusting, and cleaning the bathrooms. Only $5 of materials would be used.

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Prepare an Excel spread sheet to determine the differential income if the emergency tidy-up service is priced at $75. The tidy-up service will take 2 hours.If a $25 surcharge was included to make the price of $100 how would the differential income change?If the hourly worker rate increased to $30/hour, how would net income change?What other issue would you need to consider?

(Figure)Blake Cohen Painting Service specializes in small paint jobs. His normal charge is $350/day plus materials. Moesha needs her basement painted. Blake has produced a bid for $1500 to complete the basement painting. Blake completed a cost estimate for his service as shown.

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What is the cost for the first cake?What cost would not be included in the second cake?What is the cost of the second cake?What would be the total cost of this order if the offer was accepted?How much profit will Seda be recording for this special order?If your company policy is to always have a 15% profit on all order, would you still accept this order?If you would not accept the order, what price would you negotiate?