Where is the best place to shop for homeowner supplies?

Now that everyone has been either seduced, shamed or basically hog tied into performing all your own work around the house, there are several options for finding the best material, the most insightful and knowledgeable sales associates, and the best prices.

When I grew up, we all performed work around the home, whether it be plumbing, electrical, carpentry, additions and even the construction of new homes, ourselves. Why did this occur? It was not because the most energetic and nicely groomed individuals were on television telling us that this is what you need to do. It was a necessity, based upon the fact that we had no money to pay anyone else to perform the work. I am sure that are many old contractors, like myself, who grew up in the construction business thinking we were the outcasts, the individuals that didn’t go fishing, have a motorcycle or golf, basically because we needed to work on our living spaces.

At the time, none of us realized the potential to associate, what we all considered, chores, with reality television, cool living, simple solutions, living off the land, do it yourself urban existence, etc. I am not the only one looking at the fortunes being made by young aggressive individuals who simply perform, what we all did to survive, and they are now, multi-millionaires. The proverbial, why didn’t we think of that, certainly is a most popular statement among all of the construction professionals of the past. And to think, we thought of ourselves as “only “carpenters, plumbers, electricians, little did we know.

So now that we all need to replace light switches, rewire fluorescent ballasts, install new kitchen sinks, install new patio pavers, etc. etc., we all need to travel to a supply house a big box store a individual hardware store, or even the local do it yourself depot, etc., etc. I assume you are all getting my drift.

You have to go and buy the stuff, to perform your cool, do it yourself stuff!

Where is the best place to go, when is the best time to go and how do you ensure that you will be assisted by a knowledgeable, experienced sales associate?

Local Hardware Store

It is my opinion that some of the most knowledgeable experienced and understanding individuals live and breathe in the local hardware store. Granted, there are not many around. However, I have been associated with several in different parts of the country and have had some of the greatest experiences shopping in these types of stores.   As you understand, if you have read any other discussion on this website, I prefer to present my point by listing my comments, this is meant to simplify and focus the discussion.

Why I love the local hardware store?

  • The sales associates are in many cases the owner of the store and have a vested interest in satisfying the customer.
  • The local climate and environment is established within the store. If the area is located in the Florida Keys, snow melt is not on the shelves.   However “drip irrigation “is.
  • Normally there are options, but you are not inundated with product. There maybe three different hose nozzles instead of the twenty options you may have elsewhere. I find this a positive, especially if you are not on a solo shopping trip.
  • There is NO question, if the product needs to be returned for any reason.
  • The sales associates are extremely eager to share their knowledge, relate advice presented to them from a local merchant, or even other hardware store owners.
  • Notification of neighborhood activities is blatantly posted in the store. There is no question that you are in the Keys, or in a suburb of Boston, in the country in Vermont, etc.
  • Less formal identification of protocol, if you need assistance in the electrical department, it will probably be by the same associate you just received help in selecting a water faucet. The formality of departments, department knowledge, and jurisdiction is non-existent.
  • Specific product, new technology or recommended products by consumers are readily ordered by the sales associate. There is no set product line that must be maintained.
  • Honest and acutely sympathetic guidance on problems, solutions, discussions, etc. are easily obtained and shared.
  • Social activities throughout the store, where neighbors contribute to the information being shared, and a common bond is attributable to the inherent homeowner issues of the region.
  • Specific problem solving based upon the current weather conditions is easily available. If icing of your eaves is an issue, you are not alone, and the local hardware store will have the answer.
  • Anytime shopping with knowledgeable sales individuals, whether it is Sunday afternoon, Saturday morning or anytime during the week, there are caring and knowledgeable sales associates to help.
  • Child care, Mom’s visiting the local hardware store are normally greeted with total and complete understanding of all their issues. The kids running around, the baby crying, the need to change a diaper, are all taken into account, as a matter of fact, and chances are, the sales associate is a friend of a friend.
  • Honest and competitive pricing, although not having the budgets of other establishments, competition and standard business capitalism has now created competitive and economical local hardware stores. The small period of time when it appeared that these stores were being over-run and prices were out of control has now been replaced with a more competitive and business successful relationship.

Big Box Giants

I have built them, I have completed their interiors, I have been in their corporate trenches and have dealt with their construction personnel. You know who they are without ever stating their names and I will comment accordingly.

  • The sales associates will never be the owner of the store.
  • Although attempts are made, the local climate and local needs are not necessarily focused on. There remain the corporate purchasing policies and protocols that will limit the local customization of the merchandise.
  • The options are endless and repeated with various manufacturers, suppliers, etc. If you are not on a solo shopping trip, good luck getting out of the store anytime soon. This, in many instances, is the point of the entire process.
  • The return policy is the return policy. There will be no exceptions; it is set in stone by corporate.
  • The departmentalization of knowledge is extreme. There will be no overlap of plumbing knowledge with electrical knowledge. The ability to professionally relate will be directly related to what department you are standing in. If there is any attempt to coordinate several questions with one sales associate, you will fail.
  • No neighborhood specific information to communicate current events. Plenty of corporate postings and “how to do “seminars designed to offer deals within the store.
  • Ultimate formal protocol by all sales associates. No overlapping of responsibility and or knowledge.
  • No ability to order specific products or merchandise that is suggested by a customer. There is no interaction with the stocked items and the customers’ preferences or suggestions. Product is ordered and stocked in accordance with corporate studies and instructions.
  • No reason for a sales associate to be sympathetic with the needs of the customer, either the store has the item, and the sales associate understands the problem, or the store does not stock the item and the sales associate has no clue what you are talking about.
  • No social issues being discussed posted or solicited. There will be no informational swapping of a child’s birthday party, a special tribute to a local hero, or any issues other than the corporate policies of the organization.
  • No specific weather customization regarding what is being stocked, ordered and presented to the public. If the individual region has had a water contamination issue, there will be no additional stocking of water filters or equipment specific to the local problem. Yes, when it is winter, the shovels are out, similar to every other corporate Big Box establishment.
  • Knowledgeable staff is normally on the job during the week and on Saturday morning, and that’s about it. Try to find anyone in the big box stores on a Sunday evening that has a clue. Good luck!
  • No difference if a Mom comes into the store with 4 children, or a handicapped individual needs assistance to move around. The corporate correctness will be performed and identified. Anything over and above should not be counted on.
  • Yes, competitive pricing will prevail. The Big Box stores will try to remain as competitive as their other Big Box competition is. However you are more likely to be led into the store by sales events that attract and entice the consumer into additional purchases.

Specialty Depots

These are the specialty depots that offer only windows, doors, hardware, floor tile, granite counters, etc. Normally, these “Specialty Depots “, have been opened to the public after initiating from an initial customer base of professional contractors. Due to the shift to, the do it yourself bias, these contractor only, specialty supply stores, were forced to open to the public for consumer shopping. The current attitude that all contractors are making too much money and we can do it better ourselves, has caused the distribution of particular products to the general public, who has now become “home improvement ‘experts.

I will not summarize the pros and cons of these Specialty Depots, in as many categories as I did for the local hardware store verses the Big Box stores. However I do have the following comments;

  • The sales associate assisting you will probably be the owner, or a close relation. Normally these stores were not established with many sales associates. These specialty supply stores normally employed individuals that had specialized in the product and probably were customers of the store as contractors.
  • The prices will be of a very competitive nature due to the wholesaling attitude developed with the store at its inception. These supply stores existed due to their ability to sell at discounted, wholesale prices, therefore the matriculation of these low values, tends to form the basis for the store’s existence.
  • There will be basically NO knowledge of anything other than the item being sold. If the store is selling granite countertops, that is normally the end of the product inventory and the knowledge of the sales associates.
  • The tendency to assume the consumer is aware of the particulars of the product is inherent with the development of the retail store. There was no need to explain the product or its installation when selling to professional contractors, therefore, there is no history of the ability to instruct and guide a consumer.
  • Normally, there is not any opportunity to return merchandise or there is a very heavy re-stocking charge. These supply stores are used to custom orders with no return policies. They would sell cut to order merchandise, specifically sized, and ordered special for the consumer. Therefore, to return an item, is not appreciated.

Yes, there are several other opportunities to purchase construction supplies presented on the internet. There are numerous websites devoted to the overstocking of merchandise, the inventory buyout opportunities of supply stores either going out of business or reaching capacity in warehouse stocking capability or any or several other reasons for having too much construction material inventory.

If the consumer is so inclined, the opportunities to obtain material and equipment to be used in a home improvement project are endless.

It is my recommendation, to simply go to your local hardware store, start up a conversation and gain both a friend as well as a great place to post your upcoming social event. You might even get what you need!


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