I don’t know about you, but I buy most of my tools online. For planned out purchases, shopping online offers greater selection, sometimes better prices, and although it sounds backwards I usually receive my online orders quicker than I could make a trip to the right store.
But there are certain things that it makes more sense to buy in stores. Dropcloths. Adhesives (although I do buy wood glue and specialty adhesives online). Paint. Power tool accessories such as saw blades, drill bits, sandpaper, router bits, and other such stuff when I need a certain size or style on short notice.
Usually, I just head to a home center, where I will typically see contractors, tradesmen, and other professional users going in and out of the store. Home improvement centers, such as Home Depot and Lowes, have “pro corners” and counters, and as mentioned in last year’s post about Lowes’ trial delivery program, professional users contribute to a large percentage of sales.
But some professionals I know steer clear of home centers.
I recently had a conversation with a general contractor, who told me about how he won’t shop at a particular home center because of bad tool experiences. He purchased a definitely pro-grade tool, and it broke within a short time. They replaced it, and the replacement broke.
The contractor noticed that the part number was different for the home center tool, compared to the part number for the same tool sold at a local independent supplier. With similar packaging, one possible explanation was that the home center tool was different in some way, possibly making it cheaper and of lesser quality.
I have heard similar stories and unverified claims that home center tools, equipment, supplies, or fixtures might be different from those sold at supply houses and independent shops. It’s possible, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen proof.
The only complaint I have heard about independent suppliers is that their prices tend to be a little higher.
But you know what? The more I think about it, the more I think that independent shops and supply houses are the way to go.
I stopped by at a new one yesterday, and saw a couple of hand tools and power tool accessories that I had never seen at Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, or any other big box home improvement store before. I had seen them online before, but in stores. I had my wife and “I wanna run around and touch EVERYTHING” son with me, and so I plan to go back, solo, the next time I can.
Shown above is the Lutz ratcheting screwdriver display (I briefly wrote about these Lutz drivers years ago). Since then, I bought one or two online, but had never seen them in stores. The reader that wrote in about them found them at Ace Hardware, but there isn’t one around here.
My father always used to go to the local Ace-affiliated independent supplier, because it was close by and they almost always had what he needed. I bet they had good answers to his questions, too. I shopped there a few times in high school too, for the randomest things.
He also used to go to plumbing supply shops for things like faucet washers and the such, and because of that he only did plumbing repairs on Saturdays when the plumbing supply shop was guaranteed to be open.
There are Home Depot and Lowes where I grew up, but they weren’t really close by, although a new Lowes opened near the mall that’s pretty awesome. But… I suppose they’re not the best place for when you need a particular size washer, a certain plumbing fitting, advice about which primer to use, or a substitute for something you might need that’s not on the shelf… and things like that.
Tool selection also tends to be limited, as home centers have their own brand relationships.
So my question to you is this:
Big Box Home Center or Independent Supplier?
For those of you that buy at both, what kinds of tools, equipment, supplies, etc. would you buy at one and not the other?