I’ve been meaning to talk about shopping at independent specialty stores. You know the kind, the online retailer that focuses on a specific product category or industry.
KC Tool, whose banner image is shown above (for lack of a better alternative), is a good example of this. Larger retail chains can sometimes also be considered specialty stores. Retailers such as Rockler, a woodworking tool and supply store, usually falls into this category too.
But for the sake of this discussion, most of the focus will be on smaller independent retailers – “mom and pop” type stores, or those that originated as such.
I recently reflected upon my purchasing habits, and thought about the reasons I had for shopping at the retailers I’ve been patronizing more.
Reasons to Shop at Specialty Suppliers
1. They Know Their Stuff
If you need some help in making a purchase, or have a question about a product, a specialized store will probably have answers or guidance for you.
Have you received an email lately, asking you to answer questions about a purchase you made at a online mega-retailer? I have yet to have that happen at smaller specialty stores.
2. They Care About Your Business
I have found that smaller independent businesses care more about me, as a customer. They want me as a future customer, they want me to be completely satisfied with my experience, and they want me to tell my friends. But also, depending on the product type, they’re passionate about the products, and truly care about doing things *right*.
3. They Know How to Ship Things
Who here has ordered a sensitive tool or component from a mega-retailer and received it in a giant box with no padding?
I received an order from JetPens yesterday, 2 days late. It arrived in its USPS Priority cardboard envelope, covered in an “oops, we care about you” plastic bag. There was a huge gaping hole in the envelope. Oh no!
But, JetPens is very good about how they package their orders. Everything was neatly wrapped together, and nothing was lost out of the gaping hole in the envelope.
I ordered woodworking finish from Amazon once. Then I ordered from Rockler. If I have the option, I will only ever order from Rockler or other woodworking suppliers from now on. They shipped my quarts of finish with lid locks and within sturdy cardboard frames.
4. Less Chance of Counterfeits
A certain mega-retailer has been in the spotlight for mixing merchandise from different sources, including 3rd party sellers, which can lead to counterfeits being mixed in with genuine products.
I have yet to hear of this happening at independent suppliers, which often have only one direct source per brand.
5. They Know What Their Customers Want, or Can Usually Get it
While mega-retailers boast huge selections, I have had trouble finding certain products. They don’t care, and there’s not much that can be done about it.
If I want something from PB Swiss, a PB Swiss tool dealer can likely get it for me. If I want something from Wera or Knipex, I know I can find it at KC Tool, or at least ask them about it.
If I want an Irazola/Bahco Tekno 4.0mm ball hex driver, and Amazon hasn’t listed it for over a year and a half at Amazon UK or DE, there’s not much I can do about that.
A Few Reasons to Shop at Mega-Retailers
1. Lower Pricing, at Least Sometimes
Larger stores can sometimes negotiate better pricing. Or they might have multiple inventory sources.
2. Free or Discounted Shipping
With smaller shops, they’re sometimes unable to eat shipping costs, and often don’t have the volume to negotiate lowest freight fees with carriers.
3. Greater Selection
If something doesn’t sell very well, a store might not carry it. But what happens if you’re the one person a year that wants a particular brand, size, or style of something?
4. Quicker or Easier Returns
I have yet to find any retailer that makes returns as quick or easy as Amazon.