The big box home improvement industry is enticing, but nearly useless.

While working on a project, I needed to secure some support posts into some existing concrete.  This is pretty common, and solution is fairly simple.  Just attach a bracket to the post, and secure it with a concrete anchor.  Should be easy.  Should be a short trip to the home improvement store for supplies.

  • Went to Home Depot, whose slogan by the way is “More saving.  More doing.”
  • Went to Menards, whose slogan is “Dedicated to service and quality.”
  • Went to Lowes, whose slogan is “Never stop improving.”

As one might expect, all three of these establishments do sell the items necessary for this project.  With one little wrinkle.

  • Each place sells anchor brackets.
  • Each place sells anchor bolts.
  • Each place sells drill bits (masonry bit for drilling concrete in this case).
  • And, each place sells drills.

Here’s the wrinkle.  Try to select an anchor bracket, and a matching anchor bolt sized to fit the bracket, and a matching masonry bit to drill the proper hole size for the anchor bolt.    Not one of the stores I visited stocked the complete solution.  In the end I did a web search, placed an online order, and postponed this portion of my project pending the delivery.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated occasion with these business.  Despite having big box stores which could house an entire neighborhood, I’ve never seen one of these stores with enough inventory on hand to build an entire house.  Sure, they offer an overwhelming variety of  thousands of products.  But they rarely stock enough quantity of anything for more than a simple repair.  Nearly everyone whose ever done a home repair/ improvement project can attest to the futility of trying to find everything required with a single visit to just one of these establishments.

  • During a remodel project which required 14 matching plumbing connectors, it required visiting 7 stores to assemble the needed materials.
  • During another project which required replacing two very old breaker panels, it took visits to four stores to find enough Square-D QO circuit breakers to fill these two new panels.
  • One of these stores stocks a newer fastener which is very useful in framing projects.  It looks similar to a deck screw, but is designed to meet the shearing load requirements necessary for newer earthquake codes.  One experienced do-it-yourselfer (working alone) could easily utilize 600 to 1000 of these fasteners per day.  The store only had 150 in stock.

Instead of trying to sell us slogans and “one of everything”, I’d like to invite these big box home improvement stores to consider selling solutions for projects.

These businesses already have sophisticated  modern computer automation and inventory management systems.  It should be possible for them to ensure that if any of the items required for a project are in stock, then all of the corresponding items required to complete the project should also be in stock.  And they should stock enough quantity for at least one typical project.  If not enough for an entire project, at least stock as much as a one person could reasonably utilize in a weekend.

I find it amazing that these business can offer (and apparently sustain) a customer base in the “contractor” market.  Unfortunately, I believe these stores facilitate many less experienced contractors who end up performing a lower quality of work simply because they don’t know any better and can’t find better materials.

Over the years, I have purchased materials from many construction supply businesses which don’t try to compete on variety.  Instead they focus on offering quality products which meet or exceed code requirements.  And most of the businesses are willing and able to help you select products which will meet or enhance your design requirements.  The limiting factor for many of us is the operating hours of these businesses vs the convenience factor of the big box stores.

A family member recently completed construction of a new house.  With the exception of the concrete and some cabinetry, he built everything himself.  He was able to do this by finding good construction supply businesses who could provide quality products in a timely manner and in the appropriate quantities.  He didn’t spend half a day at a time driving from one big box to another trying to match enough items to get a few hours work done.

Although my current working arrangement makes these big box stores seem convenient, they really aren’t.  It will require using some of the very limited vacation time my current job offers, but I’ll get a lot more done by finding some good suppliers and taking a day off from work to purchase materials for these projects.

Plus, I’ll have the added benefit avoiding the crowds and traffic at the big boxes.

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