Growing up in the 1980’s I remember always going to the local hardware store with my parents when they needed stuff for our house like paint, a toilet seat, piece of lumber and even some nails or screws. There were really no big box home improvement centers on the island, besides Rickels and Pergament, and even those home improvement centers were not nearly as big and stocked with every construction item known to man, like the ones we have today.

National chain stores entice customers with a well-produced brand, and strategically advertised low prices, but the big box shopping experience leaves a lot to be desired. When selecting appliances, windows, doors, flooring and wall finishing products for your home, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of using the big box store’s goods and services versus your local retail store.

Today you can walk into any big box home improvement center, seven days a week, some even 24 hours a day, and purchase anything from an entire kitchen with appliances down to a tiny lug nut. It’s extremely convenient and you can buy anything you need to repair, or even build a home.

There isn’t one person out there that will say they don’t like convenience. We all want instant gratification in this day and age, and don’t like to wait. And so, big box stores can sometimes provide what you need, when you need it. However, one of the major cons of shopping at a big box home improvement center is that you will never get the same personal service, attention and accessibility as you do when shopping at a local neighborhood business.

Typically when entering a big box store you are left to navigate a maze of thousands of items. You walk up and down the aisles until you find what you are looking for, and then, have a choice of 5 to 10 varieties of the same thing. Which is the right one for your project?

Have you ever tried to find an employee that can help you? It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. And, when you finally find someone, they usually don’t work in the department you need help in, so you now have to look for someone else. FRUSTRATING! In smaller home improvement centers and “mom and pop” shops, typically the owners are present, and knowledgeable staff are available to help.

What’s even more frustrating is when you are having difficulty with a product that you purchased from a big box store. If you found it difficult to get assistance in the store, good luck trying to get someone on the phone to answer a technical question.

When purchasing home appliances, faucets, toilets, thermostats, windows and doors, it is important to know that the product lines in big box stores are not the same as those available at your local retail shops. The products offered in big box stores are typically mass produced, and come from the “builder’s line” that the manufacturer offers, rather than their higher end lines offered in specialized home improvement stores.

What is best about going to a local specialized retailer is they employee knowledgeable staff that can explain the differences between the product lines offered by the manufacturers, along with information about efficiency ratings, and options in quality, color and materials. They will also be able to give you the lead times of your materials and the installation process, as the installation services are “in house” as opposed to being provided by a third party.

The biggest con that comes with shopping at big box home centers is they do not install the products they sell. All of their work is sub-contracted to outside vendors, who were required to go through a thorough application process, proving they are licensed and insured. However, these sub-contractors are not required by the big box stores to comply with local building code requirements, when they perform work in their customer’s homes. Even worse, big box stores provide consumers a disclaimer on their contracts that they are not responsible for filing or obtaining permits, even if they are required, for the work they are contracted to do.

Furthermore, as the sub-contractor application process is completed on line, the quality of the sub-contractors workmanship is not vetted prior to the on-boarding process. How can a consumer be assured that the contractor that has been selected to provide services in their home will provide quality workmanship?

If you buy windows, doors, lighting, kitchen cabinets or flooring from one of the big retail chains, they only serve as the middle man between you, and another company that provides the installation. If you have a problem with the installation you will have to jump through hoops, like a circus dog, to try and get the right person on the phone to help rectify the issue as the big box store is only responsible for the products they sold you, not the service that was provided.

There are many instances where big box store contractors can wind up costing you more money, effort and time, in the long run. Improperly or illegally installed heating or air conditioning equipment, boilers, generators or hot water heaters, can lead to hefty fines, and may require they be removed to remedy a violation that may have been issued. There are clear electrical, plumbing and zoning specifications that need to be met when installing or replacing this type of equipment.

Whether or not you are using a contractor that has been assigned to you by a big box store, or that you have hired yourself, it is important to check the contractor’s quality of work, other consumer reviews, licenses and insurance. Ultimately, you are responsible to maintain your home in compliance with local building code, and when you don’t, you are the one that pays to bring it up to code.

When you shop at a local retailer that specifically sells and installs the brands and materials you need, you are in control of the transaction. You can select the grade of materials you want, and know who your contractor will be. You will also be able to directly communicate with the business, should you run into a problem.

It is also great to support your local businesses as their profits stay in the

community. They hire local workers, pay for local services and give to local causes. Because they aren’t part of a national purchasing plan, local businesses often source products from regional manufacturers and distributors. Consumers can walk out of a local business knowing that they supported American industry and their community.

Before considering your next home improvement purchase in a big box store, ask yourself what you are willing to give up for that experience.

So if you’re in the market for windows, doors, flooring, a new kitchen or bath, make sure you do your homework and shop at a store which has a good reputation, and both sells and installs the products you need for your home. Most local businesses treat their customers like family and provide a clear line of communication when providing services to their customers.

John Kolbaska, Owner   The Men with Tools Windows, Doors & Hardwood Floors

(347) 815-4151