Last week, we had a couple of things break around the house.
The thumb lever on our front door broke and failed to make a connection with the thingy (or whatever technical term it is) inside to turn the lock. A couple of days later, our toilet overflowed on normal usage (sorry, I won’t go into details there.) It wasn’t he first time, and the plumber had previously suggested that it might be time for a replacement.
These two incidents had something in common. Our natural urge is typically to go to Home Depot, but we didn’t. The plumber for the toilet had said that Home Depot buys product in bulk and negotiates a cheap price, which the manufacturer can meet by creating a cheaper product. I don’t know how true it is, but we decided to take his word and check out a local plumbing supply house. They pointed us towards a Kohler Cimarron toilet saying that it is both powerful and water efficient. The salesman also said that it was what every contractor is getting nowadays.
For some reason, I expected toilets to cost a lot of money. I think because they are solidly built and heavy. However, it only cost us around $275… though it was closer to $400 with toilet seat, tax, delivery and installation.
In looking to replace our lock, we went to the local locksmith. We’ve been unsure about Home Depot’s locks since they were unable to make a duplicate of our house key last year. They tried and gave us a key, but the keys never worked. Also, the key to my wife’s rental property has a unique “feature” of being able to open up my rental property. That’s scary stuff.
The local locksmith showed us the Schlage that we had now. (Doesn’t everyone have Schlage locks.) Then he showed us one by a company called Baldwin. You could see the difference in quality. The Baldwin looks like it could withstand a whole lot more punishment. He pointed across the street at a shiny lock and said, “See that over there? That lock is 15 years old.” Then he picked up an extremely tarnished lock that a longtime customer had just brought in. “This is what most locks look like after a couple of years.”
I know no one sets out saying, “I’m going to buy a crappy product that I’ll have replace soon to save a buck.” However, many times when I can’t determine what is a better product, I’ll go with the cheaper price. This feels like a bit of a change. I’m now more interested in putting in the extra effort to determine quality when I can.
Update: Well, at least part of this article is kind of a dud. I did a little more research and Home Depot has the exact same toilet we bought for a slightly better price. On the bright side, the reviews are really good, so that’s a win. If we had just gone to Home Depot, I don’t know if we would have gotten the same advice or come away with the same product.
Pardon my momentary sarcasm:
“News flash! Purveyor of more expensive merchandise says his merchandise is better!”
OK that’s over with.
I sympathize with this post. In fact my wife and I are just starting to build a new house, so it’s very relevant to me right now.
During a remodel a few years back, our plumber told us to go to a local plumbing store to pick out a tub. We did, and of course the selection was much more limited than what was available elsewhere. And nothing was in stock, everything had to be ordered. And of course the plumbing store doesn’t show prices to us, only to the sub-contractors. And the sub-contractor likely tacks a premium onto that price.
What I’m getting at is this. In my experience housing contractors (plumbers, electricians, etc..) are like travel agents. They intentionally hide prices and make things opaque for you, so they can extract the most money possible. Their industry is very much a local “old boys’ network”. They refer you to their friends, and they get referrals from their friends.
Not only that, to be honest many of them just don’t “get” technology. They’ve made lots of money for a very long time in a very stable fashion. The plumbing contractor above? When I asked him if a particular tub would fit in our bathroom, he said he’d have to check with the plumbing store, and have them look up the specs. When I found them in 15 seconds on google, he was amazed. “They have all that information on the internet?” he said. I’m not kidding.
Of course that’s a generalization and there are probably some really good contractors out there. I don’t begrudge anyone making a buck, but I’d like the transaction to be transparent.
Now I’m not a huge fan of HD either. Years ago they seemed to hire people who had pretty good knowledge. In the last 10 years, at least our local HD has gone way downhill in that regard. There must be a happy medium, and I only hope I figure it out in the next few months before we break ground :)
Lazy Man says
For what it’s worth, the plumber was not affiliated with the plumbing supply store. He directed us to a street that has a couple of them on it. I would have felt differently if he worked at the store. I bought directly from the store and am having the product shipped to my house. From there the plumber who made the recommendation is doing the install. So in this case, it was about as transparent as it could be. I made the error of not price comparing the product. At least it helps out a local business.
Now the locksmith may have a bias towards a brand with the better margins, but the cost of installation, 1/3 of the price was good margins for them.
I forgot to mention that when the lock was replaced, there was a white space on the door because the previous lock was bigger. The locksmith offered to paint our door for free, because he had some spare time.
I have a little love-hate with Home Depot. They are great when I need a new appliance put in a rental property an hour away. They are not so good when they support RainSoft’s scummy sales tactics of water filtration. I would personally go to Lowe’s if given a choice, but there isn’t one near me.
If it makes you feel any better, I used to work for a company that made high-priced but super high quality products. After years of negotiation, we were able to get our products into some big box stores, but we had to swap out some components of the equipment with lower-quality bits to meet their low price demands, so that part is absolutely true. People buying our products from big box stores got lower prices, but they also got a lower-quality product than they would have otherwise. We were so concerned with people associating our regular brands with these inferior products, that we sold in big box stores under different brand names so that it wouldn’t pollute our high-quality lines.
Lazy Man says
I figured that was the case. It makes perfect sense too. That way your (old) company can corner the market at various price points and retail locations.
In fact, I’m going to start a new blog with lower-quality information and charge… wait this plan isn’t going to work out ;-).
Mario Adventuresinfrugal says
It’s tough when it’s something you’ll only buy one of. If a toilet has 1,000 good reviews from Amazon, Home Depot salesmen, and friends, it’s still a dud if the one you get breaks. I own rental properties so am often dealing with eight toilets at a time. It’s seldom the case that the absolute cheapest in-store price will be the cheapest over the lifetime of the toilet. It makes much more sense to think in terms of price per year rather than just some nominal price… Also, when I’m looking for recommendations, I never ask salesmen; I ask repairmen :) Anyhow, good luck
Lazy Man says
I have a spreadsheet to think of things in terms of price per year. It just isn’t helpful unless you know how many years one toilet is going to last vs. another. I don’t know if that’s an exact science.
Jason Phroogal says
I’m a believer in purchasing quality over price anytime. But, the key is finding the right price for the quality product. When we bought our doors for my parents house years ago (Needed 5 doors). We chose to go to a local wood shop and found quality doors that was cheaper than the quality doors at Home Depot.
When we were building out current house the plumber had pre-selected some of our faucets. We went to his recommended plumbing supply place and the prices were astronomical. Our contractor said many of the plumbers get their fixtures there, charge the customer full price and then get a kick-back from the supply company. He said our plumber was really ticked off when we got faucets from Lowes and asked that they be installed instead. Five years later they still work just fine.
Tommy Z says
I work for an American manufacturing company that sells plumbing related items into Home Depot. HD is a very tough negotiator. They want high quality American products, but only want to pay for the Chinese quality price. They refuse to take price increases when inflation drives costs up and actually expect price decreases over time. In fact the only way to get a price increase is to come up with a brand new model with new features to justify a higher price point. The only way to turn a profit selling into Home Depot is by constantly cost reducing the products until they are falling apart.
We also sell similar products to plumbing distributors – those products are higher quality and slightly higher priced – you are better off buying directly from a professional plumber. If you must buy from a retail store, your best bet is hardware stores like Ace and True Value because we can sell at a slightly higher price point and therefore do not need to cut as many corners.