Who would have thought, 10 years ago, that the largest “Do-It-Yourself” supplier would become the largest supplier to the professional segment of the remodeling market. Many remodelers can't imagine doing business with an organization like The Home Depot or Lowe's. Despite the fact that these companies install more remodeling products than anyone else in the U.S., most remodelers' gut response is to avoid any association with an organization that wants to be seen as the lowest cost in town.
You can choose to buy from anyone you want to, but I would encourage you to approach your decision about working with the big boxes in a rational manner rather than as an emotional reaction. One way to work through the decision is to think objectively about whether, at bottom, the big boxes are friend of foe.
Consumer Awareness Let's start with the typical homeowner's level of awareness about remodeling. Certainly the media has played a big part in making ordinary people more aware of the value of remodeling projects. But the big, consumer-oriented retailers have made a big difference, too. Twenty years ago, the ability to shop for remodeling products and design ideas was very limited, which in turn had a damping effect on the amount of money spent on home improvement. You may cringe when you hear that your client visited a big box over the weekend, but, ultimately, it may have helped them move along in the buying process.
Availability Another positive is the number of locations the big boxes have established. As most remodeling companies grow, so does the territory they have to cover. Where suppliers are located can make a big difference in the efficiency of building material purchases — or even just grabbing a sample to move the client along in the decision-making process. Sometimes it helps to feel and touch an item to make a better decision about the most appropriate solution. If a big box is 15 minutes away and the lumberyard is an hour away, which does it make the most sense to use?
Range A third factor to consider is the range of products inventoried by the big boxes. Remodelers pride themselves on being able to perform a wide range of projects — from simple repairs to interior makeovers to major additions. Instead of spreading purchases among specialty suppliers like a plumbing supply house or a lighting or tile shop, doesn't it make sense to buy as much as you can from one source?
I agree that the big boxes are just beginning to develop the systems they need to be able to sell effectively to remodelers. But once they work out the kinks, there are many other potential opportunities to work with them, including tool purchase or rental, coop marketing dollars, and educational events or other sponsorships.
I believe that seeing the big boxes as an ally will make your growth process more successful. —Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and author of 30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program . 301.229.4600; firstname.lastname@example.org.