Recently released data confirm what many remodelers have no doubt already discovered in conducting their day-to-day business: Big box retailers are well on their way to overtaking local lumberyards as the main suppliers to remodelers.
According to reports published by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, nearly one-third of the estimated $265 billion worth of building supplies and related products sold in 2002 was purchased at The Home Depot and Lowe's, the two largest home improvement retail chains in the country.
Kermit Baker of the Joint Center says that the distribution shift starts with the large national home builders, the 10 biggest of which, he says, account for 22% of new homes. Baker explains that these builders are looking to consolidate their purchasing in order to keep margins down and efficiency up.
“It's causing some dealers to really focus on the big builder customer,” Baker says. “That makes them less appropriate to serve remodelers,” he adds, because of the services that the typical home improvement contractor requires. Many of the pro yards are scaling back these “extras,” because they add a cost to the system that their larger customers — the big builders —aren't willing to pay.
With many (though certainly not all) of the pro yards moving away from doing business with remodelers, many home improvement contractors are turning to the big boxes out of necessity more than anything else. It's a move some are reluctant to make. Of the local retailers in his area, Calvin Stewart says, “All I go in there for is caulking and tile grout.” Stewart, of Stewart Construction, in Maumee, Ohio, laments that a local lumberyard, which had been in business since 1945, closed in April, about a year after The Home Depot first came to town. “It's a shame when they go,” he says.
Of course not all remodelers are as anti–big box as Stewart, and the major complaints Stewart and others have against the stores, such as long lines and scattered inventories, stem from the fact that they were established with the consumer, not the professional, in mind. As the big boxes continue to specifically target remodelers, it can be expected that they will work together to iron out the inconveniences.