Friday, February 25, 2011

Lowe's vs. Home Depot

I live in an old house, 60+ years of blazing hot, soggy muggy east Tennessee summers working their magic on the materials that hold some separation betwixt the roof and the foundation.  The works of man are temporary in nature.  As I've said before, this is what drives a lot of duct tape sales.

When it comes time for the duct tape and other, less inappropriate solutions, I saddle up and head for the hardware store.  There's an excellent little store not far from here and I often go there.  It's a little independent operation, couple of gas pumps out front, some new McCormick tractors next to the door.  Step inside and the front row is in general disarray.  Grandkids of the owner wander in and out, playing games on the floor, chatting with friends, watching TV, sometimes doing homework.  Make your way farther back and there's a little booth in the corner that sells barbecue pork, chicken and rabbit.

Yeah, rabbit.  It smells a little funky but it tastes pretty good.  Not the rabbit - that smells and tastes fine.  The smell in general is a little funky.  But hey, it's a hardware store.

But when I need lumber, Sharp Hardware can't help much.  That's when I head the other way, toward Oak Ridge or Knoxville.  If I need something a little less mainstream, Sharp might have the edge and certainly nobody else will sell me an individual ratchet socket.  But what about when I need, say, 10 pounds of bolts?

Home Depot has the volume.  They've got the exposure.  And usually they've got a serious price advantage on Sharp but HD has me driving twenty minutes, Sharp is just down the road.  But even HD won't sell me some things.

Can't get new window glass from HD.  They stopped carrying it, too much liability.  Customer breaks a pane before even getting it to the register, no charge.  People get cut.  People don't know how to trim a piece to fit.  Sales volume is miniscule.  So they only carry Lexan or Lucite, polycarbonate or plexiglass.  That's okay; new windows for my frames, trimmed to fit by my radial saw!  Try that with glass, no thanks.

HD carries paint, lumber, roofing, all manner of plumbing supplies and parts (though on one memorable occasion Sharp got me going in a plumbing emergency), all manner of electrical.  HD can sell you everything you need to build a house, from the foundation to the ridge vent.

So does Lowe's.  In my experience, Lowe's prices seem to be a few cents higher than HD's, but not enough to make me change where I'm going.  For work, I go to the Depot because we have an account with HD.  When shopping for myself, I go to Lowe's.

Why is that?  Well: looking for electrical bits one fine day, I was talking to the fellow in the electrical aisle at Home Depot and casually remarked, "...and I have three-phase electrical in my house, so..."

"No, you don't."  The guy hardly blinked.  A flat denial.  No questions, no further exploration.

"...sorry to have interrupted you."  I walked out, fired up the truck, drove across the highway to Lowe's.  I've commented that the peculiar penchant for building the two right next to each other may someday instigate a war of trebuchets, built from landscaping timbers, flinging bags of mulch across the highways at the two big box giants.  If that ever happens, I'm backing Lowe's to win.  They won't hit as hard, but they'll hit more precisely.

I told the guy in Lowe's electrical aisle that I had three-phase electrical supplies.  "You live in Norris?"

I blinked.  Norris ain't big, there aren't that many people that live there and frankly it was a 20-mile ride from the house to this store.  For the guy to jump to that conclusion had rattled me just a bit.  "Uh, yeah?"

He nodded.  "Figures.  Three-phase residential's 'bout as common as hen teeth, and whenever I hear about it they're usually from Norris.  What can I do for you?"  Well, they had what I wanted and good advice besides.  The guy in the aisle knew exactly what I was looking for.

When I go to the hardware aisle at Home Depot, the special items drawers are usually in some degree of disarray.  Slots are empty, items mis-stocked, the special items drawer section woefully small, ten feet long and bearing such items as press-on axle nuts (like for a Radio Flyer wagon) and mirror rosettes.

At Lowe's the special items drawers are the entire length of an aisle, and part of the next.  They're neatly ordered, still the occasional mis-stock but infrequent enough that I attribute that to careless shoppers.  They're full.  Mirror rosettes are where the mirrors are sold.  Stainless, brass, chromium-plated steel bolts, screws, clevis pins, cotter pins, washers - I could go on.  Odd sizes, odd threadings.  Left-hand threads sometimes.

Lowe's lumber is...well, it's lumber.  The price is comparable.  Same with everything else, the concrete blocks to the paint department to roofing shingles.  But the excellent service I received that one time and the similarly excellent condition of the special hardware section have won my allegiance.  I prefer Lowe's Hardware first and foremost.

Unless I'm buying bits for the tractor.  Then I go to Tractor Supply, and that's a whole 'nother love affair.

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