It is hard to not be tempted by the Internet. Many web-based vendors offer competitive pricing, free shipping and even fail to collect sales tax that is due for your state. There are dozens of vendors to choose from, and a wide variety of shipping options. So why does our company only use Internet vendors as a last-ditch option?
As general contractors, a significant part of the work we do is source materials, have them delivered and then warranty them on installation. We see a huge range of reliability and efficiency around the availability, delivery and quality of material. We rely primarily on our local vendors with good quality material because we know it will almost always arrive as promised and if there are any issues, they will go the extra mile to make sure we are satisfied. They provide this excellent service to us because we have a relationship with them. We are repeat customers, we know their sales people by name, and they are motivated to do whatever possible to keep us happy and earn our repeat business.
It is difficult to replicate this kind of relationship in an online environment, particularly while separated by time zones and the potential for large shipping charges. Returning damaged materials is not just a drive down the street to the supplier to trade one sink for one of a dozen already in the warehouse. It’s re-packing the sink, driving to a shipping company, paying for shipping, waiting for days until it arrives in another state, and then waiting for another sink to arrive–hopefully undamaged this time. If the damage isn’t discovered until the plumber arrives, that means an extra trip charge for the plumber and a delay in the schedule, which affects every other trade that is scheduled for your project.
Some real-life stories to illustrate:
We purchased a sink and faucet online for a project many years ago with the intention of saving our clients money. The stainless steel sink arrived scratched and it took 6 weeks before the replacement sink finally arrived. That was when we said, “Never again.”
Our client purchased all of her shower fixtures online for our plumber to install. Nearly a year after installation, the shower head was malfunctioning (a problem with the fixture, not the installation of it). The plumber couldn’t warranty it because he didn’t supply it. She couldn’t get help from local plumbing suppliers because they didn’t sell it to her. She was stuck with an 800 number and the prospect of paying for a plumber to install the replacement fixture.
We installed a beautiful Grohe tub filler on a master bath project. After a year and half it started spouting water through the fixture–something had broken. Even though it was outside the warranty period for the fixture, our local supplier negotiated with Grohe to supply a replacement faucet. It was also outside our plumber’s installation warranty period so we installed the new faucet because we didn’t think it should break in such a short time either.
That doesn’t mean that local suppliers are infallible. They make can make mistakes, sell broken product, be delayed by shipping problems or weather. They are also subject to the same factory lead times on certain products as any other company. The difference is that they will help you solve the issues personally and directly.
There’s another reason to spend money with local suppliers and that’s because they support our local and state economies with jobs, charitable donations and a sales tax base. These are companies that make up our community and will only thrive and stay in business if you patronize them regularly and don’t just visit their showroom to make a decision about something you are buying online.
There’s even a word for it: “showrooming.” This short-sighted practice by consumers takes advantage of the expertise and staffing at showrooms to assist with purchases they plan to make online. Of course products purchased at showrooms cost more. That’s because businesses with showrooms provide a valuable service: knowledgable staff, stock on hand and the assistance to resolve any problems you might have after you make your purchase.
If this trend continues, the showrooms will eventually disappear, sadly, over the widespread desire to save a few bucks. That would be a huge loss in an industry where seeing construction materials in person, being able to compare the colors, and holding materials in your hands is a critical piece of design and material selection. If you’ve ever ordered something from a catalog or online and been disappointed with the quality, color or material when it arrived, you know exactly what’s at stake.
We do still go online occasionally to purchase a single item that cannot be procured anywhere locally on the timeline we require. But that’s the exception to a rule that we believe serves our company, our clients and our community: buy from local companies that provide excellent service and stand behind the products they sell.