Which Home Improvement Store is Best?
We here at BDSC refuse to spend our hard earned money on something that we can do ourselves. If it's simple like fixing the toilet that an unnamed staffer keeps overflowing, or making some shelves to display our action figure collection, or bigger projects like a bathroom remodel for side cash we take the bull by the horns and tackle the job.
That's why just about every weekend you will find one of us in a big box home improvement store looking for something for our latest DIY project. We are lucky enough to have several store options in our neighborhood and thought we would give our take on them to answer the question: which home improvement store is best?
Ace Hardware is a decent little store with kind of a mom and pop feel - that is great when you need something in a pinch. We do like the place but it's not our go to store for two reasons: number one is the selection - it’s just too limited most of the time. Now for a small store they do a great job at stocking the most commonly needed items and one area where Ace Hardware does stand out is in its selection of nuts, bolts, and washers. They have a section with a staggering number of options and you are sure to find exactly what you need for the broken washing machine on Saturday afternoon. They have thousands of these things in stock and you can purchase them individually rather than buying a whole box.
But that convenience comes at a price and reason number two that Ace is not our go to DIY spot is the price. The prices are not astronomical like many mom and pop stores are, but they are higher than what can be had elsewhere. If you’re a value conscious shopper you will not find the lowest prices at Ace Hardware, though they are competitive with special sales. If you really only need one 3mm hex head screw its worth the extra charge.
Overall we find their prices to be 10-20% more than what can be found at the big boxes. Another good thing about Ace is that on weekends, you can avoid the crowds and long lines of big box retailers. The staff tends to be pretty knowledgeable and are always available when you need them. They do offer quality brands like Dewalt and Craftsman which many people are familiar with and trust.
Home Depot is the biggest home improvement retailer in the United States. That means lots of selection, sales, and crowds on weekends. Home Depot targets the contractor market so they offer a lot of "builder grade" items - basically the type of stuff you look to replace when you upgrade your home. Think of plain white bathroom vanities, low cost wood kitchen cabinetry, you get the idea. But they do excel in having everything you need from start to finish with a huge selection of lumber, paint, concrete, etc.
Now when it comes to lumber, the wood feels like seconds - it's not what you would want to use if you are a custom woodworker. The material tends to have lots of knots or needs lots of finishing if you are going to show it - but for a contractor needing 2x4's to put up a wall this isn't really a concern.
Recently we went in to Home Depot looking for a Ryobi garage door opener. The app said there were two in stock. We looked where it was supposed to be but neither of the in stock items were to be found so we flagged down an employee for help as he walked by. He stopped and looked where we had just looked and said " I guess the inventory is wrong" and left. No effort to see why the stock was wrong or find out if the item was somewhere else.
And that's exactly why we hate going into Home Depot. It seems as if the staff just doesn't want to be bothered. Another time we asked a young guy working there about some floor paint. He was super friendly but quickly stated "I just started here I don't know anything about it". Then the other day, we went in for a small item and went through the self checkout. The little light flashed because we needed cashier assistance on the item that was on sale. The cashier refused to look in our direction and then went the long way around the turnstiles to avoid us. As we stood their waiting, with no other registers open, she circled back with another employee and we heard her say something about being off five minutes ago.
I guess Home Depot puts punching out on time as the priority - or this cashier just didn't care. Yet another time, we went in with a competitor coupon on a big purchase. Home Depot states they will match competitor coupons...well eventually they did. After about 30 minutes of negotiating with the cashier who argued with us that they did/t. That required us driving home, getting the Home Depot ad from our mail and then showing him exactly where the offer was mentioned. So with all these negative experiences, it just feels like a chore to shop in the store.
Lowe's Home Improvement was once our absolute favorite store, our go to. They carried a better selection, in our opinion, than Home Depot of items that fit what we were looking for. And it felt like the things they sold were nicer - more stylish and current. Great for the DIY'er who is looking to upgrade and restyle their home. Lately, we have soured on Lowe's for one reason - the customer service. It's went down hill and rivals Home Depot in mediocrity, though probably takes the cake. Let me tell you about a couple of recent experiences.
Back around Christmas we were in the store and saw some outdoor pillows on clearance. They had a boatload of them in big boxes. We wanted to get a couple for the lawn furniture but had already checked out so we figured we would order them online and get them later. That night we went to the website and it said there were 35 in stock and we bought two to meet our needs. Checked out and paid, then went to Lowe's the next morning to pick them up. The counter person said "your order was cancelled, were out of stock on that item". I called B.S. and said they were right over there yesterday evening. She said "well they may have packed them up for the season and put them away". I guess Lowe's doesn't fulfill online orders if it's too much work.
Last summer we placed an order online for a large purchase of soffit and fascia for a big job we were tackling. The order included some smaller items like paint brushes and drywall tools, and was large enough to qualify for a "volume purchase" discount. We ordered online to save time the morning of the project. There was plenty of notice to gather the order and have it ready. But guess what? It wasn't.
We went into Lowe's at 8 am ready to get started and waited 10 minutes for them to bring the order up. Half the material wasn't included and most of the small items were no where to be found. That meant we wasted about an hour hunting down the material ourselves to complete the order, and most of the small items were - surprise- out of stock. This meant a second trip to our arch nemesis Home Depot to see if we could get what we needed last minute. We also had to spend time at the refund desk getting back the money for the out of stock items and fell way behind schedule. Needless to say, we didn't get the job done that day as planned.
About a month ago we went into find a tile saw. Online it said they had three available. Similar to the experience with Home Depot, the rep looked in the same spot we did and said inventory must be wrong then walked away. Then there is the pony tailed hippie guy. In our store there is an older man, long ponytail and beard, who seems to work the window department but he is always stocking in the area around keys. Well one day we needed a spare key. He looked and turned around as if not to notice. He refused to look our way though we knew had seen us. He went further up the aisle, as if to say "don't ask" as we waited around for almost ten minutes for another employee to notice (no one did) before going to the cash register and requesting someone to please come make a key.
I went in yesterday and there were 4 cashiers just standing there doing nothing but gossiping, but of course no one in an aisle to help find anything. It's obvious that the priority at Lowe's is the final sale - making this a truly DIY (as in carry, gather, and find your own stuff) store.
Menards is a pretty large chain of Home Improvement stores that is mostly found in the mid-western part of the United States. Luckily we have one close enough to us to shop there often. It's about a 30 minute drive, but boy is it worth it. Now we are not trying to exclusively endorse Menards by any means, and have not been paid to talk about how great they are, but they are our number one home improvement store for a couple of reasons. Let's talk about them.
First, Menards has as big of a selection of home improvement items as competitors Lowe's and Home Depot. Every building supply item you could need is available for purchase (in stock we might add). As far as quality, it falls somewhere between the two big boxes - you can get plenty of builder grade items for a basic build (like Home Depot), but there is a lot of choice when it comes to renovation and upgrades as well (like Lowe's). Menards seems to know what the current trend is and meets the demands of its buyers. Go into a store right now and you are sure to find plenty of rustic and industrial items that are so popular with DIY'ers right now looking to renovate their homes.
One place that Menards excels is in how they display their items. Take a look at their outdoor and patio section and they have a ton of the items for sale actually on display. That gives you a real sense of size and finish to make a purchasing decision. We also really like how they have mocked up walls and even decks so you can see how their stone and wood selections look. Our store even has a cutaway deck so you can see what components are needed in a deck build, taking away a lot of the mystery in this bigger project. If you're looking for any kind of siding, Menards is the place to go since the have a huge wall featuring samples of every color by every manufacturer they carry. You don't have to choose based on a possibly faded color swatch like other places, risking disappointment when a truck full of vinyl arrives at the curb looking a little different than you hoped.
Price wise, Menards cannot be beat. We recently bought rolls of R-15 insulation for $6.99 on sale. Regular price $9.99. The cheapest option in our local Home Depot and Lowe's was around $16 a roll. That's a huge difference, keeping a start to finish build or renovation below budget. On top of the already low prices, the store is always running some kind of sale and offering mail in rebates - with rebates as high as 11% back. That's enormous. We have yet to find something that was not cheaper at Menards than anywhere else.
The customer service experience has been outstanding. When we went to get those rolls of insulation, we were having some trouble finding them. An associate saw us wandering around and asked what we were looking for. After we told him, he asked if we knew how many rolls we needed. So we answered ten. He asked if he could ring us up now so that the rolls would be ready when we pulled around. Turns out, Menards has even more than we knew about, stocking bigger and space needing items in an outdoor area. After you place your order, you pull around to a gate, show your receipt, and load your purchase. Another time we were looking for ceiling lights, we found what we wanted but only one was on the shelf, but we needed four. An associate searched with us, finding four more in another area. We bought all five just in case.
In conclusion, between the service, selection, and the price we make sure to take a trip to Menards anytime we need more than a few items. Sure, we still go to Home Depot and Lowe's for small things on the weekend, but if it's a bigger project we plan for a trip to Menards. When it all comes down to it, choose the home improvement store that you have good experiences with that offers the selection you need.