Relationships Drive Remodelers’ Supplier Choice

Remodelers still generally prefer to buy lumber and building materials from a traditional lumberyard because of knowledgeable staff and long-standing relationships, but 40 percent choose big-box stores as their primary supply choice, according to a recent Qualified Remodeler reader survey in partnership with Residential Design + Build and LBM Journal, a monthly magazine for lumber/building material dealers (

Participants, including home builders, general contractors and architects/designers, were asked why they selected their preferred supplier type—traditional lumberyard, big-box home center, wholesaler/distributor, or manufacturer. Overall, suppliers who “stand behind what they sell” and “sell quality products” ranked highest. However, when looking specifically at participants who preferred traditional lumberyards, wholesaler/distributors, or buying direct from manufacturer, the reasons contractors gave for purchasing from those suppliers were “knowledgeable salespeople” and “long-standing relationships.”

Trades who designated big-box stores as their primary suppliers tend to have been in business for a shorter period of time or are unable to establish credit at traditional lumberyards, the survey shows. These purchasers also are concerned with “lowest competitive price” and “convenient location.” They tend to visit big-box stores closest to their jobs, picking up materials as they need them rather than relying on delivery service, which may cost extra or be constrained by a delivery window as opposed to time-sure delivery offered by lumberyards.

One reason big-box home centers are gaining market share with remodeling contractors is some traditional lumberyards have gone out of business in the past several years, leaving their customers to seek new primary suppliers.

Big-box stores and manufacturers have the highest scores in the “stand behind what they sell” category when all classes of trade are considered. Some traditional lumberyards still struggle with returns and claims, but big-box stores have implemented systems to handle them. Remodelers, on the other hand, value big-box stores more for their location and price.

Remodeling contractors significantly more often purchase the brands available at their primary supplier more than the other trades. In contrast, general contractors many times have to meet architectural or engineering specifications with brand-name products, or equal, and cannot always obtain those products from their primary supplier. They may choose not to go through the process of having the specifying architect approve the or-equal product their primary supplier has available at the best price.

Participants also were asked, ”If your primary supplier recommends a new product or different brand, how likely are you to trust the supplier’s recommendation and buy the product, assuming the price is competitive?”

The answers reveal all trades are loathe to be the guinea pig for new products. Despite recommendations from suppliers, they rely heavily on testimonials from fellow contractors or data from trusted sources and warranties. If the warranty does not include installation and replacement of materials, all classes of trades still are very reluctant to try anything new without first seeing or hearing of the product successfully used in their area.

The study also sought to understand the strength of relationships and trust versus the product assortment either stocked or available as a special order. Participants were asked whether they bought from their chosen supplier based on whether the supplier stocked and sold the products the contractor needed or because the supplier was considered to be an expert whose judgment the contractors trusted. The answers showed big-box home centers are viewed primarily as product outlets with perceived low prices. Survey participants do not rely on big-box stores for advice; for that, they turn to traditional lumberyards, wholesaler/distributors and manufacturers.


John Cashmore is principal of Opinion Dive Market

Research and Consulting, Minneapolis.