20 December, 2009

It's Sometimes Hard to Support the Little Guy

The fun part of any home renovation project is shopping. We try to shop locally when we can, but honestly, it's hard to beat the deals you can find on the Internet.

We recently went to a bath and kitchen showroom in Chicago to get a firsthand look at some of the items we were coveting. The service was great, and the salesman was able to educate us on what to watch for when buying fixtures from different manufacturers. (Plain ol' white porcelain, for instance, is not an industry-standard color.)

During our visit, the sales guy told us how the staff had all accepted pay cuts to keep the company afloat, and how one of their competitors—who had been in business over a hundred years—had to close its doors this year due to the bad economy. Like everything right now, the kitchen/bath industry looks pretty grim.

He typed up our quote, telling us the bid was good "forever," and not just for their standard 30 days, and we took it home to discuss; we never make such large purchases without going home to mull it over a bit. And, admittedly, to comparison shop online to see if the prices are at least in the ballpark of what they should be.

If the difference is negligible, we'll buy from the local guy, even if it's a tad more, just because it's less of a hassle and it keeps the money in the community. But in the case of our bathroom, the difference was HUGE. For instance, after about twenty minutes of poking around online, I found our faucet for less than half of what the showroom was charging. Free shipping and no sales tax certainly helps. (Chicago sales tax is 10.25%—yeah, that's right, highest in the U.S.) The 5% coupon code I found cinched the deal.

So I do feel bad that we can't go with the local guy this time, who was so nice and who works on commission. But when an hour or two of my time surfing online cuts our bathroom renovation costs by roughly 35%, it's kind of a no brainer; we're watching every penny in this economy just like everyone else. Even if we have to order from four different merchants to get everything we need, the savings are worth it to us right now.

On another note, I think we found a company in Chicago that takes donations of old bathroom fixtures for resale. I'll check them out, see if they'll take our old things, and post the link later this week if it looks like a good thing.


Shiloe said...

Thanks for your post summing up the struggle that many remodelers are going through now. Little guys mean local jobs and the ability to see and touch the items in a showroom. It's hard to put a dollar value on what that's worth, but now more than ever, value is king.

Anonymous said...

Of course, it's illegal not to pay your local sales tax.

Anonymous said...

Just be aware that some items bought at big box stores are not the same quality as identically labeled items purchased from plumbing supply stores. Many big box store items are manufactured by name brand companies specifically for those stores, using cheaper materials - thus the cheaper price. I always purchase my plumbing fixtures at plumbing stores.

modernemama said...

It's awful but true - the fixtures for our master bath were $$$$ cheaper online & that included shipping! These were the exact same items as sold by the local retailer, not "big box specials". A lot of independents here offer designers up to 40% discount but won't give the same to individual shoppers.

Joanne said...

@Anonymous 6:44 -- Unless a vendor has a brick and mortar location in my state, I'm not charged a sales tax when the product I ordered is from a company based outside of the state. We do have a use tax, which is currently less than our sales tax.

@Anonymous 11:44 -- We didn't buy from a big box this time, just other vendors who were able to offer a better price; but I'll look into that issue of sub-par products at big boxes in the future. Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen if a name brand company sells two different versions of the exact same product without informing the consumer.

@modernemama -- I know. When you're literally saving thousands for the exact same items, what can you do?

@Shiloe Bear -- It is hard. Most of the products I'm looking into I've seen in magazines, on TV, or at expos of one kind or another. My first step of research is to check the Net, if only to find a local vendor where I can see them myself. (That's how we found this kitchen/bath place.) And we always return to the Net to see if the price is legit. On smaller items, it's usually a wash. For bigger ticket items, yeah, we can often find a better deal back online--sometimes it's even with another local company. :-)

We'll go where our money can stretch further, particularly now, when our own volume of business has been less than in previous years.

us said...

I struggle with this same thing all the damn time...
ps: it's not just the unfair no-sales-tax advantage that online has over brick and mortar stores - it's definitely the sticker price too. It all adds up.
So hard - because I want to save the little guy. I really, really do.