In search of a service yesterday, I went to a very large tool store (>
30K square feet) whose main customers are surely contractors but
advertises "open to the public".
They referred me to a much smaller store (~ 3K square feet) which in
turn referred me to an even smaller woodworking store (~ 1500 square
feet). All 3 of the stores have a size consistent with their location.
I would not even have found the 3rd business had I not been directed
there. Surely these stores too are mainly in the business of catering
to contractors. The last one referred me to two other businesses I have
yet to locate.
None of these stores, especially the latter two, resembled WoodCraft or
Rockler. The proprietors were behind the counter and it was obvious
that they were seasoned woodworking professionals. I could almost
see the sawdust in their hair. I was as respectful as I could be while
trying to conceal some of my "innocence"--for lack of a better term. At
least I asked about 3/4" black pipe, Schedule 40, like I knew what I was
talking about! :) (thanks Lew). I did come away with yet another
view of woodworking--it's not all "fun and games". Of course, I know
that many of you darn-well appreciate that, and I already did too, but I
did get a different glimpse of the big picture at the smaller businesses.
Another place to buy things, of course, is the Internet, and after
looking online last night, I think I was able to guess how an estimate
prepared for me (on pipe) was computed. Using this knowledge I suspect I
could probably negotiate away some of their profit margin on the pipe if
I tried since I was told they could "work with me on it".
I'm still sorting my thoughts... One can buy from the Internet, the
likes of WoodCraft or Rockler, or from much smaller businesses. Does
anyone want to help support "the little guy" or are they, or have they
been forced into, a different business altogether? Do you think we
should make an effort to provide support, and if so where, or should we
just let economic principles prevail? What do you think?
I spend my money where I get the best service. Best service often gets
traded for best value.
I apprecialte the locals affording me "hands on". BUT I will not pay them
double for essectially the same thing.
For instance 2 weeks ago I was in the market for a new LCD wide screen
monitor in the 22-24" range. For a decent brand I was looking $300-$350,
locally. Dell sold me a 23" for $159, shipped to my door.
At the moment I am using a trial version of a great file manager. The
parent company is in Australia and the software is also sold through a US
distributor. I sent e-mails to both the parent and distributor asking the
same questions. tThe parent company has answered my e-mail promptly however
is $32 more for a 5 install license than the local rep. I will gladly pay
that $32 as the local rep has yet to respond to my first e-mail.
I have a local hardware store that beats the pants off Lowe's and HD in both
price and service. I go there first.
That's basically how I sensed that the small business may have been getting
pipe from a similar place I found online. It appeared that they just
doubled the online
price of the stock (and added value by cutting it). At another site, I
found I can get the 48" pieces,
but threaded too, at the quoted price. My neighbor told me he could thread
any pipes that I buy but
it is hard to justify troubling him. So anyone who is thinking about pipe
clamps, 3/4" 48" black pipe, threaded,
can be had for about $11.50 per piece, with free delivery for orders over
The fact is that the big guy CAN provide customer service and the
little guy CAN provide competitive prices, but the laws of economics
are generally not favorable to either. Large scale systems simply have
a much better economy of scale even if at the cost of service.
Vice-versa for the little guy.
So I am always surprised when I go into a small store and am given bad
service. Rudeness or unhelpfulness from a local establishment is a
nail in it's coffin. Likewise for a big store that has high prices.
And then there's the internet. The costs of keeping a physical store
open far outweigh those of an internet business. But it provides a
service for that price--you can check out the product in the flesh. It
also offers the immediacy that no internet sale can, you can't very
well start using a tool bought online until it gets there.
In the end, I think the only remaining enterprises will be both
internet and physical. They will be able to offer the best prices and
also the benefits (immediacy and presence) of physical products.
But I don't see this as too dismal, there's no reason why a small
mom-and-pop store can't have an internet presence and develop a
reasonable distribution system that cuts costs. The old concept of
large scale warehouse distribution methods are much less efficient
than produce/ship-on-demand to point of sale. So the mom-and-pop just
has to understand that it must only buy high traffic items for the
shelves and be willing to quick-order and/or return lower traffic
items for customer's who want to see it first.
Then we can all have our cake and eat it too.
You make a good point.
A friend of mine runs a small mowing business. He was looking for a
hard to find part for one of his mowers and found it on a nice web
site that he claimed seemed to have everything online. Turns out the
business was 2 miles from his house. While they do have a pretty good
stock of common parts other parts are ordered when needed. They are a
small local business but look just as large as anyone else online.
Number 1 to take care of is me, of course. But that takes many forms. Low
price does not equal best value. I'm willing to pay a bit more if I get
good service, if I get what I want now, not four days later, I'm able to get
any technical help needed.
I bought two computers from Gateway some years ago. They have 24 hour tech
support on the phone and will overnight parts if needed. Then I found
Denis, a guy building computers out of his home shop. His prices are a few
dollars more, but I never have to call for support because they work better,
have been tested and configured better. While I've bought three Gateway
years ago, I've bought perhaps 25 from Denis, for both work and home. Long
term, I'm saving money and aggravation.
Same with appliances. Years ago I used to go to the discounters and save a
lot of money. Then the small stores banded together, joined co-ops and put
their prices in line with the big guys. I may pay a $20 premium local, but
I've had same day delivery. When my old freezer broke, they did not have
what I wanted in stock so they gave me a loaner for two days and helped my
wife transfer the food. Would Home Depot do that?
I've spent a lot of money at Woodcraft too. Not the cheapest, but when I
was starting out, they were a big help with questions. They also carry
items that the local hardware store does not have.
Internet tends to have things not readily available locally, be it tools,
hardware, food items, but in spite of fast shipping, they are days away.
Prices may be good, but the shipping is a killer on small orders. Bt that is
the only way I can get a Lee Valley block plane, so that is what I do.
Local offers the best service in most cases. Yes, some small shops are run
by crotchety old bastards that want to talk to the pro only, so screw them.
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