The success of your construction project will depend on several factors, first and foremost being the materials you buy. If you are building any kind of a substantial structure, lumber will likely be the most important material on your shopping list.
When it comes time to hunt down your lumber and make a purchase, you have a couple of different directions in which you can go. You can visit a retail hardware/building materials store or you might want to consider going right to the source and visit a wholesale lumber store. Your goal should be twofold: You want to get the right lumber for the job, and you want to get the right lumber for the job at the right price.
Keeping your objectives in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to point out how buying lumber within these two alternatives is different. In other words, you should be asking the question, "is one alternative better than the other?" The following discussion will compare the two alternatives, allowing you to make the choice that best suits your needs.
The Convenience Factor
Unless you live next door to a wholesale lumber yard, buying from a retail hardware/building materials store is very likely the most convenient option. Due in part to transportation issues, a lot of the major wholesale lumber yards are located on the outskirts of town. That is intentional because of the noise and heavy machinery that comes from the location.
Conversely, retail hardware/building material stores are generally located in every major shopping area in your city. In all likelihood, you can get to your favorite retail store in a matter of minutes.
Talking to Experts
Retail customer service personnel might be well versed in the intricacies of lumber. They may understand milling techniques, grains, uses, and the advantages and disadvantages of all kinds of lumber. With that said, they are very seldom experts.
If you want to talk to a lumber expert, you can do that at a wholesale lumber yard. They are in the business of selling lumber, and customers rely on them having all the answers. Wholesale customer service representatives don't need to worry about electric tools, paint, nails, and screws. They need to know everything there is to know about lumber. Better yet, they need to be able to educate others about everything there is to know about lumber.
Retail hardware/building material depots are notorious for high turnover. Also, they tend to move their human resources throughout different departments on an as-needed basis. When they do that, it makes it hard for frequent customers to establish a good relationship with a trusted customer service representative.
In lumber yards, they are lumber experts. That is what they do. As long as the wages are fair, people tend to stick around in wholesale lumber yards for years. Customers like that because they can build relationships with one or two people they know they can rely upon. If a customer service rep knows what you want or need without you having to explain, it's going to save you a lot of time and effort.
No matter how big your local retail hardware/building materials store might be, the amount of space it has for lumber is going to be limited. If it's limited, that means the selection for customers is going to be limited. What you will find is that retail stores are going to stock the most common and popular lumber options with no read for the building project you are undertaking.
Lumber yards exist for one purpose, house and sell lumber, all kinds of lumber. If you have specific needs or need some kind of unique lumber product, your only realistic chance of finding it is with a visit to a wholesale lumber yard.
While you might be able to secure a custom piece of lumber from a retail depot, it won't be an easy process. You might have problems finding the only person on the floor that is trained and authorized to cut pieces for customers. When you find that person, you might be third in line behind someone who has a large order. By the way, most retail hardware/building material stores have a limited amount of machinery and space for the customizing of lumber.
What you are going to find in a wholesale lumber yard is quite the opposite. They have large stocks of all kinds of lumber throughout the yard. They also have strategically placed machinery throughout the yard so they can help customers select the right wood and provide custom cuts quickly and efficiently. By the way, the yard is filled with lumber cutting experts who know a thing or two about customizing wood.
With a large selection from which to choose, you can count on wholesale lumber yards having the best materials. Due to the fact they buy in volume, the lumber mills will often give preference to the big wholesale lumber yards. That includes giving them better prices that they can pass on to customers like you.
If you have been operating under the impression that wholesale lumber yards are more expensive than retail hardware/building material depots, you have been misled. In large part, the pricing of most lumber material is going to be significantly less at wholesale than what you might find on the retail side. The only real exception to this "rule of thumb" is very specific lumber products that are only available at a wholesale lumber yard. In such cases, the supply and demand theory will dictate pricing.
Remember, overhead costs are generally lower when a company specializes in one specific building material. They are able to take their savings from "economies of scale" purchasing and pass those savings on to customers like you.
Focus on Environment
While "big box" retail stores might donate to environmental causes, wholesale lumber yards will typically take things to another level. It's quite common to see wholesale lumber yards recycling and making sure every piece of material is utilized.
Ultimately, the decision of where to buy lumber is yours. With that said, the above information should make it clear which option is most likely going to be your best option.
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