Why Buying a Kitchen Or Bath Remodel From a Big Box Store May Not Be a Good Idea

Have you ever went into a Lowes, Home Depot or Costco and asked to see the owner? Of course not; that’s ridiculous. It does however shed some light on why purchasing services from the big box stores frequently ends in disaster. Let me say at the outset that I have nothing against the box stores. In fact I spend several thousand dollars there every year. If I need an item they carry I pick it up, take it home, plug it in and use it. If it doesn’t work properly I return it for a replacement or my money back. No problem. Have you ever tried to return a kitchen or bath remodel? Of course not; that’s ridiculous too. That’s another reason why the big box model doesn’t work well for complicated design/build projects. Make no mistake the box stores want very much to provide top quality services as well as off the shelf products. It’s not for lack of desire that they fall short. Why would a homeowner consider buying a kitchen or bath from a store like Home Depot or Lowes?
There are 3 primary reasons:
1) We assume the price will be better since we benefit from their leveraged buying power.
2) We assume they will be around in case we have any warranty issues in the future.
3) They offer financing and/or other incentives.
Let’s examine these one by one. First, while it is true that large chains buy more volume than most retail outlets, they also obtain some products (eg cabinets) from name brand manufacturers that are not of the same quality as those the manufacturer provides their retailers. This provides the box store with better margins but at the expense of the homeowner who is getting a product of slightly lesser quality marketed under the same brand name. Secondly, while most large chains have very good return and warranty policies, once you add outside subcontractors and the subcontractor’s subcontractors to the equation it becomes extremely difficult to resolve any of the myriad issues that can come up during or after a kitchen or bathroom remodel. Finally, the offer of financing or some other token incentive will never compensate for the complications and frustrations often associated with box store construction projects of any size. Also, most retailers have access to third party financing and are willing to throw in a sink or some other item to close a sale.
Let’s go through a simplified example of contracting with a box store to have a kitchen remodeled. First the homeowner visits the kitchen department of the store either with dimensions of their own or to arrange for the store to send someone to their home to gather the necessary information. So the first person the homeowner has contact with is the salesperson in the store. Next a second person visits the home and sketches a floor plan which is taken back to the store and given to a designer, which may or may not be the original salesperson.
The designer works up a kitchen design and invites the homeowner to the store to review it and look a cabinet and countertop options. If other decisions are to be made, such as plumbing or lighting fixtures, the homeowner will need to work with people in those departments to make those choices and get the items required. Assuming that the homeowner approves the design and agrees to the price they then pay for the full price of the cabinets and perhaps the countertop material as well. The project is then turned over to the expediting department to order the materials and select the subcontractor to give the job to. This subcontractor in most cases has never seen the job and is working off a pay sheet that dictates what they get paid for each task of a project.
It is worth noting that the primary subcontractor, rarely if ever, works on the project himself. They pass the project to one of their subcontractors who in turn uses whatever labor is at their disposal to do the job. None of the subcontractors who actually do the work want to continue working under this arrangement any longer than they have to. For one thing, the pay isn’t that good. The box stores squeeze the primary subcontractor so they can offer attractive pricing to their customers. The primary subcontractor in turn squeezes his subcontractors so that he can make as much as possible on each job. The subcontractor who does the work will quit as soon as he has a better offer or can get a job of his own. Sometimes this happens in the middle of a project. It’s not hard to imagine what kind of problems that creates. The cabinets are shipped directly to the customer’s home where someone must be waiting to accept the shipment. If the subcontractor who is to do the work is even slightly professional he will inspect the order for damage before deconstructing the homeowner’s kitchen thus avoiding a major inconvenient delay if one of the primary components has arrived damaged.
Now you have some idea of the number of people involved and how no one person has followed the project from the very beginning to a happy conclusion. This method provides too many opportunities for miscommunication, lack of follow up and general apathy which result in the horror stories everyone has heard of many times. If a kitchen or bath remodel is in your future, consider finding a smaller, perhaps family owned company where personal attention and responsibility are the hallmarks. Cabinets and countertops are commodities. The success and stress level of the project will be determined by the care and professionalism of the person you work with and they should be there for the entire project.

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