Have you ever really heard the answer to these controversial advertisements? The rise of the Big Box Stores has had a major impact on the outdoor power equipment business. The retailer is often the focus when companies like Lowe's and Home Depot setup shop right down the road for your local mower shop. However now that the dust has settled it appears as if these stores maybe sending many new customers back to local mom and pop shops. Box stores have an admitted problem when it comes to providing knowledgeable sales and service. There is also a disturbing trend concerning the quality of the heavily cost reducted products that they sell.

     Recommending the right product for the customer is no easy chore. When it comes to something as simple as a chainsaw there are literally dozens of models to choose from. It's hard enough to get Joe in isle 4 to come get you an air filter from the top shelf. Try getting his attention for all the time needed to explain the proper sizing, use and safety features of a very dangerous tool. All too often all you have is a 3x5 product card filled with marketing lingo and a price to help you make a decision. This self serve business model is part of the way that box stores try to keep costs to a minimum. Lowe's and Home Depot both print in their quarterly stock reports that one of their biggest threats is the lack of service provided by their own personal.  

      Service after the sale is also a big struggle. Its safe to assume that even the best product will need serviced and maintained at some point. Box stores simply do not have a service department. When establishing a new product line venders usually link each box store to a local full service vender to handle their service issues. When something breaks your referred to another store who is actually knowledgeable about the product. A recent Home Depot model was the subject of some uproar when owners where sent notifications that there was a safty issue with the chainsaw that they had purchased and they should discontinue using it. The saw was made in China and had no local parts or service support to correct the issue. The customer was left with the option to either dispose of the product, or keep using it under unsafe conditions.

    Big Box stores have broad appeal because of convenience and an image of a lower price. The drive to keep prices down and profit margins high has a direct impact on product quality. As a vender committing to sell at a super store you also commit to their mantra of a lower cost every year. These companies become slaves to the box stores because they either have to meet their low cost demands or risk loosing their business and having major production capacity go unused. The end result is that product quality is chipped away at every year until a quality product is reduced to cheap junk. The best example of this trend is Homelite chainsaws. In their prime Homelite controlled near 60% of the U.S. chainsaw market. Walmart took on the product line and pressed Homelite to deliver a cheaper product or face being replaced by a competitor. Just recently Homelite was sold to a Chinese company for a fraction of the market value that they had 30 years ago.

    Venders do recognize the cost reduction problem that I've described. To avoid alienating existing dealers and please the wants of the box stores many lines have created specific low-cost product for the box stores. John Deere and Cub Cadet are both prime examples. Both companies offer a line value tractors that are specifically engineered to meet the required price points of mass merchants. These models are of far lesser quality than the core product that these companies built their reputation on. Independent dealers still sell the better, longer lasting product in addition to the price point tractors.
    One common myth is that because of their size the box stores are selling at lower prices. In most cases this is not true.  Independent dealers sell both the quality models, and the inexpensive tractors at the same price points as the super stores. Infact your more likely to get a deal at an independent dealer because many do not charge any setup or delivery fees which are levied by all box stores. 

     I do love the Home Depot. I've spent huge amounts of money there that I do not wish to recall. Yet as I see what's happening in these companies I feel more inclined to support businesses that specialize in what I need. Recently I purchased about $300 in lumber from my local lumber yard. I paid roughly 0.10c per board more than I would have at the local box store. Throughout that process I was given personal advice on how to properly complete my project and was assisted by three yard guys when loading my truck with the choice pieces of lumber.
I quickly realized everything I'd been missing. 

The author is a full service dealer for several lines of outdoor power equipment.