I appologize in advanced for this rant, but knowledge is power. While I spend a majority of my earnings and life at stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot it never ceases to amaze me at the recommendations and advice I have been given or have overheard. Two recent examples come to mind; both from coworkers.
In one case a guy sent his wife to buy a gallon of Kitchen and Bath paint for his bath remodeling project. However, she talked to the employee at the paint counter and was guaranteed that there was no such thing as kitchen and bath paint, and he had been a painter for over 15 years. Now I don’t know if that painting included a brown paper bag and spray paint or not, but a quick search brought up several different brands of kitchen and bath paints that are mold and mildew resistant.
The other example happened very recently and is what brought about this little PSA. My other coworker wanted to replace the missing trim pieces that hide the jack screws of her front porch supports. The original ones were made of 1×4 that were untreated and rotted away quickly. After explaining her situation to someone she believed to be the manager of the lumber department, she was shown two products:
1) Vinyl decking material at $20 apiece and
2) A pre-primed piece of MDF (medium density fiberboard, basically dust and resin pressed together).
These were presented as her only options (never considering to mention cedar or treated pine as viable option). Now she explained specifically that this was an exterior project and not knowing the difference and not wanting to spend $20 on one board she bought the MDF. To make things worse the tag even said for interior use only!!!
Now I’m hoping that these were just simple cases of incompetence and not some “wow I can try and pull a fast one on this lady.” But it brings up an important issue that sometimes occurs with big chain stores (and other stores for that matter): a lack of experience with a little unwillingness to ask someone knowledgeable thrown in for kicks and giggles. Get ready for a shock statement: Lowe’s and Home Depot are at the end of the day a retail store, akin to Wal-Mart and Costco, who just happen to sell hardware goods. Therefore, they are often staffed by retailers who know their stock and not their trade. However, there are things you can do to prevent yourself from be had by a professional know nothing.
One option is to shop at smaller, more local and specialized hardware and supply stores. They tend to have much smaller stock but often know the ins and outs of that stock. Plus, more often than not, these stores are family run or have experienced former tradesmen or at least hobbyists. And in these times of bigger and better, these stores generally want the sales more and are more apt to give you the attention you need and help you with the small details that you might overlook.
If you are shopping at a big box store, ask for a second opinion and read the labels. My coworker wouldn’t have had to return the MDF board if she had read the sticker. If she had asked another associate or random lumber buyer she may have also been able to glean the proper information and bought the correct board.
Finally and most importantly, be an informed citizen. This goes well outside the bounds of buying hardware (I swear I will lecture the next person who says that they can’t vote for someone because they don’t like their hair or because Britney Spears said she didn’t like them). Websites like Home Fixated, HGTV, DIY, Skil, and so on have deeply insightful, brilliant and sometimes hilariously in-tune content to help you with your project. You never have to be an expert at anything as long as you take the time to ask an expert. Not to mention that YouTube has a gazillion videos on every DIY project you can begin to imagine. Just don’t watch the diet Pepsi and Mentos video when you’re trying to learn how to do crown molding.
Let me also clarify, that Home Depot, Lowes and other big box stores do also have employees that are current or former tradespeople that are experts in their fields. The point of this article is to suggest that you don’t assume they’re all pros. In this fast-paced world we live in, information is at the tip of our fingers anywhere we go and still sometimes we avoid asking the right questions or at least googling it from our iPhones or just checking the apps. Maybe next time it will be caveat venditor (seller beware).