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There used to be few home improvement retail chains in the central Virginia area which are no longer with us. Builder's Square, Home Quarters Warehouse, and Hechinger were three that I recall seeing and occasionally even venturing into. There was little need for the wares such stores offer insofar as my family was concerned, so the few chances I had to see the interior were memorable. I don't recall Home Depot back then (though I'm sure they were around the area), and the local Lowe's was not much larger than a Dollar Tree. To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot about these stores, despite remembering all sorts of stores like Bradlees, Ames, Hills, Best, Service Merchandise, Roses (still in business, but a shadow of its former self), Thalhimers, Miller & Rhoads, McCrory, G.C. Murphy, and numerous other chains. Sadly, Sears and Kmart will probably soon be added to that list. Retail history is a subject that has long interested me, though; from the dead malls and label-scarred shopping centers with dated designs, to the shifts in popularity for retail centers. Downtown was still thriving in the early '80's, enclosed malls finally dominated the latter part of the decade, and now the open-air town center (in some cases merely an upscale and massive strip mall) is killing many malls. These are and were places where handymen bought their tools and supplies, housewives outfitted the children with school clothes, and families spent memorable (if only for the kids throwing a fit) times. A fairly recent store to go out of business is Alco. In 2012 I moved to a one-light town in Georgia. There are a couple of gas stations, one with a McDonald's, and a Dollar General and supermarket, and until a couple of years ago there was also a store that is best described as a mini-Walmart. Alco appeared to be a lawn and garden store when I first saw it. They had a small fenced in lawn and garden section in the parking lot, lawn mowers out front, and even had a sign that proclaimed they were starting to sell beer! When I first walked inside, though, I was amazed. Those of you who never had an Alco can imagine a store the size of a Walmart market. Rather than groceries, though, they had clothing, footwear, home needs and decor, furniture, hunting/fishing supplies, electronics, seasonal departments, toys, a few aisles of non-perishable food, milk and eggs up front, hardware, and of course, tools! In other words, they sold just about everything Walmart does on a smaller scale and with less selection. Prices were unable to compete with Walmart, but factoring in gas and time, they were bargains as opposed to driving 60 miles round-trip. I shopped there often before placing all of my stuff in storage for an all-expense paid trip to Afghanistan, then moved closer to the installation once I got back. A couple of months later I read that Alco was going out of business, leaving a lot of small communities with Dollar General or Family Dollar as their only retail option. I made a last trip to see what was left (not much) and walked out a final time. The attachment some of us get to places we frequent--even chain stores run by mindless corporations that care only about our money--can be real. Don't get me wrong, the places that are now gone and the businesses that are no longer don't cause emotions to well up inside of me. Still, these were places where men and women earned a living, provided for families and themselves, and which were generally relied upon to make life a little more convenient. Okay, so an off-the-wall post that will very likely be on page 2 in no time, but it killed a little time for me. Conquered the Finance homework, organizing tools, and about to YouTube it up with AvE, The Great War Channel, Forgotten Weapons, and some retro gaming channels. Batteries charged, 10 gallons of water available, steaks for the dog, and a few cans of green beans and rutabagas just in case Irma decides to crush the Chattahoochee Valley.
The title says it all: what's your preferred Big Box tool source? Admittedly, my "hobby" these days is combing through Lowe's and Home Depot stores, sometimes as far as 100 miles away from home. You never know what kind of deal may be found, and it gives me an excuse to get out of the apartment and take the dog for a nice ride down highways and byways (I rarely hit the interstate unless traveling longer distances). So, out of sheer boredom, I figured I'd compare the Orange and Blue stores from a variety of standpoints. Years ago Sears would have been a factor, but they have gone the way of the dodo in this area. Tool Selection: Both stores have every basic tool a homeowner or general construction worker would need. Some smaller stores may not have some specialty tools, and niche trades will likely find a supply house a better choice. For this reason, I'd say that the two are tied were it not for one reason...Home Depot's rental centers at many stores. Those larger tools that aren't sold may be rented instead, providing an alternative to larger tool rental companies in a familiar atmosphere. Tool Brands: This is where things get subjective. I used to prefer Lowe's, especially when they had domestically produced brands on clearance. Naturally, once those clearance deals were gone and the offshore tools ruled the shelves, I started going to Home Depot more often. Lowe's currently sells Bosch and DeWalt power tools (some stores carry/carried Metabo as well), with a handful of arguably "lesser" brands (Kobalt, Hitachi, Porter Cable, Black & Decker, Rockwell). Home Depot sells Milwaukee, DeWalt, and Makita, along with brands like Ridgid, Ryobi, and B&D (and some Bosch saws). For overall brand representation and in-store availability, Home Depot wins the power tool category. Similarly, I'd say that Home Depot has the better selection of tool brands. Ridgid, HK Porter, Milwaukee, Wiss, DeWalt, Estwing, Empire, Klein, and a multitude of other brands are available. At Lowe's you essentially have Stanley/Black & Decker (SBD) and Irwin brands available, along with a few outliers like Vaughan. For some reason, though, I've always preferred Kobalt to Husky for hand tools. Special Buys: Both stores have occasional offers that are pretty hard to pass up. When it comes to Home Depot, the modular boxes (Ridgid or DeWalt) are unbeatable when they go on sale (like the DeWalt is now) and the simple availability of comparatively "better" or at least more diverse brands like Milwaukee, Ridgid, Ryobi, and Makita as well as DeWalt usually make the Orange store's deals more tempting. When it comes to special buys on accessories, Lowe's is destroyed by Home Depot, in my opinion. Brands like Diablo will often have BOGO deals on saw blades and grinding/sanding accessories. Lowe's will occasionally offer a good deal on accessories, but they simply do not stand out like they do in the other store. This could be due to store layout as well, though. Most Home Depot stores have a wider front aisle with plenty of room to place brightly colored Special Buy displays, while Lowe's often has less floor space and shares the color blue with one of the brands that usually offer such deals, Irwin. Lowe's does win with the more common Special Buys, though. They use a green sign that contrasts nicely with the shelf space, while Home Depot uses signs that blend in. For an example, browse the tool aisles and you may notice the current Ridgid and Diablo promotions do not stand out quite like a neon green sign does. Lowe's also has the discount applied automatically, something which Home Depot may have finally started (I know they were still having to scan the on-screen coupon for BOGOs a year ago). Home Depot also has another drawback, explained below in Discounts. Customer Service: I rarely interact with the customer service desk, but the few returns I've done have been fairly decent overall. Both stores vary in terms of knowledgeable staff and the number of associates available at any given time. Since I've literally memorized where almost everything is, and each company uses only two or three layouts in most stores, I usually avoid interacting with the associates unless I need something that is locked up. Locations: There are plenty of stores in the greater Columbus, GA area, with Atlanta (a little over 100 miles away) naturally having some of the nicer Home Depot stores in the vicinity of its corporate headquarters. Across Georgia, though, I found that Lowe's often had locations in smaller towns such as Hinesville, Vidalia, Waycross, or Statesboro, while Home Depot stuck to larger cities like Savannah and Brunswick. In the immediate vicinity, there is one Lowe's and two Home Depots, with another one of each about 30 minutes away in Opelika, AL. For most people, either store would meet their home improvement needs and there would be no need to drive a half-hour to another store (as was the case in Hinesville, GA). For tool aficionados such as me, though, it's worth the extra drive just to pick up the brand I want (e.g. Klein instead of settling with Southwire). Discounts: I use a military discount for nearly all of my purchases, and am a big fan of saving the extra 10%. As mentioned above, Home Depot has a drawback compared to its competitor: the discount does not apply to Special Buys. While I don't hem and haw about not getting a discount, it is nice to know that even with a BOGO offer I'll save 10%. It seems that Lowe's offers the discount on nearly any purchase; the only time I was denied it was when a manager gave me a good price on a non-stock item. Regardless, it is great to have this privilege at either store, and while the discount sweetens the deal it is not a deal-breaker. Left-Over Stock (LOS) Deals: I consider left-over stock to be former promotional merchandise that went unsold and wasn't pulled from the shelves. This can result in pretty decent deals a lot of the time. When I recently bought two Ridgid cordless fans with a free starter pack, I knew I'd need another battery so I grabbed a 4.0Ah from the shelf, regretting not waiting until the holiday season. Lo and behold, a final walk around the tool section resulted in me finding a BOGO 4.0Ah pack left over from some previous offer. A few other stores I visited yesterday had two or three of these as well, so if you're in the market for Ridgid batteries, keep an eye out. Another LOS deal was the Milwaukee Rocket light with 5.0Ah starter kit. A current promotion tosses in a 5.0Ah battery with the bare tool purchase, effectively including a 2-pack of batteries and a charger with the purchase. You'll also find LOS turning into clearance merchandise, such as the Milwaukee 9.0Ah starter kit with free Sawzall or circular saw currently selling for as much as $75 below its original price. Lowe's does not seem to have anywhere near the same amount of LOS deals as it seems that most of their Special Buys are not packaged differently from normal items (a BOGO battery deal would require two individual batteries instead of two packaged together with Special Buy labeling). Clearance Deals: Both stores can be pretty decent with clearance deals, though it seems that Lowe's is much more sporadic. Clearance tools at Lowe's often requires a venture down the tool aisles, looking for yellow labels that are not usually extremely discounted. Some stores will have a designated section as well, while others will occasionally put out a table with used/missing parts/etc tools (an especially good way to score bare tools). I haven't seen a Home Depot that sells obviously used tools outside of the rental center. That said, it is possible to find some good deals at Lowe's, such as the Fatmax levels that were recently priced as much as 75% off. Home Depot seems more methodical (in an erratic way, if that makes sense). Pricing seems to start at either $.06 or $.00, with the former dropping down to $.02 before being pulled from shelves (though savvy bargain hunters can score literal penny deals, I've gotten exactly two on items that originally sold for under $10). The latter ($.00) pricing seems to drop more slowly and may not drop any more. It seems that Lowe's is more apt to clearance out a tool due to it being discontinued or no longer carried, and the best deals are when they switch brands (leading me to outstanding scores on Wiss, Ideal, and Fatmax in the past). Meanwhile, Home Depot will have more variance store to store, with some stores selling items on clearance at half price while other nearby stores still have that item at normal pricing. "What Are They Doing?" Deals: Finally, these are the items that you find on clearance at significantly discounted prices and buy because you are sure they will no longer be stocked. Home Depot has done it with items such as the DeWalt DCV517 vacuum and the Fuel 2763 impact. Lowe's has done it with the Jawhorse and very probably other items. Each time I'd find a yellow clearance sticker reflecting a price 25-50% lower than original, only to find the shelves full of that same item a month or so later. Perhaps it is due to some vendor agreement or a need to move unsold inventory to make room for new products, but it makes little business sense to me that I should be able to pay $150 for two Jawhorses that the store is obviously desperate to get rid of, only to find five more in their place the following month for $150 apiece. Anyway, I was bored, but think I'll close for now. What is your favorite big box tool store, and why? Mine used to be Lowe's for the clearance deals as I started going regularly when they were getting rid of Ideal low voltage tools and Wiss metalworking tools. Unfortunately, I missed the year prior when they were selling Knipex and Channellock electrical tools at super discounted prices. Nowadays, however, it would have to be Home Depot for not only clearance deals but also for Special Buys and brand availability. Another boring weekend or two and I might complete my TTI trifecta by buying into the Ryobi One+ system. While DeWalt is by far my favorite power tool brand, my Milwaukee Fuel tools and Ridgid fans are great! It was even better waking up to the dog barking this morning due to a power outage, turning on a Ridgid fan for air circulation, using the Rocket light to find a battery for the ToughSystem radio, and finally using the radio to charge my phone and stream SiriusXM using 4G. Cordless, it's truly the way to go... Until my batteries start dying in the years to come, and the manufacturers move on to the next big advance in technology.