Wholesale to the trade only stores- Not any more

Wholesale to the trade only stores- Not any more

By Mike Gambino

Back in the day when I started my career in the trades oh 30 or so years ago and beyond there were wholesale to the trade only stores mostly hidden away deep inside industrial parks. Without much signage, like a secret club that you had to qualify for membership meaning you had to be a trade professional who was not a one time buyer of “onesy twosey” products but ongoing customers who bought in larger quantities, didn’t take up counter help’s time because they knew the product and needed limited if any technical assistance. They catered to the professional specialized tradespersons who could get service with a smile and fast service with wholesale trade pricing purchases (somewhat lower than what a consumer would pay but higher than what a retail store owner would pay who bought directly through a product manufacturer).

You had wholesale  plumbing shops, heating and air conditioning, landscaping and irrigation, electrical etc. The counter people knew you by name and you knew them. If they didn’t have a part they would order it so you could get it right away. In order to qualify to purchase you had to be a wholesale customer meaning the products that were purchased would be not for your personal consumption but to be resold to customers of the contractors business. Products that were technical in nature and that needed professional installation were the staple products of this store. You could grab a free coffee and sometimes a donut in the morning or popcorn and soda in the afternoon and see who your competitors were and what they were buying.

Homeowners who were mostly one time or sometime purchasers had hardware stores where they could get personal technical service, get their questions answered and in return for this higher level of service they paid full retail price. These stores were located on main streets in the city or town, had large signage to be easily findable and open for business to anyone who walked through there door.

The Retail hardware store and Wholesale to the trade only distribution specialty shops for pros business models were good business models and they worked well.

Then the big box home improvement super stores came to towns all over the US and abroad and then the Internet and the Do it yourself craze happened and changed everything. Home improvement shows on tv and the internet began coming main stream making it look easy, touting unrealistic project budgets and completion times. Weekend warriors rolled up the sleeves of their white collared shirts and became their own home improvement contractors at their own homes on what used to be their days off from work.

And as a result of and in order to compete these once exclusive wholesale to the trade supply houses in order to compete and survive opened their doors to the general public.

I don’t buy from or spend much time anymore in what used to be wholesale to the trade only stores and I was reminded of why again this week when I went in to make a purchase.

My experience started when I pulled into the parking lot and a new Mercedes sports car was parking next to me and a well dressed gal got out and raced me to the door to see who would get to the counter first. Being the gentleman that I am I opened and held the door and let her go first all the long thinking I haven’t been here in awhile so maybe the way contractors dress and what they drive has changed?

This was an irrigation supply house and I also noticed their new sign on the Main Street had the word landscape lighting supplies added to it. Boxes of landscape lights on the shelves and counter top confirmed this.

Anyway I walked in, not a hello to me or the well dressed lady, I get better greetings when I buy my $2 cup of coffee in the morning. I could see there were at least three employees gathered in an adjacent office not one came out to help. There was only 1 counter person helping a retail customer she was looking to buy 1 single plastic drain grate. Ten minutes I waited as she asked question after question, even had a tape measure out to check the diameter I kid you not. When she was told it cost $5 she gasped and said $5? This part is readily available in Home Depot or Lowe’s she couldn’t have gone there? Finally the $5 sale was paid for by credit card and the next retail buyer approached the single man counter help. I’m not going to go into detail but needless to say it was a very low ticket sale that took another 10 minutes to complete.

This poor buying experience just reinforces my resolve to stay out of these once great outlets for contractors and professional trade persons alike.

This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 30 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .

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