Capitalism and Local Owners Make a Great Combination

This is a story of how local businesses compete against the big box stores, a story of capitalism at its best when all sides are informed, including this consumer, although I had to learn a few tricks. Be wary and trust your local businesses.

Our toilets needed to be replaced. They refuse to stop running and/or start on their own. The last straw was Karen’s comment when we were enjoying our late afternoon newspaper-reading interlude.

”I hear water running,” she said.

The toilet in the master bathroom was starting and stopping. I’ve used plungers on it and our guest toilet. I’ve replaced floats, handles and chains and called a plumber who did the same.

Just as important Karen finds it easier for her hip to rise from the seats of taller toilets. We want our visitors to rise more easily in our guest bathroom.

I searched Internet sites of local big-box-stores for the best toilet price with our features. Afterward I planned to call a contractor and compare it with a contractor price. I’d pick the best price and have the contractor install them.

Consumer researchers for big box stores know many people have the same plan, so they were prepared to win my purchase. I was not prepared.

Big box store websites had readable product information and comments by customers, allowing me to quickly narrow my search to two models with the right height and length. Comments were helpful. One warned about a store offering lower prices by assuming parts could be bought at the local store.  For the model I chose there was only one cautionary comment.

 “I did buy the thicker wax ring with flange from [the store] as one included with the toilet seemed too thin and lacked a flange,” said one commenter who installed his own toilets.

The winning model had our features and offered free shipping.

Armed with my price information I called my local contractor who’d done work for me in commercial real estate. I was soon talking to the wife of the contractor. I gave her the box store product number.

She was prepared to compete with the big box stores. She steered me to the manufacturer’s website. She told me to enter my product number. There was a picture of my toilet, but on the manufacturer’s website it had a zero price. In order to get a price the website linked me to my big-box-store’s website with the price for my location.

“Manufacturers make toilets for big box stores according to their specifications to reach a certain price,” she explained.

She gave me another product number on the manufacturer’s website that led to my toilet at a price fifty percent higher than mine. It also offered more color options. She discounted that price because she gets a contractor price, but was still 18 percent higher than mine.

She said they would install my product number toilet but wouldn’t give me a one-year warranty. She described problems with the wax ring mentioned by the commenter, as well as other issues. She would install her product number toilet with a one year warranty.

Then she started asking me questions that made me realize we’re neighbors and belong to the same country club.

I purchased her model. Her comments matched the warning that cheaper parts were used to keep the price low for price shoppers. Any problem with installation or operation would soon cost more in the long run and defeat our whole purpose of hassle-free toiletry. And we should be neighbors for a long time.

Shopping big box stores is a strategic adventure pitting me against a business that has researched how to give me exactly what I say I want, even though it may not be what I really want. To be fair to the stores, I believe informed store sales people would convince me to buy the model with the better parts if I took the time to listen. And they would provide me with list of contractors to choose.

 Fortunately, I have a local contractor I can trust.

About Russellsclearskies

Writing to poke fun at a retired klutz like me who's curiously exploring the absurdities and complexities of the good life. .
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One Response to Capitalism and Local Owners Make a Great Combination

  1. Gary says:

    Yep, Jim you discovered the marketing approach that is well known in small business circles on how to compete with the big guys: service, a local face, follow-up.

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