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68GMC Member Posts: 36
I am looking for some honest opinions from contractors about why wholesalers either don't want to sell to the homeowner, or are unwilling to help them out sourcing items. I perfectly understand not selling natural gas appliances, gas valves, gas water heater parts, etc. to a homeowner, who may or may not know how to install and test such items. I have no experience with oil or propane appliances, but I would assume the wholesalers would have the same no-sale attitude.

One contractor I dealt with last week said that the wholesalers do not want to sell to homeowners because it takes bread out of the contractors mouth. Fair enough, I understand and appreciate that. But we all have mechanics, and we all have Auto Part stores that sell to the public, that would take money away from mechanics. Should Home Depot not sell hammers, so you have to hire a trim carpenter?

Another point... everyone is scared of the recession....why would a business, HVAC/Plumbing wholesaler or not, turn AWAY money coming their way, and risk poor word of mouth advertising?

I, as a homeowner, am not allowed to purchase a vaporstat from one wholesaler locally, depending on the counterperson, because it is attached to a gas appliance. The cost to me quoted to purchase, was $215, from 2 different wholesalers. I asked my HVAC tech if it was possible to rebuild mine, he called today and said he couldn't, a replacement would cost me $350. Now, is that fair, to pay another $135, PLUS $100 labor to install it? Again, I understand markup, I would expect 10%-30% markup is fair.

What about rad vents? Main line vents? Low pressure gauge? A 0-2 pound gauge was quoted today at $200, same HVAC company, BEFORE installation. And I know people will jump in here that you can go online, or go to another city, or use a different company. Luckily (?), I found a wholesaler that deals with Hoffman, who will sell to my HVAC company, then sell to me direct, they didn't care who installed them. 6 Hoffman 1A's, $300 plus tax..... 

It's just frustrating.... I don't understand it, I'm hoping someone will chime in here and enlighten me. I even had to argue with one company to let me special order a radiator union valve, offering to pay UPFRONT %100, NO return policy, they wouldn't do it.  

Any thoughts? Thanks.


  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,489
    If you look up at the top of the Wall you'll see that one of the rules of this place is that we don't discuss pricing.

    There are too many variables on each job, and in each region of the country. I know you're frustrated, but we just don't talk price here.

    Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.

    Why some wholesalers won't sell to homeowners? The contractors are better customers. They buy from the wholesaler every day. It's just smart business for the wholesaler not to sell to the contractor's customer.

    However, you can find anything you need on the Internet. You just may not be able to buy it from the guy in your home town.

    Again, thanks for your understanding and cooperation with this site's rules.
    Retired and loving it.
  • gerry gill
    gerry gill Member Posts: 3,078
    Wholesale is just that...its wholesale TO THE TRADES.

    If you want something go to a retailer..there is a difference..i actually take offense when a wholesaler sells retail..the wholesaler is OUR supplier..not yours..i don't mean to come off as being rude, but don't get mad when a wholesale house actually does what they are supposed to do.
    Serving Cleveland's eastern suburbs from Cleveland Heights down to Cuyahoga Falls.

  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I am not argueing.

    "If you want something go to a retailer."

    As a homeowner, not a contractor, I have trouble with this. About 30 years ago, I did some plumbing work in my house, installing a photographic darkroom. I did go to a retailer, of the big box school, and they had really crappy stuff that mostly failed soon (gate valves, especially), and they did not even know what vacuum breakers were.

    I then discovered a plumbing supply house, and they had no problem selling to me, provided I got there in the morning. I think they closed about lunch time, because by then the professional plumbers were done buying stuff for the day. They knew perfectly well what vacuum breakers were, and they even sold high quality parts for less than the big-box places sold their junk.

    So it is all very well to recommend a retailer, but around here, at least, there are none that I would wish to purchase from.
  • JStar
    JStar Member Posts: 2,752

    Barring rare exceptions, the average homeowner has no idea what he wants. Most non-contractors that come into a supply house are carrying a handful of who-knows-what and trying to describe where it came from as if the guy behind the counter speaks another language. It's a waste of everyone's time. And I don't think the policy will change for a few people who actually do know what they need and how to ask for it.  Maybe there's a solution that the Hollywood hardware stores tried to pick up on and failed at. You don't go to them because of their great selection or knowledge base. You go there because it's cheap and easy.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,086
    Wholesalers Point of View

    I am a wholesaler and I do sell retail. The main reason, I have a showroom, there are zippo local hardware stores (thanks HD, Lowes) and I use it as an opportunity to educate consumers as to the reason they need a "professional". Let's face it, alot of consumers can change a flush valve, a flapper, under the sink components, install a faucet or a toilet.  So why should I turn that business away? The consumer pays retail pricing not wholesale pricing. He's either going to purchase what he needs from HD, Lowes or the internet so if he wants to support his local communites business it might as well be me.

    There have been many of times where a consumer has come to the counter for help and left with a contractor in tow. Why wouldn't you go to the place the pro's do to seek pro help. Most contractors that come to me don't feel threatened or turn red when a consumer comes here. Nine out of ten times they try to help them out. The contractors I see that do complain about homeowners are the same contractors that shop you from supply house to supply house beating you over the head on price and seem to have no loyalty.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I used to work for an electronics parts wholesaler...

    ... so that may have given me an appreciation of what plumbing and heating wholesalers must put up with. We got three kinds of customers. Mostly TV repairmen. Amateur Radio operators and several manufacturers, and others. The others took the most time because they usually did not know what they were doing. We charged them list price, and everyone else net price.  For vacuum tubes (that's how long ago that was), net price was 50% of list price. For most everything else, net price was 60% of list price.

    When I go to a plumbing supply house for anything other than copper tubing, I usually know exactly what I want, so I ask for an 8" veeblefetzer, part number 12-345A from such&such manufacturing company. I say I am willing to accept an equivalent part from another manufacturer. I never have problems with real suppliers, but places like House Despot are nothing but trouble for me.

    Sure, I pay more (and not always is it more), but I get better quality parts and I need not go to a bunch of different places. I could get stuff cheaper on the Internet, but I use the Internet only for stuff I cannot get locally, and that is rare. I try to support my local merchants, so that they will be here when I need them.

    I did not buy my new boiler on the Internet, even though I could have gotten it for quite a bit less money. But is seemed just too rude to call a heating contractor to install what I had bought from elsewhere. I would need to have a good relationship with the contractor for continuing service and maintenance, so I would not have wished to get started on the wrong foot. And I know my limitations, so I would not have dreamed to install it myself. I can solder 1/2" copper tubing, but watching the pro solder the 1 1/4" stuff reveals that I would have made a really sloppy job of it.

    Thinking about that reminds me of a sign at my auto mechanic (long ago):

    Labor $10/hour

    If you want to watch: $15/hour

    If you want to help: $30/hour

    If you already started the job: $100/hour.
  • 68GMC
    68GMC Member Posts: 36
    Sorry, Dan

    I apologize Dan, I was only trying to illustrate my point, I wasn't trying to be rude when I included the money examples. I'll know better next time, sorry.

    I guess maybe I should have said "plumbing supply house" instead of wholesaler. There are 6 supply houses in my town, 4 are strictly wholesale/account only, the other two will sell to retail as well. I'll say ABC Plumbing is the one I deal with on a regular basis, the other one is usually twice as much money. 2 winters ago I did a kitchen counter/sink remodel for a friend, we went to the local hardware store first because it was literally around the corner, didn't see what she liked, she asked where to go, we went over to ABC and spent a lot of money there for a sink and tapset. Thats my point, why wouldn't they want to encourage that relationship? If they deal with me fairly, I'll be more than happy to send them business.

    As far as I know, there is no retailer in town who sells Wirsbo product, or 2" pipe in lengths, or Hoffman, or Dahl rad valves, Grundfos, Honeywell, etc. I understand and appreciate Mr Gills comments, and again, sorry, I wasn't trying to rub people the wrong way, but if that is the only supply house in town to sell retail, what else do I do? I have never bitched about the pricing given to me, or having to wait in line behind contractors, I do understand that I am the last to get served, and pay more for the privilege. It's just frustrating to have one place to go when it comes time to buy this stuff. I agree, most of this stuff could be purchased over the internet, but how do you buy 21' long 2" sched 40 over the net? I personally would rather a local business gets my money.  
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,489
    No worries.

    It's a good conversation. Good points being made all around. Thanks. 
    Retired and loving it.
  • Bob L_3
    Bob L_3 Member Posts: 16

    You complain about the mark-up for the vaporstat and say that a 10%-30% mark-up is fair. Do you really think that covers the gas,insurance and service techs time to get the part ; and if he has it on his truck or inventory do you really feel he's covering all his overhead at 10-30%. There is also liability issues with selling to the public, I could see senerios where a customer comes in and explains what there looking for slightly wrong or just paints a bad picture to the counter-person and gets a wrong part with terrible consequences. Then the homeowners just going to point the finger at the couter-person because thats what they gave you. Our industry has so many parts, many of which can be used properly in many different scenerios but if used wrong can lead to very bad results. If I were a wholesaler I wouldn't want that on my head not to mention upsetting your biggest customers (contractors) along the way.
  • eluv8
    eluv8 Member Posts: 174
    tough to call

    There are good arguments on both sides. The retired plumber looking for parts for his house and then you have guys/gals that create the wonderful works of art gracing the wall of shame.

    My opinion:  Wholesale is that Wholesale and I am inclined to say for the majority of products on the wholesale shelf they should be sold to contractors only. If a homeowner needs product for his own house that is not available through retail stores, why not call a contractor for product only. Essentially the homeowner pays the retail price, and the contractor is not cut out of the picture. I know several contractors who have set up small and not so small inventories and sell direct to the DIY crowd. 
  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
    This post is why.......

    ..... alot of us don't rely on selling parts to make the money we need to pay the bills.  Whether I'm working for you for a couple of hours and not needing much in the way of parts/equipment, or working those couple hours and needing to replace a $300.00 part, the money I need is in the labor. 

    If a homeowner actually knows he needs a vaporstat, I'm sure he can hook up the two wires to it.  Although setting it for maximum efficiency could be an issue.  If it isn't what he needs and buys it, thems the breaks.  Even pros have to digest the occasional part.

    The Radiant Whisperer

    "The laws of physics will outweigh the laws of ecomomics every time."
  • mars_6
    mars_6 Member Posts: 107
    My understanding

    I have a very good relationship with my primary wholesaler. I have had discussions with him concerning this very subject and as always it comes down to warranty issues and liability issues. If I purchase part X and install it in your home I assume the warranty on part X, if it should fail and cause an issue then we work out the problem through the wholesaler and the manufacture to satisfy the issue. As usual it has more to do with the legality and the lawyers than any thing else. In this society one has to CYA as they say. Sincerely Matt Rossi          
    Matt Rossi
  • 68GMC
    68GMC Member Posts: 36
    I see your point...

    This was exactly why I started the post, to see other peoples opinions. I had no idea that contractors hated homeowners so much, and that contractors hated supply houses for selling to homeowners. Again, I guess I've never had to deal with a homeowner with a problem saying "but the counterguy at ABC said it would work!". True, to the above posts, I can see there being warranty nightmares, and I can see there being arguments where they needn't be one. I still wonder though, and I've been there, why it's different with auto parts stores, hardware stores, tool stores, etc. There seems to be more of an emphasis on HVAC being non-do-it-yourself, vs other trades. I can't see there being a different argument between an Auto Part store selling a transmission to someone and them coming back in for warranty vs. someone buying a circulator and coming back in for waranty.

    I do definately understand now why supply houses do not deal with homeowners, but in my case, once you say you will sell retail, the can of worms is opened. Like I said, I understand natural gas products. I refuse to work on gas, plain and simple. It is not worth my time, to instead have a company come in with the knowledge, experience, insurance and willingness to fix problems for me to mess with gas.

    As well, and I hope this does not go against the pricing rules for the forum, I do not understand why the homeowner willing to spend $1000 is different from the contractor paying $100,000, per year, in that as a business owner, you should want to encourage ANY money coming in. Fair enough, as the above posts showed, do not sell gas parts, pumps, etc. But how the heck can I claim a warranty on pipe and pipe fittings?    

    I think with any trade, every single person skilled in that trade has at one point or another cursed and wondered how long it was going to undo the mess the homeowner has created, inorder to start fresh and do a proper job. I've been, there, and it SUCKS. But how is HVAC different than anything else? Would you rather get killed by a car whose owner did the brakes themselves, blown up by a boiler, burnt in an electrical fire, drowned/flooded, by poor plumbling, hit by a falling brick from a mason, etc.?
  • bill_105
    bill_105 Member Posts: 429
    Right on!!

    Get a good nights sleep!!
  • Bob L_3
    Bob L_3 Member Posts: 16

    Contractors hate homeowners????? This is what you take away from this discussion? To say that is completely unfair and nothing could be farther from the truth. Sites like this are here for the homeowners to get a wealth of knowledge for free because we care about our homeowners. As far as your auto parts reference. When you go to an auto parts store you can tell the counter-person I have a 2005 ford f150 and there computer can tell you every part in that truck, so in theory you can be sure the brakes your getting are the correct ones. Your heating "System" is a constant evolving thing being changed with the times. Just because you have model number for a Utica boiler doesn't tell me how it's piped or if it's a vapor system, 2 pipe system ect. So I think there is a difference between the 2 fields.
  • Chris S
    Chris S Member Posts: 177

    The wholesaler I buy pumps and water treatment equipment from will sell cartridge filters, and not much else to the non- trade.  Their logic as I understand it is that they want their product professionally installed, and they don't want the headaches of the walk in traffic.  One of my favorite suppliers. 

      Another supplier I deal with sold a mod-con to a homeowner who installed ( had it installed by a friend) incorrectly.  When the temperature dropped that homeowner pestered the supply house, then the manufaturer, claiming the product was defective.  It was piped wrong, and wired wrong.  I was allowed to make corrections only to keep it working,  It is an ugly very hard to service install.  The Manufaturer -Crown- generously warranteed parts that were ruined by the bad install.  This is a great example of the sale not being worth the trouble for the supply house or the manufaturer. 

    A third supplier in my area markets heavily to homeowners, and even gives trade pricing to homeowners who then ask us to install what they bought.  I do so reluctantly, but if the product fails, I get paid again to re-install as I had no mark -up on the product.  I also don't give any of my business to that supply house anymore.

    As for me,  I love homeowners.  They feed my family, support my hobbies, put my kids through college, and refer me to their friends and coworkers.  The next 3 months of my life are booked form a referral from a homeowner, who would bite that hand?   Supply houses ( wholesalers)  I pay them all on time, and give my business to the ones that treat me the best with price and service.
  • Dan_57
    Dan_57 Member Posts: 3
    The Fine Line

    I work for a rep firm.  Worked for multiple wholesalers and I am a homeowner.  I think we all understand as homeowners that we want to save whenever and where ever we can.  A wholesaler needs repeat business from contractors to stay viable.  Wholesalers can and should sell at retail to homeowners.  The fine line is where does the wholesaler decide what the homeowner can buy.  Because the wholesaler has been burnt too many times by homeowners who didn't read the instructions or crossed a wire or two or generally mucked up what would be a simple job for a professional,  they are wary of dealing directly with end users.  There is no standard in dealing with the homeowner.  Policies vary from supply house to supply house.  Like any  relationship in life, trust must be developed.  Knowledge of a person's capability and working within that framework can only come through time and experience.  That is how a good wholesaler keeps his good accounts.  Homeowners can never give a wholesaler the volume of business one contractor does so they get treated with less respect and with impatience.  The questioner doesn't say what he does for a living but put this in perspective.  An accountant does my taxes not my mechanic. 
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,086
    Dan Nice Points

    As a wholesaler I agree with you. Everyone that is responding seems to be only focused on equipment or electronics. We as wholesalers sell more than just that. There are simple plumbing products like stems, flappers, water filters, copper fittings etc and I don't see any problem with selling those retail. The problem I see and a cause of the homeowner to want to purch from us is that plumbing contractors seem like they want nothing to do with plumbing fixtures. There isn't any mark up for them anymore with the HD and the Lowes so they wash there hands of the fixtures and tell the consumer they are on their own. I have guys that don't even send people to the showroom. You can't tell someone that just purch 5k worth of fixtures they can't buy a copper 90, wax ring, johnni bolts, lav risers, traps, etc. So you take care of them and then the next time they need something they come back to you.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
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