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Business question: How do you find the best prices for products?

bender1227 Member Posts: 47
When you are doing a job how do you find the best prices for products? Do you go to the same supplier or do you get quotes from a few suppliers? Do you have any business tips?


  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 6,385
    Depends on the job of course.
    Knowing your prices (having them in a database) makes estimating go a lot faster rather than trying to price shop every piece of pipe, fitting, valve, etc.
    I mostly use 2 main local suppliers for equipment (would never buy it online), one supplier for American-made (only) steel pipe and fittings.
    All the copper at the supply houses I use are pretty much the same (they stay competitive with each other).
    I pretty much know who has the better prices, but will often 'spread the wealth' if the pricing is close to keep a continuous happy business relationship with my suppliers (very important to me).
    I rarely buy anything online, unless I can't source it locally at or about the same price and same time frame, and that's pretty rare.

    I take every receipt, and put the products/prices in the database (if they aren't already in there) or double check the pricing (as they go up-especially copper and brass. It's pretty quick to build an estimate. Of course add in a certain % for misc, and in overhead and profit, cost of materials.

    I'm also a one-man show. I doubt a larger company would do it this way but would probably design a job, make a material list, and send it to a few suppliers for pricing. Keep in mind, if the same suppliers never get the job, they will probably not be too motivated to price your jobs, or provide the 'extra' service you may need when hunting down parts.
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,769
    Commercially (for my FT employer), I'll go to whichever supply house is closest to the job I'm working and spread the wealth, keeping a good relationship with them all- at the boss's request.

    Residentially (my own company), I seldom go to any supply houses as there are none within 50 miles and most of those only carry a handful of items anyway. Boilers are about the only thing I buy there, due to some support even though the prices are 25% higher than online. Also 20ft sticks of PEX, as they're easier to deal with than rolls and more costly to have shipped. Fittings I buy almost exclusively online or big box- just can't see the appeal of driving 2 hours to pay double for the same thing I can have dropped on my doorstep without leaving my office. Big box isn't much more than online for most things, so it doesn't hurt my feelings to shop there if I'm already out and about. I use a lot of the same things repeatedly, as a 1 man operation primarily working on radiant floors and OWB systems, so I pretty much have everything memorized on where is the best deal for what.
  • nibs
    nibs Member Posts: 500
    Spent the last 15 or 20 years of my career estimating general contracts mostly for government work, schools hospitals, reno's and new. Typical margins would be between 1/2% to 2%, with that sort of margin there is not much room for error. For bigger jobs would fax out the spec and scope to suppliers to get a package price, but always looked for any wrinkle I could find, where sourcing could save considerably, often an estimate could take a month, all coming down to decisions made on the morning of the bid.
    For government contracts the profit is in the change orders, and the change orders are often found "between the disciplines"
    EG, the structural consultant left no way to get the mechanical piping past a beam or column. If I found sloppy work between the consultants, my bid price would go lower.
    Another interesting avenue is the value of salvaged materials. and sometimes getting the salvor to pay for the materials and remove them.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,914
    I have dealt with suppliers/wholesalers for 40 years.
    The closest one is 100 miles away. They all deliver once a week, which is good.
    Others have come along wanting the sales but no free delivery.
    I tried a few but the customer service was not good.

    A major issue for me has been returns. If I could walk into the supply house with a box of returns, the credit would be issued on the spot. However returning by their truck may take weeks and a lot of stuff never made it back for my credit. That was a pet peeve for a long time.

    So the big items, boilers, furnaces and AC come 200 miles.
    The little items from the 100 mile supplier.

    What I found really handy for plumbing/piping is The Supply House.com.
    To price out a job, I just click on what is needed. The cart saves and I get a print out of items with total prices.
    No phone calls asking for prices and tallying up the total.
    I click on everything I need even if I have it in stock.
    This is handy for quotes to have the prices, if local comes close I will buy from them.
    Their prices are hard to beat. Just about everything is in stock.
    It is about the only place for me to get US made pipe fittings.

    However it is almost 6-7 days for UPS delivery out here.
    Easy to meet the freight minimum. Back orders are sent for no additional freight....often a loss leader for them, I am sure.

    I have learned that with the regular suppliers that if they are willing to cover their screw-ups, take returns and easy to deal with is there are any issues, then the extra nickels and dimes are worth it.
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,619
    I tried being loyal to one vendor years ago until I learned I was over paying. I have since figured out which vendors have the best pricing on different lines of product. I kid you not I must be saving 30% compared to where I was before my revelation. This is small stuff, the big boxes I’ve always been keen on what the pricing was. The smalls add up when you’re dropping 3 or 4 grand a month.

    I’ll spend a 1000 on condensate pumps when the price is good. Same with line sets. A couple of years ago a local vendor had a wicked sale on Air Bears and I bought about 30 or so.

    Good luck, there’s a bit of a fine line on how much time you need to spend versus how much money you wish to save.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    [email protected]
  • GroundUp
    GroundUp Member Posts: 1,769
    I actually just got a free roll of 1/2" pex today from the online supplier I use for having bought 50,000 feet this year. Sure it's just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, but that's a couple Benjamins they could've gotten from someone else and yet they gave it to me for being a loyal customer. Little things like that are what keep guys like me coming back. I'm not certain the FedEx man is real thrilled with having to wrestle heavy boxes of crap into my shop every week, but just that pex alone saved me enough in 10 months to buy 6 extra boilers. I'm all about shopping local, but some things it just doesn't make financial sense
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,645
    My favorite thing about the online thing is the submittal sheets are all available and printable. This makes us very easy to compare and see if a particular product meets the design a bid calls for. Then it's just a click away. I also do my best to spread the wealth at local suppliers. I love the "let's make a deal" and buy up a bunch of stock for a package price. Plus they have doughnuts.....

    The majority of things I buy are repeat orders, so the best prices are memorized to which wholesalers have the best prices. But oftentimes its who carries the best product line, I cannot stand Chinese made crap!
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!