Ordering construction materials can be an intimidating process, especially if you’re new to the construction industry. Even experienced contractors sometimes find such a dizzying array of competing products that it’s hard to know which ones to buy for what project. While customer insights and specifications can help, this doesn’t solve every dilemma. Add to this the local and regional differences in materials availability, and buying everything you need can be difficult.
Fortunately, the Internet has done a lot to alleviate these challenges. Ten years ago, your main option was to head off to Home Depot or a smaller lumber yard and buy whatever they had. With specialized items, special orders were sometimes possible. But in order to do a special order, you had to know exactly what to request. Now, the internet lets you purchase a larger variety of products with the click of the mouse. Let’s look at how this works.
Know What You Need
As with in-person shopping, it’s important to start with a shopping list. For many of us, this means a takeoff list has been prepared. In addition, you’ll want to take existing stock into consideration. So, for example, you might need a thousand 1.5 inch nails. Your remaindered or bulk-bought stock of materials has 100 nails in it, so you should buy 900 more. Likewise, you might find that 20 sheets of drywall will get the shed finished, and there’s already one you can use, so 19 need to be bought.
Keep in mind, knowing the total you need doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the best way to go. If it’s cheaper to buy 1,000 nails and leave the rest of your stash to cover if there’s wastage, then saving money on material is worthwhile. At the same time, you might find that minimum orders force you to get 20 sheets of drywall and save that last one for contingencies. Just don’t go overboard, because this can negatively affect your cashflow and storage space.
What does this mean in practice? To be successful at buying construction materials online, you need to know how much of each item you need. The only real difference between online and in-person purchases here is the variation in minimum purchase sizes. Buying one screw isn’t likely to be allowed online, and it definitely is impractical. Getting the ten pack might be necessary, or head to your local store for that one.
Understand Your Choices
One of the advantages of buying construction materials online is that you have more choices. However, this can also work against you. For instance, there might be a different type of drywall that you’ve never heard of. When this happens, you might find that there are so many choices that you’re confused about what to buy.
If this is an issue, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many online building materials websites have a customer service chat or advice phone line available. Even if you’ve bought certain materials before, if you aren’t sure about something then be sure to ask questions. Being certain of the right choice is much better than trying to return the wrong materials later. Or worse, installing the wrong item and having the project come off the rails. Knowing what you need, or which questions to ask, will make the process go more smoothly.
Know Which Kind of Store You Need
Next, it’s important to know what kind of online store you need to use. This is true because online retailers can sell a bit of everything or a lot of one thing. In addition, some carry just a few brands while others market a wider variety. To that end, there are several kinds of online purchasing opportunities.
Retailer-based sites with store pickup only
One of the ways in which buying construction materials can be different from other online purchases is when a company only delivers from stores. An example of this is the True Value chain. Here, you can go onto their website and shop like the typical e-commerce outfit. However, the orders are almost exclusively shipped to store. This means that you’ll either have to drive to the store later on, or arrange for worksite delivery.
There’s an advantage to going this route: it maintains relationships with the local store. You’ll still be a “regular” because they handle the final delivery. It’s also nice because the brands of nails sold online might be the same as what your local True Value has. Miscalculated the number you needed or had a big spill? Just pop your head in at the local shop and buy a replacement pack. At the end of the day, buying online for store pickup is almost the same as the old special order method. You just eliminated the first store trip.
Retailer-based sites that allow delivery
These are the sites where companies will ship you the materials or let you pick them up at the store. Two of the main examples in the US are Home Depot and Lowe’s. As with the pickup only retailers, going online will give you more choices than you get in store. You also have the opportunity to do bulk buys more easily. Another reason to try this is when you need to buy a large amount of stuff at the same time, or when insufficient supplies are in stock. Finally, you can choose delivery for improved convenience, or buy at a time when the store is closed.
Online Only Building Materials Suppliers
This option has a wide range of companies. Some, like Supply Hog, are big warehouses that sell all kinds of construction materials. This is like dealing with Amazon, in that you must always take delivery through a shipper. Typically, you’ll have large items delivered to your job site, though a bunch of tools might be better off arriving at the office. In addition, you don’t have the advantage of in-person consultations or troubleshooting. We would recommend using these suppliers when you are confident that you are ordering exactly the right item.
Another kind of online-only supplier is factory direct or manufacturer purchasing. So, if you need to get a particular kind of HVAC equipment, then the supplier might be willing to deliver it directly to your worksite. This works best when you are building a larger commercial project, apartment complex, or housing development. If you just need one unit, this is less likely to work.
One of the biggest advantages of buying construction materials online is the ease of shopping around. With traditional bricks-and-mortar retail, you must drive or call around town to inquire about prices. In addition, it can sometimes be difficult to know if the comparisons are for the exact same product. One shop might quote for brand A, while the other place quotes brand B. Sometimes there is no difference, but in other cases the comparisons are less clear cut.
On the other hand, shopping online allows for faster comparison shopping. If you know the SKU or UPC code for a product, you can drop it into the search bar of each site you’re checking with. Or, you can enter product names and eliminate possibilities until you get the right products. Specs are listed right on the website, so you don’t have to ask many questions of a live person. Best of all, you can do this in the middle of the night or after the kids are in bed.
Best of all, shopping around lets you get the best value out of money. If you find a lower price on something after a contract is accepted, you can earn a bit more profit. Alternatively, you can help a client get better quality at the same price. A combination of these priorities is also possible. Either way, being a smart shopper is a win for both you and the customer.
Use a Comprehensive Construction Solution
Finally, all of the options we’ve discussed above require you to select each item and quantity by hand. There is another way that you can do this, however. Joyne is an all-in-one construction planning solution that helps you buy materials online. The way this works is simple: Upload your project plans, and their proprietary software will help develop a takeoff list. Or, if you have another project management solution, upload the ready-made takeoff.
From here, the program gets to work. Construct Estimates has links with hundreds of suppliers, so they’ll show you where to get the right item at the best prices. Need help with selection? They employ experts who can help. Either way, select your materials and pay through their platform. No browsing around every corner of the internet to find the best prices of nearly every construction material. We make the process faster and easier. They’ll even track deliveries for you.
Buying construction materials online can be complicated. With so many choices, it can sometimes be difficult to select the right product. And, finding the best deal can sometimes seem daunting. Fortunately, buying online is a great way to save time and money, while still delivering value for your clients.