These days, it seems like everyone buys things online. For some people, the lower prices found online are a major lifeline. Others buy online because of the convenience, or because something specific isn’t available in their area. In short, no matter what the average consumer needs there’s a good chance that buying online is sometimes the best way to get it.
However, things are different with construction materials. Up until recently, most contractors had to go to a local hardware store or lumberyard for whatever they needed. In some cases, especially with big orders, they could also go through a distributor. The weight and size of building materials such as lumber or rebar discouraged online ordering. Local is still king.
With that said, things are changing. Initially, about the only way to order building supplies online was through the websites of hardware chains. This is still a major way to do it, but no longer the only one. With that in mind, let’s look at the different online sources for building materials.
1. Home Depot
One of the biggest online sources for building materials is the Home Depot. This is a large warehouse-style home improvement store and lumber yard. Contractors and homeowners alike can walk in and purchase whatever is needed to complete a wide variety of building projects. In fact, Home Depot is one of the pioneers of the consumer-friendly lumber yard industry.
As one of the biggest sources of materials in the country, Home Depot carries all kinds of lumber and a complete assortment of specialty materials. Unless you need something super specialized, there’s a high chance that they will carry it. In fact, they have a larger selection of products online than they do in store. And, since they’re both online and brick and mortar, you can order anything you want online and pick it up locally. Or, choose to have the supplies delivered to your work site.
Lowe’s is a direct competitor to Home Depot, and like HD, they carry just about anything you might need. While both stores carry all the basics, Lowe’s will have a few brands which are different from Home Depot. In addition, from an offline standpoint some communities are served by one chain and not the other. Online, though, this isn’t an issue as Lowe’s will deliver anywhere within the United States and a few other locations like Guam.
So what do they carry? A lot of everything. On Lowes.com, you can purchase anything from roofing to rebar, steel joists, and even flooring or appliances. This is convenient, because it’s a one stop shop for the vast majority of your building supply needs. In addition, Lowe’s is known for their customer-focused approach to sales and service. Most orders even get free delivery to the store or your worksite, so you don’t have to worry. Best of all, since they have brick and mortar stores you can quickly replace the lost nails or spilled paint with the exact product.
Another local-and-online warehouse is Menard’s. This chain has a smaller footprint than Lowe’s and Home Depot, but you can find locations in most parts of the country. However, this doesn’t matter a lot because Menard’s will ship your order nationwide. Like Lowe’s, they have a good customer-service focus but still have a lot of contractor clients.
Overall, Menard’s is both a lumber yard and a specialty supplier. They’ll provide you with almost everything you need for residential or smaller commercial projects. We didn’t see the specialized items that you might need to build a skyscraper, but they’re great for almost everything else. In addition, you can buy appliances and rent equipment from the local store. Have work sites in Canada? Menard’s has enough of a Canadian presence that delivery is available up there. In other words, for contractors who have projects on both sides of the US border, this one’s must-see.
4. Do-It Best
Unlike the other suppliers we’ve discussed so far, Do-It Best is primarily focused on the DIY consumer. However, for smaller orders they are just as useful as their contractor-focused competitors. In fact, Do-It Best claims to be one of the largest hardware stores, with a lot of locations and huge online inventory. For contractors needing to buy smaller items, such as screws, in a larger quantity this is a great way to go.
One of the great things about this supplier is that they have a location in every US state. For that reason, it’s relatively easy to pick up smaller orders locally, which saves on shipping and (sometimes) waiting time. You also have the option of having your order shipped to a store or delivered direct to your worksite. Another thing you should note is that, because Do-It Best is geared towards the DIY customer, they don’t have a large inventory of heavy-duty building materials. This supplier is best for smaller projects.
5. Ace Hardware
Most communities in the US have an Ace Hardware somewhere. But that doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy everything in person. Ace has an online section that will allow you to order basic supplies online. Then, you can either pick them up at your local store or have them shipped.
Probably the biggest limitation of Ace Hardware online is that it’s limited to whatever your local store carries, because you’re shopping the store online. Think of it as shopping your local department store from the national website, only there isn’t an assortment of online-only merchandise. With that said, you can have some things ordered through and delivered to the local store.
Why use this resource? Simply put, you don’t have to worry about when your local store is open quite as much. Since Ace Hardware locations are small businesses, they tend to have more limited hours than you would see at a larger store like Home Depot. You can order that extra package of screws that you need at midnight, if you want. If it’s in stock, you probably can pick it up the next day. You can also leverage the power of Ace online if you are unable to get to work but the crew needs something right away.
6. True Value
True Value is similar to Ace, in that you use the website to place a supply order with your local store. Having one in your area is mandatory, since you must pick up your order locally. However, unlike Ace they will also ship online-only and out of stock items to the local True Value. Once again, they have a wide variety of hardware items, but the variety is relatively limited. In addition, you’ll be able to get items like cleaning supplies by selecting them online. Use this for small orders.
7. Hardware World
Hardware World is the first true online source on our list. They are a massive online hardware store with a single warehouse, and you can’t take local delivery. With that said, they have a very large assortment of both large building materials and traditional hardware items. One of their claims to fame is that they carry specialized items that are extremely hard to find, such as unusual part sizes. If your project includes some of these items, then you should check them out.
Another thing to note is that unlike other warehouse stores, Hardware World doesn’t carry appliances. So, if you’re working on something like a residential renovation you probably will need a second supplier for items of this sort. Finally, you’ll have to wait for your items to arrive due to the lack of local pickup options, and there’s no free shipping. Be sure to account for this when estimating.
For an online supplier that has local partners, check out SupplyHog.com. Their business model is quite a bit different from most of the other sources we have discussed, because they are half store, half platform. Let us explain it this way. If you need a large shipment of heavy lumber for a house, then this is a common item. However, they are expensive to ship, unlike a box of screws or package of metal wall studs. To finish an interior wall, you’ll need all of these items. So, what SupplyHog will often do is sell you the screws and metal studs themselves. Then, they have a local partner who can deliver the lumber. This saves money and time for you as a contractor. As with Hardware World, they sell appliance parts but not the appliances themselves.
9. Build Direct
Next, let’s look at Build Direct. This one is similar to SupplyHog in that they are a true online vendor. However, they are different in that they’re a wholesale supplier that sells direct to builders. They’re also willing to ship large and expensive orders direct to the building site, rather than using local retailers as a warehouse. Need a large quantity of something? They might even have a pallet sent directly from the manufacturer, having acted as the middleman. This is super convenient, though you may have to plan a bit farther ahead than you would otherwise. Visit website.
There is one drawback, however: their product assortment is more limited. Most of what they carry is flooring, decking, and kitchen or bathroom items. They also carry siding. So, if these finishing materials are what you need, then it’s worth checking them out. However, you’ll probably also need to buy some things elsewhere.
Finally, there’s Amazon. Like most other product lines, this retail behemoth carries a wide variety of building supplies. In some cases they’ll ship from their warehouses, but the items can also come directly from the seller. You’ll need to verify where items are coming from, and when they will arrive. However, this is a great place to look for hard-to-find hardware and fittings. Visit their website to dig more.
In closing, we want to point out that the list of online building materials retailers in the US is always changing. For instance, Build Direct is a startup, so they will likely grow to include a wider product assortment. In addition, some of the other websites may become more versatile, or find that their footprint needs to change. In the meantime, these resources can be valuable as your business seeks better pricing and improved convenience.