Big Box, Little Box or Both?

If you’re a marketer setting out to map your contractor segment’s “customer journey,” you’d better gas up, because they get around, according to a national research study of 500 general contractors, electricians, plumbers and HVAC specialists conducted by Eric Mower + Associates Group B2B in 2011.

When it comes to where contractors prefer to shop for tools and building supplies, there’s not a lot of consensus. One-third named Home Depot, one-third named distributors and 22% said Lowe’s. The rest either had no preference or named another regional big-box retailer. For marketers, the implication is clear: today you need to be in more places than ever to be successful.

Plumbers and electricians dominate the group that prefers the traditional distribution channel, while general contractors lean toward retailers. All groups prefer to make their large-volume purchases at the distributor; this is particularly true for plumbers (91%). Six out of 10 contractors indicate their company has a credit relationship with a distributor, while far fewer have a company account with a big-box store.

What do distributors have over their big-box competitors? In short: brains. The biggest differentiator is “they have someone I can talk to who is knowledgeable.” Marketers who are not leveraging this knowledge differentiator through distributor training and tools are likely leaving money on the table (and product on the shelf). Conversely, marketers who are relying on Home Depot and Lowe’s ought to consider strategies to fill the information gap left by the self-serve style of these outlets.

Where do the big boxes have an edge? Six out of 10 contractors believe they find better prices at these stores, as well as a wider selection of products. They’re perceived as more convenient, though contractors still believe they can get in and out of their distributor faster.