“There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey.” – John Ruskin (1819-1900) English critic, essayist, & reformer
Consumers often ask what the difference is between the fixtures sold through plumbing supply houses/wholesalers, versus those sold at big box stores like Home Depot. The truth is, there is a huge difference in quality. Major brands separate their product lines between the chain stores and the wholesalers. Often times a nearly identical-looking counterpart will have close to the same Part #, or SKU #, but the last or first digit will differ between the two. This is how the manufacturer can keep track of their sales between their cheaper counterparts sold in big box stores and those professional quality products provided to licensed supply houses.
If you went to your local supply house and bought a stainless steel sink and then went to a big box store and bought it’s equivalent, chances are the sink you bought from the supply house is made of a much heavier gauge stainless steel versus the lesser quality, thinner gauge one you purchased from a place like Home Depot. Same goes if you bought a Moen faucet, for example, at both places. The faucet from the big box store will weigh half as much as the faucet you purchased from the wholesaler because the cheaper counterpart is made with lesser quality materials – painted plastic instead of a metal, plastic fittings instead of quality brass fittings, cheaper cartridges, thinner walled supply lines that are more prone to leak, etc. Drain assemblies are notorious for being made of plastic in big box retail stores compared to the all metal assemblies sold through your trusty wholesaler. Moen shower valves in big box stores, for instance, have threaded FIP connections, while Moen shower valves from a supply house will have superior sweat connections. Delta faucets bought in chain retail stores not only consist of more cheap plastic parts than their counterparts but they contain ‘seat & spring’ cartridges versus the ‘diamond seal tech’ cartridges available in their supply house faucets. Big box stores demand price concessions from the manufacturer which causes the manufacturer to retool the fixture in order to lessen the cost. As a result the cheaper product and differing part and SKU #’s exist.
When was the last time you ran into a professional plumber inside a big box store? Chances are pretty slim, and there’s a reason for that. Ask any professional plumber and they will tell you the same story. Value costs money and better costs more! Another thing to consider when purchasing fixtures and products through a chain versus a local wholesaler, is the product warranty. Often times products bought through a big box store are warrantied for a shorter amount of time through the store itself. Whereas, fixtures and materials purchased through a licensed supply house carry their full manufacturer’s warranty. If something were to require repair or replacement, claiming a warranty through the actual manufacturer is a very simple, quick, and easy process if purchased through a registered dealer.
It is important to invest in good quality products for your fixtures and appliances, supplied through your contractor or wholesalers. Consumers should beware cheaper products are cheaper for a reason. This is especially true for the fixtures behind your walls (i.e. shower valves, temperature valves, control valves, etc.). Also consider the labor and cost of installing a cheap fixture for the second time due to an foreseen failure. Keep in mind these products are not merely decorative towel bars, they are running appliances with a constant water supply! You can take your chance with a big box item and have to replace it over and over or invest in a professional quality product built to last and warrantied by professionals. Ask yourself, which would your wife prefer?