Working with Suppliers During a House Building or Remodeling Project

by Julie

Relationships Count in Home Improvement Projects

The most essential rule of construction is this: good relationships make a good building experience.  A good relationship with your contractor means more than just a few quick meetings – there must be clear, on-going communication and trust on all sides.  Likewise, your contractor should have solid relationships with her subs and vendors so that they produce timely, high-quality results.
Suppliers know that nearly everyone who walks through their front door is a first-timer.  The salespeople understand that you have probably never been through this process and they expect to do a little hand-holding while they share their knowledge. On the other hand, they appreciate it when you take the time to educate yourself as much as possible.  Knowledge is power.  The more you know, the more decisive you can be.  Making good choices in a timely manner moves the project along smoothly.

The Advantages of Preparation

In a typical scenario, the builder tells the homeowner that the time has come to choose their doors.  They start off to the showroom in a state of excitement – more input into their dream home!

Once they arrive at the showroom, however, it’s a different story.  Salespeople start asking a ton of questions – casing, jamb size, paint or stain, door type, panel configurations, door handing…  The vision of a dream home becomes clouded while they wander, amazed and bewildered around the showroom.  Going in unprepared turns a first meeting into a Doors 101 session, while your vision gets put on the back burner.

Who are Suppliers?

Showrooms and suppliers work with your designers, contractors, trades people, etc as a critical part of your building team.  Their job is to walk you through your options, help with design choices, track your selections, provide estimates, communicate with the manufacturers, fill your order and oversee final delivery to the  job site.
Separate supply houses (suppliers or dealers) furnish the residential construction industry with everything from lights to flooring. Often, they have large showrooms.  Some also install what they sell.

Generally speaking, there are three types of suppliers:

1.    Supply houses where the trades shop, such as lumber yards or wholesale flooring companies.  Some of these will only sell to contractors who have an account with them.
2.    Suppliers where homeowners select their interior materials.   These shops are the heart of creating your special vision.  They typically have a showroom where you can view samples.  They also have experienced salespeople who will guide you through the selection process.  Your builder will tell you which supplier they recommend and who to see.
3.    Home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot.  Also called the big box stores.

Good builders establish relationships with various supply houses and become familiar with their employees, products and the quality of their work.  Because of this, it is important to use the builder’s recommendations, unless instructed otherwise.  Ask your builder (not the architect or designer) which supplier they work with and the specific salesperson they recommend for your job.
Even though a builder’s recommendations are important, you may want to start planning and shopping even before you select a contractor.  If you are working with a planner, ask for their input.   Use the suggestions of friends who have built recently or call the largest supplier in the area and ask to speak with the most experienced person on the sales staff.

Tips for Working with Suppliers

Call ahead to make an appointment with a particular salesperson, otherwise you could be paired with a less-experienced staff member.  Ask them how much time to allow.  Remember, one of the main reasons you are there is for expertise and knowledge!
Plan for all decision-makers and designing help to be present.  Allow plenty of time and remember that you may make more than one trip.  Find out if there are any special instructions or needs from your builder.  Ask up front about which methods the supplier uses to communicate – some shops prefer sending quotes via fax.  If this is the case, you can sign up for an online fax service that works with your email.  Most of these cost less than $10 per month and can be cancelled after your project is complete.

Bring the following with you to the meeting:

•    Notes and checklist from the buying guide  (that you, hopefully, purchased).
•    Paper and pen. Expect to take lots of notes.
•    Photos or other visual aids that help explain your vision.
•    Extra set of blueprints that can be left at the showroom.
•    Photos of your existing house if it is a remodel.
•    Your calendar.  Plan for a return trip after you have gathered any additional information or honed in on your selections.


Decision making with a supplier will unfold in stages.

During your visits you should:

1.    Make selections.  The first trip may be for picking up samples or taking a quick walk-through.  Ultimately, however, you must make final choices to keep your project moving forward.
2.    Get estimates. For initial planning purposes, the salesperson should be able to quote prices on most of your choices.  Keep in mind that some selections may require specialized or extended labor, thus increasing the overall costs.  The supplier may only quote the material costs. Communication between yourself and the builder or planner is key in this area.
3.    Find out specifications on your selections.  Get whatever you can.  If it is a full brochure with model number, sizes, materials-great!  If not, get whatever details are available.  The salesperson may be able to fax or e-mail the information to you if it is not on hand in the showroom.
4.    Gather your information together in a 3-ring binder.  Keep it until you sell the house.
5.    Communicate with your builder.  Double-check that your contractor has received all of the information she needs to stay on top of your project.

Tip.  A manufacturer’s website is a fantastic source of information – especially in cases where the showroom might not have the latest specifications.  “Installation instructions” are particularly important to the builder – especially for specialized or custom assemblies.  It may seem like you are doing your contractor’s job, but taking the initiative on this can prevent many issues down the road.


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