Canadian Contractor

From commercial pilot to general contractor: (10) Seeking the ‘Trifecta’ of materials purchasing

You've heard the old joke about buying materials: "Price, Quality and Service - pick ANY TWO!" Rookie homebuilder John Bleasby, in this blog, argues that all THREE ought to be available from the right supplier.

July 29, 2014
By Robert Koci
Robert Koci

John Bleasby, a retired commercial pilot, is doing his first “solo” home build, north of Toronto. To read his previous posts, just type “pilot” in the search bar on this website.

Every time we make a purchase, we look for the Best Quality, Best Price, and Best Service. It’s only natural. People may say that you can only have 2 out of 3, but isn’t it our goal to try to hit the ‘Trifecta of Purchasing’?

And so it has been with my reaching out to suppliers and traders for my home building project. The usual and accepted method is to give an opportunity for suppliers and trades to have a look at drawings or the site as the case may be, and ask for a quotation or estimate for their work or materials.


With trades, I realise there is more than pure price or hourly wage. There is, in addition, reputation and the rather unscientific gut feel one gets when a tradesman makes a pitch. I ask myself, “Do I think I can work with this guy?” Some of us are better judges than others, but given my business and professional experience, I tend to trust my gut and it rarely lets me down.


However, whether it has been a trade or a material supplier, what has surprised me is how varied the reaction has been to the opportunity to quote or estimate on this project. I will give an example:


Lumber and assorted building supplies

My first instinct was to go to the locally owned Big Box franchise store in my town. But after leaving the drawings with their staff, and receiving only a lukewarm response to the project from their somewhat indifferent Contractor Desk, I realised that despite being the home-town team, I deserved a better attitude. Anyway, 3 weekdays out of 5 they close at 6pm! How useful is that? 


On to a U.S.-owned outlet in my town. I left the drawings, was given a quote, but had the impression that the staff lacked actual building experience and were merely order takers. I doubted they be able to interpret my needs as they evolved through the project.


On to locally owned Big Box store in a neighbouring town. I left them the drawings and never heard a word from them. That in itself spoke volumes.


Tom Johnstone from RONA's Barrie store delivered my 3 steel man-doors personally in his truck when the order went overdue.

Tom Johnstone from RONA’s Barrie store delivered my 3 steel man-doors personally in his truck when the order went overdue.

Then, on to a Canadian-owned national chain in another town. Here I was given a quote for lumber and building basics that was not only very sharp, but observed an attitude of professionalism and friendliness from my Contracting Desk contact that gave me confidence.


Had I found the Trifecta? The simple answer is ‘Yes’. I get next or even same day free delivery on my orders and always an upbeat and helpful voice on the phone. And here’s an even better example: when my order for three insulated steel doors were five days overdue, my contact jumped in his truck in the middle of the day, picked up the doors at the factory the moment they were ready, and delivered them personally to my site. You can’t beat that level of service.


In today’s world of aggressive competition and the ability to cross-check pricing in an instant, there’s no substitute for good old fashioned expertise and customer care. Over the past 16 weeks, there have been one or two trades or suppliers who have disappointed me a little with their responsiveness, but for the most part, my choices have come through and helped me keep my project on schedule. To them, I give a salute!

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