The right research can improve materials purchasing

Many contractors get in the habit of buying their construction materials from the same small group of suppliers they’ve used for years. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding reliable vendors with repeat business, of course — particularly if these suppliers offer favorable prices to their regular customers.

On the other hand, today’s online search tools can quickly and easily locate lower cost alternatives. Or, if you’re working on a project outside of your local area, you can seek out vendors near the jobsite who may save you time and money on shipping. Here are some suggestions to improve materials purchasing through savvy research.

Refine your search terms

Search engines (such as Google and Bing) are excellent tools. But you can easily get overwhelmed by the results if you don’t narrow down your search terms carefully. Using some special punctuation marks, called “operators,” can make your searches more specific and increase the likelihood that you’ll get useful results.

For example, anytime you know the name or model number of the product you’re looking for, put that information in quotation marks “like this” to search for the exact phrase. Doing so will ensure that the search engine won’t return pages that have only the individual keywords you’ve entered. You can add other descriptors, such as color, size, or location, outside the quotation marks, to refine the search even further.

If you want to block results for a product you’re not interested in, you can use the hyphen or minus sign (-). Suppose you’re looking for Brand A flooring and Brand B keeps popping up. Try searching for “Brand A flooring – Brand B.” The minus sign will eliminate Brand B results from your search.

Remember that you can search for images, too. So if a project owner sends you an uncaptioned photo of a preferred product, you can “drag and drop” the image from a Web page or your computer’s desktop into the search box. (This tip is particularly effective on The search engine will pull up Web pages where that photo appears and may lead you to a source.

Approach vendors with care

Once you’ve identified a suitable vendor online, it can be tempting to start buying immediately — especially if the provider enables Web-based orders. But take a step back and approach the transaction cautiously.

Contact the supplier directly to get pricing and availability information. Based on the promptness and detail of its response, you’ll be able to assess whether the vendor is a legitimate business. After all, even if the price is low, you could lose money if the provider can’t properly fulfill the order or, obviously, if it’s an outright scam.

If the supplier is legit, negotiate a fair price armed with your research data. Look for a company that balances competitive pricing and solid customer service. Beware of hidden costs such as extraneous fees, shipping and delivery charges, and sales or waste disposal taxes.

Expand your options

Doing online research before purchasing can help you expand your options for suppliers and products. Ideally, you’ll be able to lower purchasing costs and perhaps enjoy better customer service. Just be sure to shop smart and avoid deals that are too good to be true.