Secret Shopper January/February 2020

July 21st, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

How Things Have Changed: If You’re Looking for Doors, Chances Are You’re Headed to a Big Box

Don’t take the headline as my way of declaring that big box retailers are the best or only place to buy doors. It’s more a matter of odds. You see, I just finished writing a feature story about entry doors (which you’ll find on page 38) and no sooner did I write about how 69% of doors are now purchased through big box retailers, than I found myself part of the statistic. Maybe now it’s 70%.

This trip wasn’t so much a secret shopping experience, as much as it was a real need. I have a set of French doors off my kitchen that I’ve spent a little too much time repairing. When we bought our house, I discovered that years ago the builder—perhaps in an act of forgetfulness—failed to paint the jambs. Left with only a coat of primer, they did what even the best wood jambs would do: they rotted. No sooner did I cut out and replace the lower parts, than it seems that every other component began to fall apart.

Driving in Circles

I started out by heading to an 84 Lumber, but about the time that Siri said, “You’re at your final destination,” I could see that the place had been boarded up. Shame on me for forgetting the article about a new location. Shame on them for not ensuring their online listings were up to date.

I decided to head to one of my old standby’s, Lansing Building Products, but found that they, too, had packed it up. Did they move? Another location showed up about four miles away, but when I got there it was the corner of an abandoned parking lot. Back by Lansing’s old spot, I saw an Alside dealer. Maybe I’d go with a set of sliders? But I quickly found out that they couldn’t sell me any, because I’m not a contractor (and they’re wholesale).

So I was off to do what the majority (69%) of people do: I was heading to a big box.

Here Goes

When I arrived in the door and window section of the Lowe’s on Parham Rd., in Richmond, Va., nobody was around, so I did what people do in big box stores when they’re secret shopping: I milled and waited.

At a Pella display, I have to say, I was a little alarmed. I know these big boxes see a lot of traffic, but these doors were pretty roughed up and didn’t do their brand any favors or justice. The only set of French doors had a lot of scrapes and scratches, and wouldn’t even close.

About five minutes later, I headed over to the building products desk, where I found (and pressed) a big red button, then heard, “Special assistance needed at the millwork desk.” In the spirit of secret shopping, I started a timer on my watch.

After just a couple of minutes, Neal walked up. He said he was from flooring, but would do his absolute best to help. It was immediately obvious that he knew absolutely nothing about doors, but it was also obvious that he wasn’t going to give up. As he took my information, two more associates showed up. He turned to them and said, “I need some help here guys. I’m in over my head.” But even after bringing Kurt into the fold, Neal stayed with me through the process.

Together, they knew just enough about doors to be dangerous, but showed me through what they had on the floor and were actually quite helpful in the process—helpful enough that by the time we were done, I knew exactly which doors I needed and about what they would cost. Much like the product display, however, I was pretty disappointed to find that the in-stock doors had seen their better days. The metal racking made it easy to roll the doors in and out to have a look, but they were pretty banged up. Stocking doors in a retail setting isn’t as easy as shelving loaves of bread—I get it. But to see doors in this shape? I wasn’t feeling inspired. On the other hand, at least I was leaving with a price and an option.

As I sat, about to write this article, my phone rang. It was Jerry, the door and window specialist from Lowe’s. Neal had taken my info and handed it off.

Over the course of just a few minutes Jerry helped me to iron out the final details. And I have to say, the whole experience left me feeling pretty good about big boxes (so long as you’re ordering and not taking something off the shelf). Those other building supplies that I seem to have lost track of? I’m not so sure that I’ll need to look them up. If like them your business has moved in recent years, do me a favor? Be sure to update your online listings, because I’m tired of driving in circles looking for doors.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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