Remodelers prefer to buy the vast majority of their materials from pro-oriented dealers rather than big-box stores, in part because of the significantly better service they get, but there are areas where dealers can improve, a new ProSales survey finds.

Nearly 500 remodelers nationwide who took part in the online poll scored pro dealers' service an average 8.63 points on a 1- to 10-point scale but rated their local warehouse home center at only 5.30. Dealers even scored marginally better than big boxes on two of the big boxes' reputed strengths--pricing and convenience--though the real differences came through when remodelers rated dealers and warehouse centers on employees' product knowledge and delivery capabilities.

"The remodeler presents a great opportunity for increasing revenue ... but the dealer has to recognize their wants and needs are not the same as the home builder," said Jim Robisch of the Indianapolis-based Farnsworth Group, whose Specpan unit managed the survey collection. Robisch unveiled the results Jan. 13 at ProSales' dealer executive roundtable, held , during the International Builders' Show in Orlando, Fla.

When asked to name their preferred sales channel for particular products, remodelers named big boxes first in only two categories: power tools and shelving/storage systems. Lumber and building material dealers were the overwhelming preferred choice for lumber, decking, siding, housewrap, molding, and doors, while specialty dealer/distributors were tops in tiles, appliances, countertops, plumbing fixtures, and paints.

Despite that lead, remodelers did see room for improvement. Fifty-five percent of the respondents said their preferred pro supplier could sell even more goods if they lowered their prices. Robisch said this area might seem like an obvious, evergreen request, but it also likely reflects the intense pressure among remodelers to win business during this recession.

As for other suggestions, 26% of respondents said their local independent dealer should offer a broader range of products, 25% wanted online ordering capabilities, and 19% wanted the ability to pick up their purchases before or after the store's regular hours.

"In the heyday of home building prior to the recession, many LBM dealers drove the remodeler away, to the home improvement warehouses, by treating them like second class customers," Robisch said. "Then and now now, the remodeler wants the same respect and service afforded the home builder."

The survey was conducted in late December. Some of the respondents were member of the Reader Panel organized by Remodeling, a sister publication to ProSales, while other remodelers solicited were customers of a half-dozen dealers nationwide. That's one reason why, of the four major census regions, half the respondents came from the South. But Robisch said the overall results were in tune with Farnsworth surveys where more respondents lived in other parts of the country.

Half the respondents did remodeling fulltime, about 20% built homes as well as remodeled them, and the rest did specialty work. More than 70% did such common projects as kitchen and bath jobs, whole-house remodelers, deck/porch installations, and window/door replacements.

Roughly 28% collected less than $100,000 a year in revenue, while 37% took in $100,000 to $500,000. Just over a third worked alone and 46% were in firms of two to five workers.

Some of the results were consistent with similar ProSales surveys conducted in 2004 and 2007. For instance, when asked to rate the importance of various services on a 1-to-10 scales, previous top-of-mind services remained at the forefront. Remodelers placed the highest importance on timely delivery (8.98 points on average), having products in stock (8.87), knowledgeable sales reps (8.78), product selection (8.58) and price (8.44). On the other end of the list were the opportunity to get rebates (5.74 points), dealers' ability to manage products (5.56), and regular visits from sales reps (4.84).

Dealers' long-held belief that there is a business built on personal relationships found more proof in this story. Despite the rise in electronic communications, 62% of respondents said they prefer to communicate with their local supplier by visiting the store. On the other hand, 40% said they prefer to use e-mail when requesting or receiving quotes vs. 33% who would rather go to the store in person.