Shunned at the Lumberyard

I have been reading books and magazines on woodworking for more than four years and have purchased many of the tools needed to build projects. I can see how things are built in my head and can easily follow any plans. I would love to start building projects soon, but the frustration I have comes when I go to the lumberyards. I head in with basic plans in my hands, and an idea in my head for what I will need, only to be met with what feels like scrutiny from clerks who look at me like I don’t belong there. Yeah, maybe I don’t have all the terminology down pat yet, but, hey, I’m just trying to get started here. It feels like a private club, and I’m not wanted. I’ve been to several yards and it’s the same thing. The last visit to a lumberyard I asked for the 1/4″ maple veneer plywood I need for cabinet doors for my kitchen. I was answered with, ‘we don’t have it and you can’t get it.’ It was like asking for something that didn’t exist, and I was immediately shunned, as he went back to talking to his friend. I’m pretty sure it’s available. Needless to say, I went home and have yet to begin my hobby. Any suggestions how to get someone’s respect?

Michael Dresdner: Dress like a biker and pack heat? Clearly, you need to shop elsewhere. You deserve much better. It horrifies me that lumberyards are treating their customers — any customers — that way. The ones I go to here in Algona and Tacoma are helpful, courteous, kind, and don’t put on airs because they know more about wood than their clients. (I expect them to know more, or they should not be working there.)

Try talking to some of the online dealers through reference resources like www.woodfinder.com or similar referral groups. Ask around for a recommendation at your local woodworking guild for places and people who know how to behave properly. And if you must shop locally, hook up with someone from your woodworking guild who is more experienced in buying wood, and do your shopping together. Not only is there safety in numbers, there is more likely to be respect as well. While you are at it, do your local guild a favor and report the cads who shunned you and let other woodworkers vote with their dollars. Perhaps more important, report them to the storeowner as well. I doubt that what you describe is a company policy, even if it did show up at more than one store.

Lee Grindinger: I think it’s a pity you’ve run into what are obviously not going to be mentors for your lumberyard education. Some yards do not like novices, some do. Lumberyards make their money from people and businesses that order wood in large quantities. Substantial mark-ups are the only way they can make money from small volume sales so make sure you’re going to a yard in which small volume sales are welcome. Here’s what I would suggest. Appeal to their egos. Go in with the attitude that you want to learn and you’re looking for someone to teach you. In a very up front way admit you know little and you’re looking for 1/4″ material for your cabinets. (You actually may have gotten lucky that the guy said they don’t make 1/4″ veneered plywood. They don’t.) If you have appealed to his kindness he will steer you towards MDF rather than brushing you off. If the crew at one yard is rude, move on. Eventually you will find a person willing to help you out. Oh, and walking in with a box of donuts around 9 a.m. wouldn’t hurt either.

Rob Johnstone: This sounds horrible. Maybe you should start up a friendly lumberyard: sounds like you’d be overrun with business once word got out. I must say that it baffles me why some places treat customers like they are a problem. There are some workarounds, such as buying your lumber online. Woodfinder might be help, as well, in locating a dealer or two in your area that you may not be aware of. My best advice is if some yahoo is giving you a hard time while you are trying to buy something from him, ask to see his supervisor and explain the situation to that person. Somebody has got to be willing to sell you a board or two and be happy about it.

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