The best place to buy carpet is somewhere you can get great service and selection, can purchase a quality product for a fair price, and have professional installers complete the installation for you. So, what is this place?
To answer this question, we must examine the different types of sellers, and how each one meets the various criteria outlined above. By carpet, for the purposes of this article, I am referring to broadloom – typically sold for wall-to-wall installations.
01 of 05
The term big-box store refers to a retailer operating a chain of stores in very large, open-concept “boxy” buildings. An advantage is location: they exist practically everywhere, so chances are, no matter where you live you won’t have far to drive to find one. Typically, these stores offer a wide variety of products, but only a minimal selection of each product type. They carry a little bit of everything, without specializing in anything. The Home Depot and Lowe’s are the two dominant brands of big-box home renovation stores in North America.
Big-box stores have the illusion of being inexpensive. They advertise low prices on carpet and often promote free basic installation. But a closer look reveals the truth: there are so many hidden costs surrounding the installation that your bottom-line price will likely end up being far higher than what you originally thought.
Big-box stores are known for charging for every staple and screw used, and sometimes even charge for carrying the carpet from their truck into your home. Be forewarned that you may have to start paying before you even leave the store: you have to pay for a small sample of the carpet and then pay again to have an estimator come to your home to measure for carpet. In addition, big box stores never negotiate price.
In general, service is a major downfall of big-box stores. If you prefer to shop with a salesperson, this is not the store for you. You may have trouble even locating a salesperson to help you. Often, the sales staff at big-box stores are employees who rotate between departments, with only basic training in each department, so you may not find a salesperson with extensive, in-depth knowledge of carpet.
With respect to after-sales service, the coordination of installation and, if necessary, complaint resolution are notoriously difficult. Most big-box stores use outside contractors for all of their measuring and installation, which means that you may be left to chase down the installer on your own if you have a problem.
When carpet has to compete for floor space with hardware, plumbing, and lighting, you’re not going to get a huge selection. Many big-box stores carry only one brand of carpet and offer one or two choices in each style of carpet.
Big-box stores use private labels to promote “exclusive” carpet lines and lowest prices. This means that the store has paid to have the manufacturer replace its standard label with one designed specifically for the store, and change the name of the carpet as well. This is an attempt to keep customers from shopping around and allows the store to advertise that they match prices on identical products (which don’t exist under the same name).
02 of 05
Franchise and Chain Stores
These are retail stores with multiple locations. The difference between them is that franchises are independently owned and report to the parent organization, while chain stores are completely owned by the organization, and employ staff to operate the stores. In both of these stores, the parent organization controls all of the products, pricing, and advertising so as to create consistency among the individual stores. Examples include Abbey Carpet & Floor in the United States and End of the Roll in Canada.
Chain stores and franchises often have high overhead costs, such as national advertising and promotional displays. These costs may be passed on to the consumer. While chain stores have buying power with the manufacturers, which means they may pay less for the product, you will likely not have any ability to negotiate your final price, because the pricing is usually controlled by the corporate office.
Because these are specialty stores, the salespeople are typically very knowledgeable in carpet and related products. You will likely find good service here, as well as strong customer service policies, which are regulated by the parent organization.
Be sure to inquire whether the store uses its own installers or whether it hires sub-contractors. Either way, be sure that you deal with the store, and not the installer directly if you have an issue.
Chain stores may have the best selection of carpet out of any type of sellers. They generally carry products from all major manufacturers. Some may use a private labeling system, so if you plan to shop around (which I always encourage) then make sure you know if the product name on the label is the stores or the manufacturers.
03 of 05
Retailer’s cooperatives, referred to as co-ops, are similar to franchises, except they typically have a bit more freedom in how the business is operated. These are independently owned stores that collectively form a buying group–they band together to buy from manufacturers, giving them more buying power. Essentially, they pay a premium to get a discount from the manufacturer and to benefit from the brand name and the private labels that are found in these stores. A big example of a co-op flooring brand in North America is Carpet One.
Co-ops have big buying power with the manufacturers, and they may have slightly lower overhead costs than the chain stores. Unfortunately, you may not know that, because their private labeling system makes it very difficult to compare prices on the same product. You likely have a bit more negotiating ability, because they are independently owned and operated. However, it costs a lot to belong to a co-op, so their prices may not be as low as you think.
Being independently owned means that the store’s owner has a vested interest in your satisfaction as a consumer, so you can likely expect good customer service and knowledgeable sales staff. As with chain stores, be sure to inquire about the use of sub-contractors for installers, and who you would deal with if you had a problem.
Most co-ops limit their selection to a single carpet mill, but carry a wide selection of products from that manufacturer. The advantage to this is that you may see different styles that you wouldn’t find in a store carrying only the most popular collections from each manufacturer. The downfall is that you won’t be able to compare similar products from different manufacturers, the way that you might compare different brands of computers or TVs.
04 of 05
These retail stores are not part of a larger chain or co-op. They may be what are often considered “mom and pop shops”. They are often family-owned and do not report to any larger corporation. They are specialty stores, meaning that they stick to selling one type of thing, although they may slightly diversify (such as a flooring store selling paint).
Independent retailers are sometimes perceived as being more expensive because they are “specialty” stores. However, independent stores do not have to pay to belong to a buying group, don’t pay franchise costs, and don’t usually have high marketing budgets. Therefore, they often have lower overhead costs.
While they may not have the buying power with the manufacturers, they are generally more willing to negotiate price, because they don’t have to answer to shareholders or corporate executives. I’m not saying you can walk in and haggle them down to selling you the carpet at their cost, but there may be some flexibility in the bottom line price, especially for repeat customers.
Many independent stores are passed from generation to generation, so there’s a good chance that the salesperson assisting you here grew up in the industry. In general, you will find knowledgeable staff and good customer service. Independent stores survive largely on referrals and repeat business, so they want to ensure your satisfaction.
Independent stores may use their own installers or hire sub-contractors. Again, before you sign a contract, ensure you know who is ultimately responsible for resolving your concerns.
The selection of products here may not be as large as the selection in a chain store. Some independent retailers may limit themselves to one or two manufacturers, but generally, they offer a wide variety of carpet. It is rare that you will find private labels in an independent store, so you should be able to effectively compare quality and pricing.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
The 'Invisible' Store
There are many carpet sellers that don’t actually have a store. They may operate as “shop-at-home” services, in which you make an appointment to have a salesperson come to your home and bring you some carpet samples, such as Empire Today. Or, they may be installers who use their contacts in the industry to obtain carpet to sell to customers.
Invisible stores often have low overhead costs. However, shop-at-home companies still have to pay staff, marketing and have a head office to run. Installers selling carpet out of the back of their truck have almost no overhead and are usually willing to undercut retailers, so if you care more about price than service, selection, or warranty, they may be a good option for you.
Shop-at-home service is convenient, but it removes the customer from the organization so that if you have a problem, you have to rely on someone on the other end of the phone, rather than being able to walk into a store and discuss the matter face-to-face. Installers are sub-contracted out by these companies.
Dealing with an installer as a salesperson requires a big sacrifice in service. The installer has no relationship with the manufacturer, so there will likely be no way to resolve any issue with the carpet, and you will not receive a warranty on either the carpet or the installation.
When someone brings samples to you, obviously you are limited to choosing what they have brought. You will not have the same range of selection you would going into a store.
Which Is Better?
So, which is the best place to buy carpet? As you can see, no type of place is better in every aspect than others; they all have some trade-offs. The seller with the least amount of trade-offs, though, is the independent store. Generally, you will get good selection, great service, and a fair price from an independent retailer.
Regardless of where you buy, you should always shop around to compare prices and products, and always read all of the fine print before you sign anything.