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©2008 Charles Plesums
Austin Texas USA
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There is no secret handshake or password (that I have found) to be able to purchase supplies as a "commercial" customer. But if you act like a commercial customer, most places I have found will treat you like a commercial customer.
If you go to a lumber yard and search through the stacks of boards, find three boards that you like, and make a purchase, you will probably pay the same "retail" price you have always paid.
I called one lumber yard (known to not be end-user friendly) and asked what I had to do to buy from them. They simply said "Place an order. If it is over $300, we will deliver it." Of course, you placed your order with the salesman, and a fork lift appeared with the 100 board feet of lumber from the top of the stack. The good news is that (at this lumber yard) there hadn't been dozens of casual woodworkers before you that took all the good boards off the top of the stack. Some of the boards were ugly (only the federal government would call this FAS grade), but many were pretty nice. And even though I didn't like buying the ugly board, I also didn't have to spend hours searching the stacks for decent wood.
My favorite lumber yard has a substantial difference in price between small orders, and orders for 100 or more board feet "off the top." A lower price if you buy 5 or more sheets of plywood. A substantially lower price for a box of 10 pairs of drawer slides rather than for individual drawer slides. Far lower prices for a roll of edge banding, than for edge banding by the foot. Far lower prices for a box of 1000 screws than buying screws by the hundred in little bags. And if the order is small, they may ask if it would be okay to deliver it the next time they have a truck heading your way (Only once did I wait an extra day for a small order). I have heard of other lumber yards that track your annual purchases - as you cross various thresholds, you move to progressively lower price lists.
The next step is taking a sales tax exemption certificate to your vendors. I found the Texas forms on the internet, entered my name and address (it fits in the space that says "business name" and "business address" even though it is the same as my real name and home address). For Lowe's and Home Depot, you turn it into the customer service desk (or fax it to corporate headquarters), and then enter your 10 digit secret code (typically your phone number) when you check out. You can even use the self-service checkout lanes!
Woodcraft put my tax exemption certificate in the file, and a code in the computer. Done.
Rockler has a "professional" division. They were the biggest problem. My first "pro" order they called and said I wasn't professional, so couldn't buy that way. Why? They didn't find my name in the yellow pages. I referred them to my web site, and gave them my sales tax code, and we were "in." But it isn't as great as it sounds. Things like hinges have a substantial pro discount, but I can buy the same items cheaper from my local lumber yard. Other things have a small discount, but they don't get the frequent "free shipping" and "take 20% off" special sales. I probably buy as much from plain old Rockler as I do from Rockler Pro.
Grainger has a "go away" sign on their door, but I wanted to buy odd-type drive belts and bearings from them. They helped me out the first couple times (don't look at the company name on the invoice - they apparently put me through under another customer's name), then I asked "what does it take to be a regular customer?" Answer, just ask them to open an account, and they will enter your address in the computer. You can buy with a credit card, or can apply for an charge account (messy). Can I file a tax exemption certificate? Of course, but it will only be for this store for a couple days, until corporate gets a copy, then it will be national. How do you spell EASY?
In conclusion (in my experience) all you have to do to be a commercial customer is act like one!
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