Big box vs. supply house

Hello, I’m a facilities director for a small private school. I need to replace or upgrade nearly every power tool we have. Is there any difference between buying Milwaukee or DeWalt tools at a big box store or a supply house?

There is no difference in the tools or the warranty. In my experience the big box stores, home improvement stores, and tool-specific vendors (i.e. ToolUp, Max Tool, Acme Tool, etc.) have better prices on average, and run promos/sales which the industrial and MRO suppliers (i.e. Grainger, Motion Industries, McMaster-Carr, MSC, etc.) rarely have.


Totally disagree! When HD and Lowes sell a tool at a special price it’s not the same quality.

Do you have any substantiated documentation that shows this? My personal experience is the materials, inside and out, are all the same by manufacturer tool model. Perhaps the ‘specials’ are a ‘lesser tool model’, in their lineup. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the flagship model for the manufacturer included, but manufacturers couldn’t legally advertise and sell the same model number in both big box and smaller or online retailers without a specific call out (fine print) or alternate model number.

(I’ve seen plenty of tool tear downs and looked at my own tools which confirm this. I guess there is a possibility that the tear down review and I got the same tool from the same distribution channel, but unlikely).

Manufacturers have the right to change the materials, but they have to do that across that model number- regardless of the distribution channel. It would be cost prohibitive (not impossible though) to stand up a product line, the packaging, product support and all else, for a ‘special/seasonal’ offering.

1 Like

I agree with Mike here, that is a bold claim to make and one that I’ve never seen any proof of. If this happened surely the internet would be abuzz with pictures or videos showing you how model ABC-123 is different depending on if you bought it from Home Depot or Grainger.

If this has happened I’d love to see proof.

1 Like

I have heard of this done with some items, but not tools. Ive heard that some things like toilets and water heaters, maybe appliances at home depot and similar may be different runs with lower qc standards or the trade suppliers get the more perfect items and the ones at hd may have some flaws. In these cases i believe the sku is slightly different and the model number may have a letter different or similar.

One consideration is milwaukee has set warranty periods fir all power tools and batteries. Even without proof of purchase they will honor it based on manufacture date in the serial number. This will require sending or taking it to a service center.
Ridgid has their lifetime service agreement which may include batteries but i know there have been some issues with it and you may have to re-register at some point.

I’ve heard the urban legend for probably 50 years that items sold at discounters, now big box stores are substantially different from those sold at supply houses, hardware stores etc. Years ago I was told that Skil saws sold at home centers had plastic gears - while those sold at the lumberyard had metal gears. Similar stores abounded about most every tool. I suspect that many of these stories were promoted by the higher-priced sellers.

My observation is that now that UPC/GTIN codes are affixed to most items sold. If you are buying the same model number and UPC-badged item at Home Depot as one sold at Grainger - then they are as identical as the manufacturer can make them come out of the factory. It may be possible that big retailers - like Home Depot - can ask a supplier to provide them with “special” packages or even single items for exclusive sale only at HD - but many times the underlying components of the special package are sound items - just packaged for a promotional sale. In the case of Milwaukee (where their parent TTI) has a special relationship with HD ) thsi seems to come across with some very attractively-priced bundles.

If you think through the logic of the supply chain - how likely is it that a tool company like Dewalt, Makita or Milwaukee would be able to segregate different tools bearing the same barcodes in their warehouses for shipment to different retailers. As an example, if you order a Milwaukee 2904-20 (UPC 045242637720) it should be exactly the same regardless of source.

1 Like

Here’s an interesting twist that reminded me of this discussion:

YouTube channel Belts and Boxes reported on the work that Stuart and the YouTube channel did on the Milwaukee impact wrenches breaking. In this instance Milwaukee changed internal parts on all of the model 2767 impact wrenches being built.

I’d give a hard look at places like CPO, ACME and Ohio Power Tool.

and I might even call them or e-mail and see if you can get some type of institutional discount. I’d then cross check with Grainger, McMaster, Home Depot too. I think Home Depot at one time sponsored schools so might be worth a try.

No matter what - when you get something post up where you got your deal. I’d be curious how it goes and I don’t mind supporting a store that would go out of their way to support schools for interest in the trades.

OH have you called Dewalt or Milwaukee or etc also - might be worth a try.