Home Depots around the world
May 12, 2015 12:56 PM   Subscribe

How do hardware stores differ from country to country?

I imagine that climate impacts the prominence of some items (insulation, wood). Local prices effect would others (copper pipes vs. plastic pipes). In countries where most construction is done with masonry, masonry bits are probably more common, too.

For someone who is familiar with Home Depot in the US, how would hardware stores elsewhere differ?
posted by dzkalman to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is from a UK perspective, but here are some notable differences:

All measurements in metric units.
Hardly any hardwoods are available. Hardware, or, as we call them, DIY stores, stock pine almost exclusively. No siding (timber siding, or any siding really, isn't a thing we have - our houses are largely timber-framed with a skin of brick.
No products related to central air conditioning or furnaces or baseboard heating. Lots of products related to gas central heating (boilers, radiators).
No screen doors.
Our plumbing is slightly different - toilets evacuate horizontally to a soil pipe, rather than down into the floor.
posted by pipeski at 1:20 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've spent some time in Toom Baumarkts in Germany. It felt almost identical to some of the nicer Home Depots I've visited here in the states.

Only a few slight differences. A lot more Germans rent their property, so they install things like floating floors and semi-permanent kitchen cabinets so they can be removed and taken with them to the next apartment when they move. Those sections are larger. Less lumber and framing material (most homes are built out of blocks and mortar and again, renters don't remodel).

Also, a much a larger garden supply and tool section. Lots of patio furniture, gazebo-type items, and outside sheds for their remote plots.

And they buy paint in these squat horizontal buckets which was interesting.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:36 PM on May 12, 2015

I've been surprised by the amount of non-metric items in UK hardware stores, actually. It's really pretty random. For example, I had to buy some twine one day. It was available packaged, measured by the foot, or off the reel, in which case it was sold by the metre.

The stores I've been to are smaller, and have a smaller selection of big, bulky items. And more wallpaper, way more wallpaper.
posted by penguinicity at 1:42 PM on May 12, 2015

Continuing on from pipeski: most of the "contractor" end of a Lowes/Home Depot is either missing from a UK DIY shop or on a much smaller scale: for the materials you'd need to do full-on construction and roofing and whatnot, you'd go to a proper builders' merchant or timber merchant, and the people who do that are usually in the trade.

Lots more wallpaper and papering equipment. Different classifications for paint. A garden section more suited to smaller gardens with tighter, more ornamental layouts than 'my property': trellises and paving and border stuff, but not riding mowers or heavy duty fencing kit, etc. Power tools in general are less hardcore / heavy duty: you won't find pneumatic wood splitters or entire aisles of chainsaws.
posted by holgate at 1:43 PM on May 12, 2015

Propane cylinders are different. Those I saw in Europe were taller and skinnier than the more squat versions common in the US.
posted by exogenous at 1:46 PM on May 12, 2015

I don't remember so much magnolia paint in the US. So much magnolia paint. So many brands, types, and shades of magnolia paint.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

American's are sometimes surprised at the variety of goods at CanadianTire. It doesn't have raw materials like a Rona or Home Depot but has bathroom finishings, paint, tools, kitchen stuff, tires, sports equipment, garden centre. It's more like a Walmart, only most recently getting into larger appliances, furniture and food.

We also have Home Hardware which also doesn't always have raw materials, but they are independantly owned so vary.

I don't think there is a difference in Home Depot offerings in Canada vs US.
posted by Gor-ella at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

The biggest difference between US and Canadian Home Depots is that the US ones don't carry the one true screw standard. Here it's all phillips (and the more expensive "spax" variant) but they pretty uniformly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
posted by Poldo at 2:13 PM on May 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Home Depot tried to open a store in Shanghai and closed it down pretty quickly. I don't know what they carried when they were operating, but the price for labor is so low in China that it wasn't worth it for homeowners--who are rich, since real estate in Shanghai is incredibly expensive--to DIY anything. We tried to do a simple toilet handle replacement for a relative we were staying with, which would've taken an hour at most in the US, took us a whole day or running around tracking down the proper part.
posted by ethidda at 2:26 PM on May 12, 2015

I know that everyone thinks that Home Depot has terrible customer service, but if you've ever tried to find a human employee in Canadian Tire you'll know that US customer service is amazing in comparison. Canadian hardware stores have terrrrrible customer service.

Home Depot/Lowes in the US are pretty similar to Home Depot/Rona/Lowes in Canada. Canadian Tire, as noted, has it's own odd automotive & sporting goods history but overlaps a lot with the US concept of a big box retail hardware store. The first time I lived in the US it took me ages to figure out where to buy a socket set. Canada also has Home Hardware which tends to be smaller-scale but otherwise similar.

It's pretty clear the the US & Canadian Home Depots have at least some overlapping supply chain - while there are indeed not enough Robertson screw supplies at US HD, both carry the same Ridgid-branded tools. The Ridgid shop vacs are the same in both countries for example.

I don't think Canadian Sears stores tend to carry as much tools-related stuff as US ones do. Here in the Bay Area I also shop at OSH frequently and Canadian Tire is probably the closest to OSH but again, no automotive stuff at OSH.
posted by GuyZero at 2:31 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

OK, I tried to Google this and still don't know: what's "magnolia paint"?

That'd be why you don't see it in American Home Depots; I've never even heard of it!
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:46 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Magnolia emulsion: basically, off-white paint sold off the shelf without needing to being tinted that shade. ('Emulsion' is also a term that doesn't translate to Home Depot.)
posted by holgate at 2:49 PM on May 12, 2015

In Hong Kong, hardware stores are more like tiny overpacked market stalls on streets known for selling hardware (scroll down halfway for some pictures). Buying used tools is also much more common.
posted by danceswithlight at 3:17 PM on May 12, 2015

I tried to build some furniture from plans on Ana-White's DIY website (American). I am in Australia. The main problem I ran into is that all our standard timber plank measurements are different from yours. I needed something like a bunch of 2x4s, and although I converted to metric, I still couldn't find them (and I know that 2x4 doesn't mean exactly 2 by 4 either, so I was converting based on a table of exactly what a 2x4 in the US measures). But I ended up having to ask, and the guys at the hardware store were totally baffled. One even said, "Two WHAT by four WHAT?" and then when they explained the metric standard plank sizes to me, they were different enough from yours that I had to do some pretty tricky changes to angles to make the plans work.

Also, as someone mentioned above, you can basically only buy pine. (Or MDF).

I have also been envious when I read about DIY projects that involve adding prefabricated mouldings and trim to cabinets or walls to get a fancy look. I went hunting for these sorts of things here and there were no decorative mouldings at all at our big box hardware stores (Bunnings, Magnetmart) and a selection of a whole one type of trim (quarter round).
posted by lollusc at 6:50 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Caveat: I've never actually set foot in a Home Depot but have browsed their website, which I think gives me enough of an idea to say that it seems like the equivalent of several separate stores in one - part hardware/DIY store, part furniture store, part nursery/outdoor living store, part building supply store, part white goods/appliances store.

I think the closest Australian equivalent is probably Bunnings, which does a little of all these things but really not on the same scale as Home Depot. So you can buy some simple flatpack furniture like bookshelves or something, pick up some garden table/chairs, but you wouldn't really outfit your entire bedroom or house from Bunnings. Bunnings is a good generalist store, and has the basics of a wide range of stuff, but if you want anything beyond the basics (different kinds of timber, prefab mouldings, anything other than bog-standard plants, etc, non-flatpack furniture and/or wider variety, actual appliances like fridges or ovens) you need to go to a store that specialises in those things.

Apart from that, yes, the metric thing. Completely different. For electrical things, voltage is different (Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa are all 230V, 50Hz but US/Japan/Canada are 100/120V 50/60Hz). The plugs are also different shapes. There's more emphasis in Australia on things to reduce heat like shadecloth, exterior blinds, etc. and managing water use since much of the country is prone to drought. Even within Australia I'd think you'd see considerable variation between hardware stores in tropical parts of the country which have little need for heating vs those in Tasmania, which does. Oh yeah, and exterior paint emphasises how well it stands up to the sun, since we have a hole in the ozone layer pretty close to us and the sun is brutal.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:41 PM on May 12, 2015

One thing I have noticed about the couple of hardware stores I have been in in Italy and the UK is that they have less hardcore builder/contractor materials (extensive lumber selection, windows, doors, siding, extensive power tool selection, etc) and more in the realm of what I would call housewares (dishes, utensils, alarm clocks, toasters, etc).
posted by Rock Steady at 8:55 PM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Almost certainly because the kind of work that requires hardcore builder/contractor materials also requires explicit planning permission, which puts it in the domain of builders' merchants. You don't go to B&Q if you're building a conservatory, but in the US, there are plenty of places where you can slap an entire new floor on your home and nobody will bat an eyeball because it's implicitly permitted by zoning.
posted by holgate at 9:10 PM on May 12, 2015

The two we go to most frequently are Leroy Merlin and Obi; there's Bricofer and a couple of other Brico-name whatevers as well.

I generally find them all to be pricey compared to US versions. I'll echo the above about lumber. The lighting sections are again pricey, to the point that I wait to buy lightbulbs when we go to Ikea.

There's a small section of housewares (curtains, seat cushions, etcetera) and hobby type supplies like you find in Michael's but the selection is crappy and again, pricey.

Recently I've been looking at paint - there are some paint chippy like publicity flyers laying around, but not the rectangular hue and tint ones of every color on offer like I am used to Stateside. The predominant paint is lavabile - "washable" water based (I think) which I've always found really isn't, as if you scrub too hard you'll end up with a paint less area, especially if the landlord chintzed out on quality and/or coverage layers. I was so excited when our new flat's kitchen had proper latex based washable white...but I digress.

There's a sizable garden section, but that is more for paving stones, planters, furniture, barbecues, above ground pools and the like. There's a paucity of actual plants, as people will generally go to the vivaio (Nursery).

And that sort of encapsulates the difference from going to a US Home Depot . Here people are more used to popping into their local ferramenta (hardware store) for tools or screw or keys made, maybe a colorficio for paint, the vivaio for plants, the falegname for carpentry work, etc.

Oh and most frustrating of all is that they don't have that whole rent-a-big-tool/machine either. There's been a few times that I would have killed to be able to rent a steam cleaner.
posted by romakimmy at 11:47 PM on May 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

This, from Cameroon
posted by Kwadeng at 2:18 AM on May 13, 2015

Other Australian peculiarities:

Less electrician supplies at non-trade places, since DIY electrical work is strongly frowned upon
More rotary clotheslines
No asphalt roof shingles
posted by zamboni at 5:58 AM on May 13, 2015

OK, I tried to Google this and still don't know: what's "magnolia paint"?

It's the default colour for interior walls. In the US, all my rentals were painted white; in the UK and Ireland, they were all magnolia with white trim.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:04 AM on May 13, 2015

I'm back, I realize I also have other country experience. In Instanbul, Buenos Aries, and Mexico DF, there were streets and neighborhoods that cater to one trade or another, so blocks of plumbing stores on one street, and the next electrical. Less space and most things are behind the counter. To get a new universal charger in Argentina, we had to go to the counter and explain what we wanted.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2015

DIY electrical work is strongly frowned upon

Illegal, in fact.

Also, I just remembered that Australian hardware shops have very limited hire tools and machines available. Usually they will have a blackboard list of five or six things (steam cleaner, wood chipper, power washer, etc), but when you actually try to hire one, they aren't available. I went around six different hardware stores last time I needed a power washer, and not a single one actually had one available. (Generally they said they had once had them but they were currently broken and no intention of fixing them, because no one ever wanted to hire them anyway).
posted by lollusc at 8:30 PM on May 14, 2015

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