Suppliers to the trade
January 12, 2008 7:27 AM   Subscribe

What sorts of items do individuals commonly buy for personal use from "B2B" catalogs or suppliers that primarily sell to industrial or commercial customers, or to professionals in particular industries? "Tactical clothing" is an example that comes to mind. And what are the reasons?
posted by Eater to Shopping (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Reasons? Being a total nerd when it comes to your hobby.

The guy that etches his own circuit board is probably as awesomely nerdy as the guy that runs around in a mil-spec ghillie suit
posted by uandt at 7:45 AM on January 12, 2008

Ham radio operators get positively giddy at the sight of the Grainger or McMaster-Carr catalogs. All kinds of tinker-y things in there.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:06 AM on January 12, 2008

I buy some items like this (e.g., scientific devices, medical supplies) because items offered to one-off retail customers are usually a watered-down marketing team's idea of what I want/need, rather than the tried, true and tested original item.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:09 AM on January 12, 2008

Liturgical items/vestments/church goods.

Why, because if you serve Mass a lot, it's useful to have your own gear. And if you're organizing Masses outside of the usual structure of things as those devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass did for many years, you may need things like sets of vestments with maniples. As above, it's a case being involved as an amatuer in something that others do as a profession.
posted by Jahaza at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2008

I don't know about the catalog business, but commercial kitchen supply stores are great if you don't care at all about design and just want a solid pot/pan/rack/whatever. You can also stock up on basic supplies (spoons, strainers, etc.) super-cheap. They've also got giant-sized versions of everything.
posted by mkultra at 8:29 AM on January 12, 2008

I had a job in an industrial chemistry lab once; a popular item, ordered from an industrial supply catalog, was a clear glass beaker (with volume markings) with a handle on it; people would drink Coke or coffee from this handled beaker.

Is this the kind of thing you mean? Lab coats/aprons would apply, too.
posted by amtho at 8:31 AM on January 12, 2008

I bought some boots for hiking from a mil / police supply store. I wanted a pair of hiking boots that were built more like combat boots than the traditional hiking boot, including high ankle support. The relatively high-end brand of this type of shoe I wanted wasn't available in any local store nor at the usual online clothing outlets but was in abundance at various military stores. And the reviews from soldiers and cops for this shoe were great. If someone loved them for Anbar patrols or for running all day after perps, then I thought they would be great for my daily hikes with the dogs.
posted by pandaharma at 8:39 AM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: All of this is very helpful, thanks, yes, keep it coming, exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for. Links to suppliers would be cool too and perhaps make the thread helpful to the sort of enthusiasts it's about.
posted by Eater at 8:47 AM on January 12, 2008

I've carried an ALICE pack for years, best backpack I've ever owned.
posted by waxboy at 8:57 AM on January 12, 2008

to the question of why ... because "stuff" designed for professionals with a high usage expectation is generally better than "consumer grade stuff" - in that it doesn't have any "fancy and expensive" crap but is none the less as good as is required by a professional such that they will buy again (also meaning that the price is right).

From a practical perspective I give as examples:

Chefs Knives (and associated kitchen goods) from Chefs supply stores
Mechanic grade tools (eg. Snap-on, Hazet, etc)
Company grade stationary
School grade sport gear
posted by jannw at 9:19 AM on January 12, 2008

I bought a Baby Boa flexible wrench which is useful for opening jars, as well as pipes. You can buy it from disability/mobility assistance retailers, as well as plumbing/construction supply retailers. It costs half as much to buy the very same thing from a construction supply shop.
posted by grouse at 9:41 AM on January 12, 2008

If you're an electronics hobbyist, buying from B2B catalogs is pretty much an essential. I frequently order from DigiKey and Newark. Mc-Master Carr is also popular for plumbing and mechanical parts. In my case it's because these are the cheapest and often only place to find the parts I need.
posted by pombe at 10:13 AM on January 12, 2008

There are also some professional/commercial versions of consumer products that have beneficial tweaks, like vacuum cleaners with extra long power cords.

Also, a lot of commercial supply products are à la carte. Often products targeted to consumers are paired, especially for things that have lids (cups, take-out containers, etc) so buying commercial, you are not forced to buy lids or companion items if you don't want or need them.
posted by SoulOnIce at 10:56 AM on January 12, 2008

Second SoulOnIce's à la carte point.

I make my living as a prop master, which means 25% of my time is spent making props and 75% of my time is spent sourcing raw materials and objects. For the latter, even in the day of ebay and craigslist, picture a scene from "Run Lola Run.

I use McMaster-Carr and Grainger all the time, and part of the reason is that a lot of what I'm using their hardware and assorted industrial goods for is far, far, from what the products were originally designed to do. Repurposing is king.

It's annoying to walk into a hardware store and try to find the perfect tubing for, say, crafting some sinister exploding innards, or maybe a plumbing item to be used to rig a way for an actor (last time it was Chris Noth) to fake urinating on stage, when the salespeople have an attitude of "Hey little lady, that's not really what you want, that tube wasn't made for that".

No such problem with a place like McMaster-Carr. They are used to tinkerers and hacks and mad scientists who are trying to blow up the world. I almost stayed with a job I hated in Princeton just because I got to make bi-weekly trips to the brick and mortar McMaster-Carr. F*ck Disneyworld, this is the real thing.

Also, a lot of individual artists use odd industrial materials in their work. They go B2B both for the cheaper bulk or wholesale prices, and in order to avoid having to constantly explain to salespeople just exactly what it is they're trying to do.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:34 PM on January 12, 2008

I've also bought stuff from McMaster-Carr and restaurant supply stores. Good stuff!

I wish I could find the store that I saw a catalog for once in a restaurant... it was food supply, but went further than that, with things like the fake grassy stuff for your meat display, and sneeze guards. I find that shit endlessly entertaining. It's like peeking behind the curtain of life...
posted by stephthegeek at 9:47 PM on January 12, 2008

no sneeze guards, but how about for display only food or kittens?
posted by stagewhisper at 10:07 AM on January 13, 2008

It's hard to buy tanks of compressed gases anywhere else. The welding supply store also has cheap and durable sunglasses.
posted by yohko at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2008

People who like to get creative with their hair can shop at Sally's Beauty Supply. After the tenth time you bleach your hair out, you don't want drugstore crap.
posted by herbaliser at 1:59 PM on January 14, 2008

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