After waiting for packages of parts to be delivered – and shipped – over the last three weeks while we are working on Bear in Georgia, I figured I would share what we learned about some of the chandleries that are out there.
First off, we discovered that most places on the internet do not actually have their own warehouses or only keep a very small number of items in stock. Since we needed the materials we were purchasing quickly, I always called directly before placing an order, making sure the company could actually ship in a timely fashion. Time after time, the “discount” marine stores on the web could not guarantee when things would be sent out because the items were actually being shipped from another party’s warehouse or, more often, multiple other parties’ warehouses. I am sure there are others (and please comment about your experiences), but the only online retailers we found that seemed to be shipping from their own warehouses were West Marine, Defender, Jamestown, Fisheries Supply, and Freeport Marine.
Second, as everyone already knows, non-sale, basic supplies were invariably overpriced at West Marine. On average, I would say the West Marine markup over the other retailers mentioned above was 30 percent, though it could reach as high as 100 percent or more. For instance, sanitation hose was routinely twice as expensive from West while bronze plumbing fittings were only about 20-40 percent higher. What is more, is that West only offered same-day shipping at additional cost on items that they have in stock. Getting them to guarantee when anything would be delivered was nearly impossible. For these reasons, we did not purchase any supplies from West over the internet. However, we did make two pilgrimages to the massive brick and mortar store in Jacksonville. Fortunately, I had called ahead of time before making the trek there; they did not have a fitting, a caulk, and a stain in stock that we wanted, though they did have several other small items we needed.
Third, while we were fairly pleased with the selection and service of Fisheries Supply and Jamestown – the only two places other than Amazon that we ordered from – both disappointed us in regards to shipping. We had placed two orders with each. With the first from Fisheries Supply, the website indicated our order would be shipped out on the 31st of December. When I called to confirm this before finalizing our order on the 30th, they indicated that, indeed, the items would be shipped the following day. With that reassurance, we paid a substantial premium for priority shipping, which should have ensured the package arrived on the second. Disappointingly, the package was not even shipped until January 2nd. On the positive side, when we called to complain, they essentially refunded the rush shipping charges. We were pleased enough with that settlement, as well as their excellent selection of in-stock items, that we ended up placing another rush order with them, which shipped and arrived as they indicated it would.
With Jamestown, our first order – an expensive and heavy conglomeration of stain, epoxy, and related items – arrived without a hitch after we paid the three or four dollars to ensure same-day shipping and the additional shipping charges for rush delivery. Our second order with them, which was much smaller, arrived two days after it was supposed to, having been shipped two days (including a Sunday) later than they indicated it would be. In this case, I ended up placing the order over the phone after I called to ensure that we could get the goods either shipped out on a late Friday afternoon or on Saturday. The gentleman that I spoke with assured me that they would have the order packaged that afternoon and, depending on the shipping method I chose, it would either go out on Friday by private carrier or on Saturday by USPS. With a substantial difference in cost and none in the expected delivery date, I chose to have it sent USPS Priority. On Tuesday, after the package did not arrive, we tracked it, only to find that it did not leave Jamestown until Monday and was not expected until Thursday. A final note about Jamestown, if you are expecting things to ship quickly, be careful because they have multiple warehouses; items that must be shipped from more than one place will take an extra day or two before they will be sent (though that was not the problem with our ill-fated order).
In the future, we will try our best not to have to rely on timely shipping from any distributor. We hope to do a better job of preparing for the work we will do and anticipating our needs. We have also discussed making sure that wherever we haul the boat in the future will be within an hour of a major chandlery. This past spring, when we first bought Bear and readied her for commissioning, we were fortunate to be a mere forty miles from Defender. While we burned far too much gas driving to and from their warehouse, the proximity did allow us to finish a number of critical jobs that either would have been impossible or, in other cases, much more expensive because we would have had to buy the goods, like 200 feet of chain, from West Marine.
As I said above, we would love to hear your experiences with various online retailers, especially any tips or recommendations.