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By Amy Hanlon on 06 Jun 2024

Should I buy from a manufacturer or a supplier?


Whether you’re buying marshmallows, a washing machine, or a timber garden building, there are always benefits to buying from a manufacturer versus a supplier. Let’s look at these benefits and see which choice suits you best.

Because what really rips our knitting is when suppliers and manufacturers make promises that they can’t follow through on. If you’re promised a good-quality product at a bargain price but that bargain causes nothing but problems, you feel duped and disappointed. Even worse is when you’re promised a good-quality product at a big-ticket price but still face problems. 

I’ll be totally upfront – Gillies & Mackay is a manufacturer and we love supporting manufacturers. I’m definitely biased. But alongside my bias, I can also identify the advantages and disadvantages of both manufacturers and suppliers, which is exactly what this post is about.

What’s the difference between a manufacturer and a supplier?

A wall of timber stacks, where different sizes and varieties of timber are lined up vertically.

A manufacturer makes and sells a product. A supplier buys stock from a manufacturer and sells it on their behalf. Suppliers usually deal with a wide range of products, and may also sell products from a range of manufacturers. Think of a supplier as being like a supermarket. A manufacturer is like a specialist shop that makes a much smaller range of products 

If you buy a cake from a supermarket, you know it’ll be fine. But if you buy a cake from an artisanal bakery that uses a secret family recipe passed on for four generations, you’ll have a very different cake experience. 

What are the advantages of buying from a supplier?

First things first: buying from a supplier is very often the cheapest option. If budget is your number one concern, it’s very easy to discount manufacturers in favour of saving some money. And there’s no judgement here on that front. Sometimes you need to buy the cheapest option you can afford. As long as you know what you’re getting from that purchase, no problem. 

Convenience

Let’s think about that supermarket analogy. You can buy milk in a supermarket. You can also buy screenwash for your car. There’s probably a selection of clothes to look at. If you need to buy a case for your phone or a microwave, you can pick those up too.

Just like a supermarket, suppliers often provide the convenience of several types of products, in a wide range of sizes, designs and types. In the world of timber garden buildings, suppliers will likely stock sheds, summerhouses, garages and garden rooms, and they’re all boxed up in a warehouse somewhere ready for delivery. They’ll have hundreds of styles, sizes and colours all ready to go, as though you were buying groceries.

You should be able to find out easily how much each building costs, and you may even be able to buy online. Suppliers also often operate nationally, so they may offer free delivery or other perks. 

If speed, ease and convenience are your top priorities, a supplier might be the best option for you. 

What are the disadvantages of buying from a supplier?

Suppliers provide mass-produced buildings that are designed to be installed easily. These buildings are affordable because they are produced in large quantities using cheaper materials. Think IKEA: cheap to produce, easy to build. 

Quality

This situation is fine if budget is your top priority. However, you should be aware that the life of these products will be shorter than more expensive alternatives, and that more maintenance may be needed. While suppliers have plenty of choices, you’re likely to be choosing from lower-quality products made from lower-quality materials. 

As a result, the building may not perform as well as it could.

Performance

What do I mean by performance? If you buy a shed to store your garden equipment in, the very least you should expect is that the building will keep the weather out. However, cheap sheds don’t always perform well when it comes to keeping their contents dry

If you buy a garden room that’s advertised as fully insulated, but it’s freezing cold for half the year and you have to spend a fortune on heating for it to be usable, the building isn’t performing according to your expectations. 

Make sure you know how the building will perform and have clear, realistic expectations. That way you won’t end up disappointed and frustrated when a cheaper building doesn’t perform as well as a more robust building.

Lack of customisation

Another disadvantage is the lack of customisation options available from a supplier. While suppliers offer plenty of choice, if you have something specific in mind they’re unlikely to accommodate that. If a supermarket only has chocolate cake, you can’t speak to the manager and ask for someone to rustle you up a red velvet instead.  

Lack of Aftercare

Once you do buy, if there are any problems with your building, a supplier is most likely to replace or refund. They may offer a repair service, but since most suppliers are not experts in each individual product they sell, they may be unable to repair your building. 

This means that you’re back to square one, with the added inconvenience of a second delivery to organise. But if your supplier sells sixty different types of timber buildings, you can’t expect them to know each one inside out. 

To continue the analogy, if you take your chocolate cake to the supermarket manager and ask him why the sponge is dry, he won’t know about the recipe or the ingredients. For that, you need to talk to the person who made it.

And while it may be possible for the supplier to put you in touch with the manufacturer of your building, this is another level of inconvenience. The manufacturer might be easy to contact, and they might be helpful. But they may also refer you back to the supplier, and then you’re right back where you started. 

What are the advantages of buying from a manufacturer?

The interior of a Gillies and Mackay Vorlich Radiata Garden Room on a sunny day. The shadows from the double glazed doors and windows make lines on the laminate flooring

A timber building manufacturer won’t usually offer as many standard models to choose from. But a manufacturer can offer you custom-built structures, individually tailored to suit your needs. Does your garage need a carport or a woodshed? No problem. Is your garden an odd shape that isn’t suitable for a standard-sized shed? Bring it on! 

Customisations

The questions we love start with, “Is it possible to…?” While there are always limitations, we do our very best to accommodate unusual requests. This means that our customers end up with exactly what they need. 

Transparency

Many manufacturers are more than happy to answer your questions about their buildings. They can tell you what they’re made of, why they’re built in this particular way, and what you can expect from the building. We often discuss the decisions that we make about our buildings and explain why we’ve made these changes. We don’t have anything to hide.

In fact, this is one of the ways to spot a good manufacturer. Make sure that they’re upfront with the information you need to buy a good timber building. If they can’t or won’t answer these questions, find a manufacturer who will.  

Aftercare

And along with this comes aftercare. After installation, if you have a question about your building, who better to ask than the people who built it?

Manufacturers are experts in their products. If you have any questions, snags or problems, you can go straight to those experts for help. If they’re responsible manufacturers they’ll have a decent guarantee and will fix any issues and ensure that you’re happy with your building. 

What are the disadvantages of buying from a manufacturer?

A Gillies and Mackay Rannoch Radiata Garden Room with a gravel path in front. Several blooming plants are arranged in front of the building.

Manufacturers are usually more expensive than suppliers. They tend to be smaller businesses that aren’t mass-producing buildings, which makes their process more expensive to start with. 

Costs

If you have a custom project in mind, this will also add to the cost of your building. Manufacturers have the skills and the flexibility to give you a bespoke project, but this will cost more than a standard build. And given the smaller scale of production, there will be fewer standard models to choose from. 

Lead Times

Because manufacturers build to order there will also be a waiting time between buying and receiving your building. This lead time may be as much as several months in summer or at other busy times of the year. 

Locality

Manufacturers may also only operate locally, or charge for delivery. This will depend on the individual business, however. Many timber building manufacturers operate throughout Scotland. 

Should you buy from a manufacturer or a supplier?

A Gillies and Mackay Deluxe Potting Shed in a grassy garden with trees in the background. It is painted in Clover Leaf Sadolin.

Ultimately this choice will depend on what you’re looking for as a buyer. If your priority is convenience over quality, a supplier will suit you fine. If you’re willing to wait for a better-quality product, a manufacturer is your best option. 

And do take care out there. It may not be immediately obvious online whether you’re looking at a supplier or a manufacturer. Sometimes timber building companies are sneaky!

Here’s a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you decide. 

SUPPLIERMANUFACTURER
POORER QUALITYHIGHER QUALITY
LOWER PRICESHIGHER PRICES
SHORTER LEAD TIMESLONGER LEAD TIMES
GREATER CHOICE OF STANDARD MODELSSMALLER CHOICE OF STANDARD MODELS
NO CUSTOMISATION OPTIONSCUSTOMISATION OPTIONS
GENERIC AFTERCAREEXPERT AFTERCARE

If you’re a fan of comparisons, head to our Learning Centre to find out more about how our sheds, garden rooms and garages stack up against the others. Or visit us at our Show Area to see all our buildings, just the way we made them!

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