BuildDirect and Vanier: A Review
Growing up in the Internet Age, I've become fairly accustomed to and comfortable with buying just about everything online.
But even for me, ordering wood floors online -- by the pallet, no less -- was fraught with "what if's" and a bit of trepidation. It isn't one of those things that you can just return if you get it and you don't like it or it's damaged or something and it's not exactly easy to get more product if you happen to be short a few square feet.
After doing much research and collecting dozens of samples (over a period of a few years...), I finally decided that I was ready to pull the trigger a few weeks ago and decided on BuildDirect.com for a couple of reasons:
* They were having a sale on some really nice engineered mahogany.
* Their prices couldn't be beat, even factoring in delivery charges (which are very high compared to some other e-tailers).
* Their web app was top notch; very well done.
This review is for people who are considering ordering from them (or ordering flooring online in general) since there weren't many online resources when I was researching them (even on this forum).
The sample ordering process is pretty simple and the samples are free (minus a delivery fee). I've ordered at least a dozen samples from them over a period of two or three years, trying to find the perfect flooring. Compared to other online flooring companies, I've found that they give pretty generous sample sizes in terms of length so you can get a better feel for the wood. I will note that there are some products which you have to call to obtain a sample for.
I would recommend that when ordering certain types of wood, get multiple samples since with mahogany or Brazilian cherry, for example, different boards can show dramatically different colors and patterns. We were considering mahogany, Brazilian cherry, acacia, and some of their twisted strand bamboo (really, really nice floors, IMO - definitely check these out).
I particularly like how the web app displays the weight information, the delivery source, and calculates the cost of shipping and adds it to the price per square foot calculation.
Their sample ordering process gets a 5/5.
Once you've decided on your flooring type and measured your square footage, the next step is to go online and order the flooring. It should be noted that you should probably order at least 110% of your measured square footage. We had installers put down our floors and the first crew wasn't very conservative with their usage and we ended up one box short. At that point, you really have a tough choice to make; for us, we've decided to sell the extra flooring (or give it away to family members) instead of ordering additional flooring since the shipping costs would be silly. Our kitchen was supposed to get the wood as well, but since we were short about 30 square feet, we decided to just leave it for now.
The initial ordering process is generally pretty easy. It's not much more difficult than the sample ordering process. However, there does seem to be this extra step of having to call their offices to confirm the order and what not. At times, it can be difficult to reach anyone in the office (a secretary always picks up, but then you need to be transferred to the right department). This became a pain-in-the-ass game of phone tag trying to reach the guy.
It was also a bit of a pain to adjust the order size once I had the installer come out and measure and estimate. Again, it was hard to reach someone in the right department.
They were also initially somewhat inflexible with their pricing. I had purchased a large quantity (most of it) on a sale price but then wanted to add an additional 400 or so square feet and some accessory pieces. The sales rep. initially gave me some beef about adding the additional square footage at the original sales price until my wife called and threatened to cancel the order. We did get the flooring at the sale price, but I don't understand why they made us jump through hoops to get it considering this order was coming in at several thousand dollars already.
One minor gripe is that you can't just go online and order more accessories; if you try to do it online, you have to order more product to be able to do it. It seems like you should be able to go to your original order and add a limited quantity of product or accessory pieces. In the end, I simply had to call them up to get one or two more transition pieces, but still, it would have been easier to do it online.
Their ordering process gets a 2.5/5.
The delivery was probably one of the most annoying aspects. The first issue is that their delivery window is very large; you won't know when you'll get it until you get a call the day before asking you to schedule delivery. This is a pain in the ass.
The second issue is that while their web site is generally pretty well done, their delivery estimates aren't very well integrated with their stock levels as we were delayed by a month as their stock levels were low. This wasn't an issue for us since our schedule was flexible, but I can see how this might be an issue if you're in the process of building a house and you have a much less flexible timeline.
The actual delivery itself was a bit of a pain as well. The product comes in pallets, but the pallets for our product were like 8x4 (oblong), which makes it a bit harder to store (say in your garage since you have to clear out a lot more space). Not only that, they're only supposed to drop it in your driveway! As I wasn't home that week, we asked my father-in-law to accept delivery for us. He gave the driver a $50 tip to help him get it into the garage using his hand lift. Just beware that the delivery process is less than optimal for average folk.
It would be one thing if they could give you a very specific delivery date and then you could schedule your installers to be there at the same time to move/install the product, but the combination of such a wide delivery window and delivery service (driveway drop) makes it a bit of a pain.
On the other hand, I have to say, the product was very well packaged and had no damage at all. This was one of my primary concerns, that there would be damage during transit and that we'd have to deal with a messy return process.
Their delivery process gets a 3/5.
Despite all that, the wife and I absolutely love the floors. The engineered material is pretty good at this price point when you compare it against the stuff you'd find in big box stores like Home Depot or even from Lumber Liquidators. The specific engineered flooring that we got, their house brand Vanier Santos Mahogany, came with a 4mm wear layer. At this price point, if you were going to get it from HD or Lowes, you'd probably be getting something like a 0.5mm wear layer. With a 4mm wear layer, it can be sanded and refinished at least once in its lifetime (probably twice).
From a durability perspective, we've only had it for a few weeks now, but we have three cats and as far as I can tell, it looks to be holding up well to their claws. I was worried about rolling around in the office chairs and leaving marks, but so far, it's been fine, even without a protective plastic mat or an area rug.
I was a bit worried watching the installers handle the product since they were pretty rough with it, tossing around pieces here and there, stepping over them, hammering it pretty heavily with rubber mallets...but it held up. There were only like one or two places where their rough handling was apparent (possibly from dropping a nail gun). Otherwise, the boards seemed fairly resilient - no breakage, no splitting of the veneer from the base, no cracking. I should note that watching the installers cut the boards lengthwise, they did it by simply using a hand held circular saw and they were able to get very clean cuts. I would think this speaks a bit to the workability of the product.
Overall, in the 60 some boxes that were installed, there were probably only 3-4 boards that had defects in them (hairline cracks in the finish, splintered tongue, etc) and only a few boards which weren't very attractive (only based on the specific tree or the section of the tree that it was cut from - we set these aside or used them in closets). Otherwise, the boards were remarkably well milled and 99% perfect in terms of being square and straight. The accessory pieces also matched nicely in terms of color and finish.
The packaging should also be noted as well: the contents of each box were sealed with fairly durable plastic and there were thin layers of foam sheets between each layer of the product inside the box. I was pretty impressed with the lengths they went to ensure that the product wasn't going to be damaged in transit (although I wasn't too happy about how much waste this generated).
The product itself gets a 5/5.
I'd say I'd probably order from them again in the future and would recommend them to friends and family. In the end, I think it's a great value as long as you're willing to plan it out properly and accept the risks with ordering this stuff sight unseen (it can be really hard to judge some types of flooring based on samples).
I'd say it's a solid 4/5.