Frugal DIY Shopping on the Tundra

Then I heard the sound that all Arctic explorers dread . . . the pitiless bark of the sea lion!

– Homer Simpson

We left the igloo yesterday, despite the strong urge to stay in, eat carbs, and sulk.


What adventurous possibility drew us from our murky abode? The creatively named Building Materials Outlet in delightful Eagan, Minnesota. If you are local to MSP and have a home project on the go, it’s well worth a jaunt just south of I-494.

It's not fancy!

It’s not fancy!

Retailers bring BMO their overstocks and other surplus materials, and BMO sells them, adding a 12% charge on the top to cover their costs. BMO has been around since 1963, so they have this business model figured out. The inventory ranges from doors to appliances to carpet to millwork from a multitude of sources. BMO has two huge warehouses, and I do mean HUGE.


Some millwork perhaps.

One of several aisles of cabinets.

One of several aisles of cabinets.

A small sample of their windows.

A small sample of their windows.

BMO also auctions off parts of their inventory regularly; the auctions are online here. The auctions tend to be larger lots that might make more sense for contractors than for homeowners, but they give a good idea of the stuff on hand.

Bathtubs and light fixtures (and check out the level of the snow against the window).

Bathtubs and light fixtures (and check out the level of the snow against the window!!!).

BMO isn’t a salvage place like many we frequent. The website says that over 90% of their stock is new. In fact, I’ve never seen anything used–maybe shopworn or damaged sometimes, but nothing used. Sometimes, you just need new stuff! We were shopping for a new kitchen sink, but we still walked through the whole place…just in case.

Doors stretching off into the sunset.

Doors stretching off into the sunset.

We’re not regular BMO buyers, but we are regular shoppers. It’s one of our standard stops when we are planning a project, and we’ve picked up some great deals over the years. Of course, the stock changes all the time, so repeat visits are warranted. Some of the deals we saw on this trip included $5 wood cabinet doors and $19/sq. ft. granite countertop blanks (both prices are before buyer’s premium and tax are applied).

The stock involves a wide range of styles, not all of which I can vouch for.

The stock involves a wide range of styles, including some very specific items.

So far, so good–but there are some things to know before you go.

Also, it's not super-warm in the warehouses, as the Kev demonstrated.

It’s not super-warm in the warehouses.

Thing one, all sales are very final, so you can’t take something home to try it out.

Thing two, it’s strictly a warehouse environment. You must take your purchases with you immediately upon purchase, and you must load them yourself. There are many large warning signs–no pets, no kids, no cameras (ahem!), shop and load at your own risk.

On the other hand (and in contrast to the signs), the folks working there are very friendly. It’s just important to remember that this is a DIY shopping experience in more ways than one.

We learned about BMO from a contractor, but it is open to the public, and it’s always busy. Despite that, we find that few locals outside the trades have heard of it. If you are working on some serious home improvements in the Twin Cities, BMO should be part of your scouting process. Just be careful out there!

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4 Responses to Frugal DIY Shopping on the Tundra

  1. Max Power says:

    Yeah I donno, i suppose on certain items you might find its slightly less then HD or Menards, but keep this in mind, you are gonna dig through stacks and piles trying to find what you want. Then when you don’t find it, you dig through again to find the one you did see that will work ok. …oh shoot, didnt notice those big gouges on the one side. Damn, ok I seen one other that seemed ok….& dig through the pile a 3rd time.
    Now this isn’t a climate controlled environment, so if its a lovely January -10° day in MN, a majority of the place is -10° or maybe one of the many July days pushin 95° with 70° dew point.
    Then the this BS 12% up charge that isn’t mentioned except on the receipt & a cute little sign among several other huge signs telling you all the rules on this huge wall…doesn’t exactly stand out. Personally i feel the are being deceitful. If they felt it wasn’t that big of a factor in how it effects the price on the products themselves, THEN WHY DO WE NEED TO ADD THIS ON OURSELVES?! Why isnt BMO adding this to the displayed price & bam, done. No confusion, no surprises…..hey, now there’s a business model.
    Many times you’re settling on your third or fourth choice down the line, & then you best hope the boss likes it because you can’t return it….besides the heat stroke you suffered last summer along with the two fingers you had amputated thanks to frost bite last winter.
    SO, when you add all this together, for at least me, paying MAYBE $5 more at Menards is WELL worth it .

    Thank You, That’ll Be All……

    Max Power

    • Stacey says:

      MAX POWER! Hello!

      I enjoy the hunt, so I don’t mind looking until I find the right thing. I agree that you don’t want to buy something sort of ok instead of just the right thing. I’m really looking for the right thing and a great price, and there is a lot of messed-up stock to go through. So I completely get where you are coming from. (Also agree that the 12% premium could be better advertised!)

      For us, buying millwork and trim there has always proved to be an excellent deal. I just picked up a pair of solid newel posts for $14, so with tax and the premium, still under $20 for the pair. They were what I was looking for and could not find at the big box places. Closest equivalent thing was someone on Craigslist selling a pair for $80, and they are much higher in stores. So there are deals to be had, but yeah, it takes time that you might not want to spend to find the right thing. It’s like a game for me, so I like it, but could see how it wouldn’t be worth it to many folks. Including my 17-year-old self, who I can just imagine rolling her eyes at me most of the time, but particularly in salvage and clearance places, heh!

  2. JW says:

    I bid on an auction last night, May 16. The auction closed at 7 p.m. I went on the website today and the auction was re-opened. Auctions should never re-open, regardless of the justification. Now the auction is open again and I will not get the items I bid on, even though I was high bidder at the close of the auction yesterday.
    Trust is the only thing an auctioneer sells to its customer. I don’t trust them.

    • Stacey says:

      JW, that is weird — I’ve only bid on a couple of things there, so I haven’t seen that. Have you called them about it? I’d love to hear what you find out.

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