Our Ratings Tables show how area hardware stores stack up for quality and price.

For prices, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Menards soundly beat all of the independents and other chains. But our price survey did find below-average prices at several other area stores.

Among the independents, we found fairly small store-to-store price variation compared to the other topics Consumers' Checkbook evaluates for price.

For many customers, price is only one consideration. You also want good advice and customer service. Unfortunately, price leaders Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Menards fall well short on some key service fronts. At the time of our last full, published report, on our surveys of area consumers, Home Depot received “superior” ratings for quality of advice from only 35 percent of its surveyed customers, Menards from only 37 percent, and Lowe’s from only 45 percent. In contrast, a number of independent stores throughout the Chicago area received “superior” ratings for advice from at least 90 percent of their surveyed customers. Keep in mind that even at top-rated stores you may have to seek out the best-informed staff members.