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

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

Among the independents, we found big store-to-store price variation. Prices at some stores were about 10 percent below the all-store average for items we checked, while prices at others were more than 10 percent above average.

For many customers, price is only one consideration. You also want good advice and customer service. Unfortunately, price leaders Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, and Mills Fleet Farm fall well short on some key service fronts. At the time of our last full, published report, on our surveys of area consumers, Menards received “superior” ratings for quality of advice from only 33 percent of its surveyed customers, Mills Fleet Farm from only 36 percent, and Home Depot and Lowe’s each from only 43 percent. In contrast, a number of independent stores throughout the Twin Cities area received “superior” ratings for advice from more than 80 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.