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

For prices, the area’s largest chains—Home Depot and Lowe’s—soundly 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 15 percent above average.

For many customers, price is only one consideration. You also want good advice and customer service. Unfortunately, price leaders Home Depot and Lowe’s 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 16 percent of its surveyed customers and Lowe’s from only 36 percent. On the other hand, suburban Maryland chain Strosniders Hardware and a number of independent stores throughout the Washington 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.