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This might seem like cheating, since you might be an amateur only doing occasional jobs, but nowadays most trade shops and builders merchants are happy to get a sale so will usually let you have a discount, especially if you are buying a lot of materials for a home or office construction project. You can even buy quite small amounts; if you are doing a big job (we used to build new houses) sometimes you need a tap or sink in a hurry.
You used to have to show some sort of professional ID such as an Architect's registration card, or builder's card etc. Wholesale building suppliers would usually know you from previous dealings, as the point of wholesale supplies is to supply regularly in large quantities to professional builders.
Above: tiling roofing tiles, building wholesale materials suppliers
In the UK places like Wickes, Travis Perkins, Screwfix, Keyline, Build Center (yes US spelling) and even B&Q see regular builders as they are convenient. A lot of small builders order from Screwfix which is next day delivery. Most builders merchants specialise a bit - say in wood, or metal, or large drainage items etc - but have diversified to cater to all general builders.
These places have excellent near or at wholesale prices and are available for all. We used to do proper new build and so have accounts with many trade suppliers in the London and Surrey area. We still buy stuff from Wickes and Screwfix. You will find people on the web attacking most of these suppliers, but that is because if wanting to complain, it is easy to write a web article (rather than discussing it with the manager). Most trade places will not want to stand about discussing your latest kitchen etc, so don't expect a Harrods-type experience - which is what some people expect.
The usual way with trade suppliers is that you need a huge number of bricks or whatever on a job, you phone them up, discuss what is in stock, price, etc, put in the order. You will already have a trade account with or without credit, depending on how much business you have done with them before. The lorry arrives as soon as is convenient, usually next morning. Sometimes same day if morning call.
You will have to unload the lorry from the kerb as most suppliers will not carry it all indoors to your actual site. This is due to insurance (if they dropped bricks all over the rest of the building and caused damage); their own personal worker insurance (not insured in private property) and also time.
This is also something that is a surprise to DIY people who expect neatly delivered boxes next to their new extension or whatever. Or perhaps even up several flights of stairs!
Incidentally this is also true for removal of rubbish - which accumulates in never-ending and large quantities on a building site. It has to be put on the 'muck away' truck by the builders, not by the truck driver. This is common sense.
Above: insulation, use protective gear
To get a discount at a typical local builders merchant, you first of all have to know what typical trade prices are - which is not that easy if you are a new DIY enthusiast. So ask around several suppliers and see what you get quoted, ask for a discount and see what you get. This will vary a lot so you might find a company that will give you good discounts, in which case, they will be fine. You might also find that some items are cheap - but that others are not. So it can be a slow business to cost a large project like an extension, loft or attic refit, or basement conversion.
That is why building quantity surveyors are used on any large professional job. Typically the customer will not know this directly, the builder will hire someone to cost out the job. This is then passed to the customer as part of the bill (along with handling, which can be quite a lot of work).
Above: windows, often have specialist suppliers, along with doors and similar building supplies
Your order will get a discount if large enough. So ask; if not given at all, try and talk to the manager but it is easy to make a prat of yourself and you have to maintain some dignity!
You can also look out for leftover discounts on old end-of-line stock, and even recycled materials. Problem here is that you might need an extra box of flooring, tiles or whatever, and discover no-one has the same style. Duh!
Tools include a calculator, a spreadsheet (for totals and discounts), a phone obviously to call them up, or perhaps call in.
Above: bricks, many types including recycled, used to match exisitng colour and style, vary in price a lot
It is OK to be a bit ignorant, just don't pretend to have knowledge you don't have, or you might buy the wrong things. There is a large and arcane vocabulary in building and do not think it is not a knowledgeable and intelligent profession. Builders like to appear dumb to clients to save hassle. As a developer,, and as architects, it is common, on approaching a site, to hear the builders discussing all sorts of things but when the 'bosses' arrive they all quieten down (not always of course; we know some builders who might be better employed as lecturers or teachers; that is the nature of the class system). This has been dealt with in comedy sketches on TV.
So good luck.