DIY: Check the price of cement in France and bag a better deal

Nick Inman discovered he had been paying his trusted, local supplier over the odds for a bag of cement - he challenged the manager and got a surprising response

Cement and DIY project
‘My project required 15 bags of cement. If I had bought them all from the cheaper supplier, I would have saved €67’

Call me naïve but I always assumed that one bag of cement was like any other and the price must be roughly the same wherever I buy it, give or take a few centimes.

It is the bog standard substance of a lot of DIY, not to mention the glue that holds the modern world together, and I did not really think much about it.

I just bought it as needed.

And I bought it locally.

I like to support businesses near my home and prefer not to transport heavy stuff too far.

So I have always bought the bulk of my materials from the nearest building supplier – a branch of the Chausson chain.

I have been giving them my custom for donkey’s years.

I know them, they know me – the arrangement worked both ways.

Then a friend warned me that Chausson was expensive and I decided to carry out an experiment.

The investigation begins

I bought five bags of cement from the next nearest supplier (not that much further to drive), part of the Sarreméjean group.

I was astonished at the difference in price between the two shops.

Chausson had charged me €10.61 (pre-tax) per 35kg bag of Lafarge Le Classic cement.

Sarreméjean wanted only €6.88 (again, pre-tax) for each 35kg bag of El Molino cement transported from Spain.

The difference between the two cements was €3.73 per bag.

That quickly adds up.

You could put it like this: if I buy two bags at Sarreméjean, I get the next one free.

My current project required 15 bags of cement.

If I had bought them all from the cheaper supplier, I would have saved €67 – enough to buy nine more bags.

Comparable products - different prices

Just to be clear, we are talking about similar products: general purpose CEMII cement, not fast-setting cement or any other more specialised kind.

And, to be fair, I used them for the same job: a concrete floor in an outbuilding.

Both cements set rock-hard.

The only difference between them was the colour when set – it is not a good idea to mix brands of cement if appearance is important.

Challenging the manager was ‘enlightening’

I asked the manager of Chausson to explain what I was paying more for by buying French Lafarge cement.

“Le Classic is a much better cement,” he said.

“Many professional builders prefer to work with it.”

I asked: “How can I tell the difference between it and El Molino cement? What will the result look or feel like?”

All he could suggest was that I study the sheet of technical specifications.

I did not mention the implications of his remark: builders must be buying the more expensive cement and passing the cost on to their customers.

As it happens, the manager said, he did have a cheaper cement available if price was so important to me, but I would have had to know to ask for it and, at €7.10, it was still more expensive than that sold by his rival down the road.

“Why,” I asked, “don’t your counter staff at least offer DIY customers the cheaper cement by default and they can upgrade if they want?”

He had no answer to that.

Loyalty is not rewarded so shop around

All this is without shopping around or travelling further.

On the internet, you can see for yourself that there is an enormous variation in the price of cement.

If I drive 25km into the city, for example, I can get a bag of cement for under €6. The cheapest bag I found online was under €5, tax included, from Castorama.

I have not used it but if it does what it says on the packet, then it is less than half the price I was paying.

There is choice when it comes to paying for cement and, if you will forgive the pun, it is not a hard decision.

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