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You Should Be at Home Depot or Lowe's on Labor Day

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) — With pumpkin beer on shelves and discount stores behaving as if it's already Black Friday, no one can blame consumers for not wanting to spend their Labor Day weekend shopping.

But, seriously, why aren't you at your local home and garden supply store grabbing whatever you can? After an entire summer of milking shoppers for all they were worth, home and garden chains including Home Depot and Lowe's are entering their slow season and making it just a bit easier for customers to get deals.

We don't just mean Home Depot and Lowe's, specifically, but Menard's, Ace Hardware stores, True Value stores and even Sears, if there's still one in your area. In the first seven months of 2014, home and garden stores took in more than $194 billion. That's up 4.8% from the same three months last year and included an impressive $82.7 billion run during their peak season from May through June that outpaced even the unusually high returns during winter months that locked the Midwest, Northeast and portions of the South in a Polar Vortex. Home Depot and Lowe's saw same-store sales in the U.S. increase 6.4% and 4.4%, respectively, from the year before thanks to the seasonal surge.

It's the best summer the industry's had since pre-recession 2006, but it's coming to a brisk halt. With notable exceptions in 2010 and 2012 — when summer sales just went flat — each post-recession year has featured a September slump at the local home and garden stores. Sales don't fall off a cliff, mind you, but they come down from their summer heights and dip to their lowest point since the early winter months.

In 2013, sales slipped from $26.34 billion in August to $26.28 billion in September on their way down to $25.9 billion by December. Back at the beginning of the recession in 2009, the industry lost more than $100 million in sales between August and September.

It's a transitional period, and these particular stores aren't relying on back-to-school sales to boost their bottoms lines. In most cases, they're just looking to clear stock as quickly as possible. That's especially true of their appliance sections, where new models first arrive in September and October and last year's stock is marked down considerably. Some chains have already released their ads promising 30% to 50% off certain appliances. Though there will likely be better deals in October, the selection of discounted products won't be anywhere close to what it is in early September.

Oh and mowers, trimmers and outdoor tools? Those are going on sale too. Patio furniture, bricking and the like? Yes, that has to go as well to make room for snowblowers, shovels, rock salt and rows full of holiday items. Decking, shingles, pole bars, doors — all of those get marked down in anticipation of the cold months and a holiday shopping season that increasingly begins in earnest by October.

But what about the big-ticket items such as grills and air conditioners, you ask? Well, you'll start to see marked-down grills around Labor Day weekend, but they're typically lower-tier brands such as Master Forge, Savor Pro, Aussie and Brinkmann. For any brand from Char-Broil through Weber, you're likely going to have to wait until well into winter for the deepest discounts (think December or January). Keep in mind that Weber treats its grills like Apple treats its smartphones, so you're not really going to get much of a discount until stores try to get rid of the previous year's models.

It's a similar story with air conditioners. Like grills, they still come in handy if summer temperatures bleed over into September. You're not going to find them marked down by any significant margin on Labor Day weekend, but you'll have a lot better luck if you're out shopping just before everyone carves up Thanksgiving dinner or just as the country nurses its New Year's hangover. It's simple logic: Demand for air conditioners is lowest when everybody is figuring out how to pay their heating bills. The selection may not be outstanding, but the prices have plenty of wiggle room around that time.

— Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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