NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — You walk in for a few bags of mulch and walk out with a truck load of paint, plants and power tools. For many Americans, a visit to a home improvement store is a regular part of our weekends – where we will spend an average of $1,780 this year, an increase of $154 from 2013.

Good prices drive us to our favorite home improvement retailer, but ultimately it's a helpful staff and excellent service that keeps us coming back. And while the big box national brands may have the highest profiles, consumers favor smaller shops and a privately-held regional chain most, according to the J.D. Power 2014 Home Improvement Retailer Satisfaction Study.

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"For local home improvement retailers to remain competitive with big box retailers, they need to differentiate themselves through promotions, sales and overall pricing to help get customers in the door and then reinforce their decision to visit that store by providing an exceptional staff and service experience once they are there," says Christina Cooley, director of home improvement industries at J.D. Power. "Conveying price and the value-add story is best accomplished by leveraging communications channels that customers prefer to use. This critical combination of being price competitive and providing superior service may help increase share of wallet and new customer growth."

The rankings of home improvement retailers for customer satisfaction are based on five performance factors:

  • Merchandise, including availability, selection of brands available, usefulness of product information displays and variety of merchandise offered
  • Prices
  • Sales and promotions
  • Staff and service, including availability, courtesy, ease of checkout, convenience of returning merchandise and knowledge
  • Store facility, including availability of parking, cleanliness of store, convenience of store location, ease of finding merchandise and store layout and design

For a whopping eighth consecutive year, Ace Hardware ranks highest in customer satisfaction , according to the survey of nearly 3,000 consumers. Overall customer satisfaction with home improvement retailers averaged 768 (on a 1,000-point scale), and Ace tallied a score of 791 -- with particularly high marks for service and staff.

Menards, a family-owned chain with 280 stores in 14 Midwestern states, ranked #2 with a score of 787. Consumers say the retailer is best known for good prices, sales and promotions.

Lowe's ranked third with an above-average score of 779, followed by below-average ratings for The Home Depot (763), True Value (747) and a particularly poor showing for Sears (680).

Customers shopping for the best prices look first at the original price (53%), then sales and promotions before selecting a primary home improvement retailer. Fewer customers reported receiving promotional flyers so far this year (43%), compared with 2013 (56%).

Nearly one in five (17%) respondents said they purchase merchandise online from their favorite home improvement retailer.