Home Depot execs leave headquarters to work in the stores

Oops. Giving customers the wrong shade of paint used to cost Home Depot about $20 million a year.

Cara Kinzey

Cara Kinzey

But what employees call “oops paint” rarely exists any more — thanks to a special program the retailer started last year and continues again this year.

Every quarter, about 170 employees leave Home Depot’s headquarters in Vinings to tie on orange aprons and work in the stores.

Divided into teams of 10, they work one day a week for 13 weeks in  different metro stores — one team per store.

The “Summer in the Stores” program is running now, to be followed by “Fall in the Field,” “Winter in the Warehouse” and “Spring in the Stores.” (They need to come up with a better name to distinguish spring from summer.)

One of the goals is for execs like Cara Kinzey, senior VP of Information Technology, to see how decisions made in the office play out in the field. It’s learning by doing, with much of the education provided by the store employees.

“I think it’s very important to talk with the associates on a regular basis,” Kinzey, 44, said during an interview at the Sandy Plains Road store in Marietta, where she was working. “If you listen to them, they tell you what’s wrong. … Our stuff [IT] is a work-in-progress all the time. It’s always going to need improvements.”

Take the paint department. Kinzey learned that the software provided by her department was inadequate when it came to avoiding repeated “oops paint” incidents in which the wrong base paint was used.

So her department came up with two changes that fixed the problem.

First, the software will no longer allow an employee to mix paint without first scanning the bar code of the base paint to make sure it’s the right one. This mandatory control was not in effect previously.

Secondly, Kinzey’s team discovered that scanners were not located beside every computer in the paint department. That added to the problem, because the bar code could be typed incorrectly. So new scanners were bought for nearly 2,000 stores.

The type of immersion execs get from this program goes well beyond the more traditional retail model of walking stores and observing.

“It’s a big investment of time, but it’s worth it,” Kinzey said.

To enhance learning, Kinzey will rotate around the store on Sandy Plains Road this year, as will the other participants in their assigned stores.

In the “special orders” area, she discovered that a black toilet is far more difficult to order, because it’s a relatively rare customer choice. One employee at her store is particularly good at working through all the steps, but what happens when he’s not there? She wants to improve the software, so anyone can do it.

Kinzey also plans to spend time in the self-checkout area to learn why some customers need assistance.

What’s the purpose of a self-checkout area if employees are needed to complete the transaction? How can the IT be improved?

“We’re looking into reducing interruptions [during the process],” she said. “The faster people check out, the happier they are. … In IT, we have three focuses. We either automate, eliminate or simplify.”

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122 comments Add your comment

mike

September 14th, 2010
7:14 am

It is nice to see that the management team at Home Depot are trying to take proactive measures to ensure customer satisfaction, and not wait on thousands of complaints from customers before they take action. Great job Home Depot, makes me want to shop there more.

Chris

September 14th, 2010
7:18 am

I like the idea. i feel their customer service has improved over the last year.

But PLEASE get rid of the self checkout. It is awful for a store that sells the type of items they do. It is a pain in the rear. We should get a discount for using them.

Motocross Survivor

September 14th, 2010
7:18 am

I love the birdbrain comment about “associates.” This has long been a nice, quaint term used
by the folk with the better paying jobs at a company for the floor people. It is phony and condescending, but here’s a hint: These front line people ARE VERY important. These are the people the customers see and interact with. People are turned off when they see poorly trained, surly and uncaring people working for companies. Coincidentally, I was in a H.D. back in 1999, looking to buy a refrigerator. There were some out front, so I inquired with the young woman working at the front counter. She was such an uncouth and rude disaster that I stayed away from H.D. for years, and still only go there when I can’t find something at Lowes.

Mark

September 14th, 2010
7:24 am

This is basically the same process SAM’S Club uses called “Eat What You Cook”, Cara being an ex-Wal-Mart employee along with Matt Carey that works there helped incorporate this methodology from their previous employer.

Connie

September 14th, 2010
7:27 am

Well said, motocross! When I encounter rude and disinterested salespeople at any store I go elsewhere. I think these people forget that without us, their customers, they wouldn’t have a job.

Dave from GT

September 14th, 2010
7:28 am

An IT dept that has not been outsourced? Amazing !!!!!!!!!!!!

A.S.Mathew

September 14th, 2010
7:34 am

It is very important that the employees should be friendly with the customers. When Home Depot
is going to market U.S. made goods in their stores with a friendly face? All these stores are
mega market place for foreign made goods, and when the people don’t have money to buy them,
smiling faces will turn to frown faces.

Juna

September 14th, 2010
7:34 am

wes still most of ours tools there

Not A Fan

September 14th, 2010
7:36 am

Those executives should be in stores earning their pay. After all, Home Depot FIRED, not “laid off”, associates that had been with them for years earning a decent living so they could replace them with associates earning less money – I am assuming so they could give bigger bonuses to the execs who do the least work. Now most of these that were fired are still looking for a job. My newphew is one of these people. He has two small children and things are very, very tough. I WILL NEVER BUY FROM HOME DEPOT AGAIN. Lowe’s has better customer service anyway. Thanks.

JB

September 14th, 2010
7:36 am

I can tell a big difference in Customer service at the store i shop at. The Assoc. seem a little more mature and plentiful…………….But at the end of the day, you get just much out of 8-12 dollar an hour people. You have to know the limits of these folks and temper your expectations. 90% of the time, I just want to know where something is. I don’t expect a 20 year
still fighting pimples to help me with a serious plumbing problem.

X Home Depot

September 14th, 2010
7:39 am

Guess the management forgot about “visiting” the Douglasville store. Those employees are the worst! Ask them a question, they go elsewhere and do other things. It is not a pleasant experience!

tim

September 14th, 2010
7:41 am

Hey Ms. Kinzey……..I’m in the HD Sandy Plains store almost daily. Generally the associates are friendly and knowlegeable but many times when I’d had to load lumber on a cart, the associates disappear. Also, why should anyone wait 30-40 min to have paint mixed because of lack of proper staffing in that dept or you constantly run out of 5 gal buckets of paint. I DON”T want to buy 20 individual gallons!! And I’m also tired of the ole “we don’t stock it here cuz we’re a smaller store” excuse. The store is only 2000 sq ft smaller than a “bigger store” Come on now. Other than those comments, my experience is generally good.

New Lowe's customer

September 14th, 2010
7:41 am

Maybe by putting the execs in the stores they will see just how poor Home Depot’s customer service has become. Then again, maybe the poor attitude comes from the top and they won’t even notice.

hadenough

September 14th, 2010
7:42 am

How about calling the spring session “Spring Cleaning” and get rid of all the cashiers that are too busy talking across the aisles to one another to even say “Hello” or “Thank you”.

Nono

September 14th, 2010
7:50 am

I LOVE the self-checkout. I can run in, grab what I need, and get back to my garden in a flash. Plus Home Depot’s garden center beats the Lowes on my side of town, no contest. I have never had a problem getting good customer service, but that may have something to do with the fact that I am a cute girl who is – ahem – let’s just say “blessed.”

Buzz G

September 14th, 2010
7:56 am

Home Depot grew because it became known as a place where you could talk to someone knowledgeable about your problem or project. Then they decided an easy way to cut expenses and improve the bottom line was to reduce their store payrolls. It became increasingly difficult to find someone with any knowledge to talk to. People started going elsewhere. Management seems now to have figured it out. You can again walk into a Home Depot and find someone (hopefully knowledgeable) to talk to. Welcome back Home Depot.

self check fail

September 14th, 2010
7:56 am

Why doesn’t self check work? Really Home Depot? You close every single lane that has an associate, and then I come in to buy lumber from the discount/slightly bent pile, PVC pipe, tubing, anything that is purchased by the foot, or another way that doesn’t have a UPC code. Um, you don’t trust me to do anything at Self Check than scan the barcode so yes, I will need an associate. Then, the stupid machine starts yelling at me to “please place my item in the bag – it’s a 8ft piece of lumber or a 3×4 peg board….etc., I cant. But the machine locks up until I find something to put there so it can get it’s weight sensor happy. Or lets talk about buying 50 kitchen cabinet handles. I can’t type 50 @ 1.49 as an associate would… I have to scan every single freaking one. I hate that. I know it’s saving home depot from paying an associate, but I will cheerfully go pay 1.53 at Lowes for the same thing to save the time of scanning each and every individual little item. I hate self check. It doesn’t work for anything execpt the simplest of purchases. If they want to keep it open for that, then fine, but to close all the “human-lanes” and then expect people to be oh-so-happy to deal with the self check when they come to purchase something other than bar code friendly bug spray or such… ughk. No. Good luck HD.

nativeson71

September 14th, 2010
7:57 am

Home Depot has improved greatly over the past couple of years…Thanks to Frank Blake being a ‘normal’ dude.
Out of stocks are seem rare these days…
Customer Service is friendly the associate ‘know where stuff is’…
Vinings Paint Dept …I give it a 7 our of 10…the weekends it should be ALL HANDS ON DECK at that paint counter…the paint team is working hard but that dept seems understaffed.
I love self-checkout – but it does not like my cash therefore I have to fumble with waiting for an associate to ‘cash me out.’

The Peachtree Industrial store near Tilly Mill Rd – OLD Store/ smaller foot print…that store is ALWAYS TRASHED & and ALWAYS busy…corp need to bulldoze and build a bigger store on the same site.

pwest2986

September 14th, 2010
7:59 am

Lowe’s is better than Home Depot. They actual assist you.

BIG GEORGE

September 14th, 2010
7:59 am

Maybe the exces can teach the floor people how to be polite and helpfull…..oops my bad you can’t teach something you don’t know anything about!! I do not shop at home depot they are rude people!!!

Pigeon

September 14th, 2010
8:00 am

I had completey quit going into Home Depot stores over the last couple of years due to the lack of staff to help you with any customer service needs and also because of the long waits in the check-out line(s) when you could only find one or maybe two clerks to check you out. I find it hard to believe that when customers are lined up to GIVE money to Home Depot that enough of them cannot be hired to collect the money. I hate the self-check out lines and refuse to use them. I would like to know the amount of money that the average clerk can process in an hour at Home Depot when checking out customers. I know it must be several thousand dollars. At that rate, it seems worth about $8.00 or so per hour to pay a clerk to TAKE IN money…….lots of it. This is frustrating at Wal-Mart too. I asked a manager there recently how much in sales that the average clerk takes in per hour and was astounded at how much it is.

I haven’t been in a Home Depot lately……..I do hope their customer service has improved.

JB

September 14th, 2010
8:00 am

I work for a pro dealer, with staff who can do a take off, design and create an engineer floor system to spec, answer any question about millwork. Knows where and how to order thousands of special order items etc. Lowes and Home depot have a grocery store marketing concept. that is, Stack it up, get a shopping cart and come get it. Anything else they say they are is lip service. Full time pro’s in my business have tons of experience, training and certifications and make between 60,000 and 200,000 dollars a year. You won’t find that at HD.

pwest2986

September 14th, 2010
8:01 am

Home Depot credit card program is a scam. They will double your balance after a few short monts. Beware, it happened to me.Don’t fall for the 6/12 months no interest promo.Beware!

Lowe's Employee

September 14th, 2010
8:02 am

I work for Lowe’s and at my store we WISH that the corporate types would come to the front lines! Our computer system is archaic and our store mgt. is inept. We’re going the best we can with what we have and that ain’t sayin’ alot!

No HD 4 me

September 14th, 2010
8:06 am

I use to spend about 30,000 dollars a year at Home Depot. Now my money goes to Lowe’s, even though the nearest store is 10 miles further than HD. Their customer service is a lot better. Also,cashiers will check you quicker.

HD Fan - NOT

September 14th, 2010
8:12 am

“self check fail” stole my comments almost word for word. I hate the “serve your own darned self” pods for all the reasons mentioned above. I refuse to shop at any store that is too cheap to pay someone to stand at the door and take my money.

tommy

September 14th, 2010
8:18 am

I hate the self check out at any store. If it saves you money for me to use it so should save me money to use the darn thing. Over 90% of the time it does not work correctly and it cost me time. It cost me two ways the bar codes are missings, scratched then I have to wait on someone to wonde over to fix the problem. Forget going thru there with loose nuts and bolts. You are a hardware store for goodness sake …. not WALLY WORLD I expect better people and service.

Sally

September 14th, 2010
8:20 am

I have noticed a more helpful attitude in Home Depot in the past few months. Hopefully that will continue.

shadow7071

September 14th, 2010
8:22 am

The HD business is selling hardware and home improvement stuff to consumers and home repair/construction customers. The store is where competitive advantage is gained and money is made. Blank and Marcus instinctively knew this and that’s why they were so successful in starting and growing HD. Bob Nardelli came in (fresh from Jack Welch’s staff at GE) and thought he was running another corporate headquarters. He never understood the business and how it operated. He never really understood how HD made money but that’s typical of corporate headquarter types.

It’s refreshing to read that HD has this program to put headquarter types with titles on the retail floor. This is another right step in recovering from the Nardelli era.

GRS

September 14th, 2010
8:22 am

I think all retail execs should adopt this “Store Visit” approach. Store planning and future initiatives would benefit from these interactive real “Day in the Life” exec experiences.

Darkhorse

September 14th, 2010
8:29 am

I’ve been shopping at the same 7-8 HD’s around the Cobb, Bartow, Paulding, Cherokee, and North Fulton areas consistantly over the past two years. I have noticed the customer service overall has improved, but the associates knowledge has decreased. That’s great they put someone as a greeter at the front door smiling like a moron when you come in, but ask them or the dept associate they take you to talk with anything other than where an in-stock item is and it’s basic purpose, the deer in headlights act comes out.

Occasionally, I will run across a veteran associate that is very helpful, but as others above have mentioned, as soon as HD corporate needs to trim the bottom line again, that person will get the boot in favor of a rude, 9.00hr, do as little as possible clock puncher.

Lowes is slightly better w/employee knowledge, but they have their issues too.

joeeebiden

September 14th, 2010
8:29 am

Home Depot “Executives”, two questions:
1. Why is your signage in two languages, English and Spanish?
2. Why do you have numerous “greetors” welcoming you to Home Depot yet a minimal number of employees in the various sections of your store?
(I think we all know the answer to number one…so one attaboy to another American company who panders to the illegals). Keep up the great work. You’re helping to change the U.S.

jim w

September 14th, 2010
8:33 am

Has anyone tried to contact someone at the Home Depot headquarters? Impossible to do unless you know the persons name. Home Depot, hire someone to assist customers calling your hqs. (and like the previous comment, only have them answer in English)

exGD

September 14th, 2010
8:34 am

Yeah, execs in the stores … whatever. They might see something, but more than not, they are following workers (not “associates” as HD loves to call the hourly employees) around, asking questions and slowing down the work.

When I worked at the SSC (Headquarters), they always pushed salaried employees to “HELP” stock the stores in advance of Memorial Day and Labor Day. The corporate-speak types said it showed solidarity and support of the front-line workers. HELLOO … hell, no, what it did was lower the number of overtime hours that the front-line workers could put in. It was TOTALLY about saving costs in the Sourthern Region stores. I always wondered how they managed to avoid a Dept. of Labor investigation.

greg

September 14th, 2010
8:36 am

Oh and also pay the phony exec the same pay as the people who work the floor and see if her oh so positive attitude still exist when she cannot afford to get her car fixed or buy a decent cut of steak for her family, these phonies make me want to puke. Home depot made all of their workers at the home office reapply for their positions and then hired all new younger college grads as much lower pay. This company is rotten to the core and is going downhill just like Walmart.

L Hayes

September 14th, 2010
8:46 am

I walked out of a 16-year job at Home Depot’s corporate office because Nardelli’s “management” philosophy had destroyed a company that I had hoped to retire from. Blake seems to be slowly turning the big boat around; I hope having the home office people out in the stores will demonstrate the need to have store employees who are knowledgeable in actually doings jobs with store products. Just knowing where merchandise is located is not enough to rebuild the business. Hiring experienced trades people and paying them what they’re worth is an investment; staffing up with uncommitted part timers is false savings.

Tina

September 14th, 2010
8:47 am

The Home Depot in Roswell on Hwy 92 has a guy named James, who works at the Pro desk. He is AMAZING. They should have other employees follow his example. He is very customer focused. This seems to be in spite of HDs best efforts to make every employee unhappy. Until HD comes to understand that happy employees equal good customer service, they will never be able to beat their competitors.

Do it yourself

September 14th, 2010
8:48 am

True story here, I was in the Home Depot in Vinings this past weekend ( yes the one directly across from the corporate headquarters). Anyway, my friend was looking for a medicine cabinet, and thought she saw the one she wanted, it was 3 shelves up and out of reach. One associate that was helping a customer next to us, finished up and walked away, another saw that we were browsing on her way through the aisle, and never stopped to ask if we needed assistance. After that, it was a ghost town for 3 more aisles. So I grabbed the big HD portable stairs and started dragging it from one end of the aisle to the other in order to climb up and get the box we needed. Apparently it wasn’t until someone heard the scraping of the metal and the concrete that anybody took an interest in us. Even then some kid with a mohawk came over and explained to me that it is against HD policy to have customers helping themselves. I then explained to him, that i wouldn’t have to help myself had the associates been focusing on their jobs. Yeah, you’ve come a long way HD!

Barnesy

September 14th, 2010
8:49 am

No where to go but up.

JP

September 14th, 2010
8:50 am

I think it would be great if ALL companies would do this type of thing with their higher-ups. I am quite sure that a lot of the useless, backward ideas that come out of meetings about meetings would stop if the folks who came up with the stupid ideas in the first place had to deal with the fallout from their own decisions. If you come up with a great idea on how to “improve the workflow” then YOU need to show us how YOUR idea works. Or doesn’t. Don’t tell the folks in the trenches you did their job so you know how it is because the workplace has changed in the last 10-15 years since you did that job. Learn it again, then make better decisions. Or listen when employees explain why your grand idea will make things worse, not better.

Do it yourself

September 14th, 2010
8:54 am

Hey don’t forget, it only cost $430,000,000 to get Nardelli out of there. Of course he HAD to be paid at least $36,000,000 a year for 5 years with a severance package of $250,000,000 just to leave. Anybody want to guess as to how many skilled, knowledgable and customer friendly employees that type of money could have provided? Oh wait, it’s not the floor people that make the company great, it’s the geniuses in the C-Suite. What was I thinking?

Self Checkout

September 14th, 2010
8:57 am

Why doesn’t self checkout work? SERIOUSLY???? You HAVE to ask? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Get rid of them – the novelty of checking out yourself has worn off
2. At one time you could look things up – Look up item and point to the picture – put it back
3. Allow customers to do 50 @ 1.39 rather than scan each and every one. Put all 50 on the scale and the machine should be able to figure it out.
4. Get rid of the self checkout – I’d rather have a person – even a rude, grumpy one is better than the self checkout
5. Skip bagging – for large items that won’t fit on the scale
6. Trust us to put the right number of feet in on items sold by the foot.
7. Get rid of the self checkout – or stop asking us to “please wait for assistance”
8. Allow us to enter our own BD for items like glue, spray paint or whatever you must be 18 or older to purchase. Anyone who enters a BD that makes them less than 18, then fine – “Please wait for assistance” but over.
9. Get rid of self checkout – and then you won’t have to worry about people scamming the system
10. Just get rid of the self checkout and hire more people – with the economy the way it is – more people need jobs.
5.

Lake Guy

September 14th, 2010
8:59 am

I was a very loyal Home depot shopper for years in Atlanta. Always got friendly helpful service and good selection. Then moved to Gainesville 8 years ago.. most unknowledgeable, unfriendly, unhelpful, bunch of employees. I have to drive past the home depot to get to Lowes to make my purchases or go another HD close to work. Complaints to the maager just gets you stared at and a “sorry it happened again”.

sh

September 14th, 2010
8:59 am

I think I saw a comment about getting rid of the self-check out. Whatever changes you make don’t do that . If people cant figure out a simple slide the barcode and scan they need to go to a regular line and leave the self-check out alone

Shopper?

September 14th, 2010
9:01 am

This is a good start but my advice to top management in all retail businesses is to go shopping (incognito) in a different one of your own stores at least once a week. SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A CUSTOMER.

Honeydew

September 14th, 2010
9:11 am

My husband worked for HD for 7 years. Top associate, received many awards and bonuses. He asked another co-worked about a food item in his native country, the co-worked said he was offended, my husband was fired. I will never shop at HD ever…everytime we pass by a store, we are reminded of the discharge. This happened in Jan 2010, and my husband is still unemployed. He was the BEST associate in Lithonia.

Dash Rip Rock

September 14th, 2010
9:12 am

The self checkout is a joke! If you are going to keep them, you have to have scan guns available for the customer. I was actually told by a butt-wipe employee that, “we might break them”. I should’ve broke my foot off in her butt! Also, I spent $5000.00 on a water softener from Home Depot.However, I have to buy the block salt (that the manufacturer Rainsoft recommends, not bag salt) from Lowes. You see, Home Depot refuses to carry block salt in any of their stores. Strange? Oh wait, they did try to accommodate me….they said they could order an entire pallet, JUST FOR ME TO PAY FOR, NOT FOR THE ENTIRE STORE. EVEN SAID THEY COULD HAVE IT SHIPPED TO ME. I use four blocks a month…what the hell would I do with an entire pallet? By the way, Lowe’s orders their block salt by the pallet and I can buy as little as one block. What a novel concept. HD, get your head out of your butt and and start thinking outside the box.

Bob

September 14th, 2010
9:13 am

I love self check out.

Vee

September 14th, 2010
9:19 am

Any effort is better than none; however, the executives probably won’t encounter the rudeness that some the Associates exhibit simply because the Associates will clean up their act while they are working the stores. HD is understaffed in various departments and they tend to have younger inexperienced workers that are limited in what they are able to help with. As far as the self checkout, if you don’t need or like it, then go to a cashier. A lot of time people just fail to follow the screen prompts, I do agree that they can create back-up sometimes, but they are good and shouldn’t be totally removed.

Don't Get Your Apron Dirty

September 14th, 2010
9:20 am

Gosh, who would’ve ever thought it would be a good idea for executives to gain some firsthand knowledge of customers and store operations?

And then they likely purloin ideas store employees have had for years (but were ignored) and claim victory when the executives came up with the solution on their own after having worked one day a week in a store for a short while.

I, too, think HD customer service has improved significantly but am amazed when executives (in all companies) suddenly discover the virtues of going out into the field. I’ll bet if execs in general watched more customers and fewer PowerPoint presentations everyone would be better off.