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