One customer at a time

Ken Clark

Here’s the scene: Two of the highest ranking executives of the world’s largest home improvement retailer were speaking with a photographer and trade magazine editors near the front of a store. Suddenly, a customer, Eva Goss of Atlanta, approached them, without a trace of trepidation or hesitation.

Like a bull in a china shop.

“Are you all the big shots from Home Depot?” she asked. “I’ve got something to tell you.”

Now, anyone who’s ever used the “management by walking around” approach to store visits, knows that customers will speak their mind. They don’t care if you’re the executive vp of this or that, and they leave very little to be misunderstood, good or bad.

Eva continued.

“This Home Depot at Cumberland Parkway is the best one in the chain,” she said. “There was a time about four or five years ago when this store was not so hot. I have seen the difference and I have seen the change. And I’m back.”

Public relations disaster, turned to public relations coup—in just a few awkward heartbeats.

She had one more comment: “So now that I’ve told you that, where’s the Velcro?” Paul Raines, the executive vp-U.S. stores led her away.

Craig Menear, the company’s top merchant exhaled and smiled. This particular episode had a happy ending for the executives in orange aprons. But they know it could have easily gone the other way. “You never know what’s going to happen,” Menear said. “We’re in a store—it’s live.”

Over the years, I have learned to take individual opinions about large chains with grains of salt—a pool of one is an unscientific. But Eva’s comments about change reflect the mood in Atlanta.

Home Depot recently granted Home Channel News access to some of its top executives, including CEO Frank Blake. (See story on page 22) We have orange splashed on our cover, and we have dedicated significant space in this issue—and on—to the Home Depot story, now under a new CEO (See story on page 19) for only the third time in the company’s history.

We’re not taking sides with Home Depot in its struggle with Lowe’s, and just about every other retail player in the home channel. We are making an editorial judgment: Home Depot’s story and strategy are newsworthy to just about every player in our channel.

It’s not all good news and happy endings—and the executives themselves tell us the company has a long way to go.

Raines, explained in the front of the store to this editor. “What I tell my team every day is this: when you’re driving a big battleship, sometimes you have to manage your own impatience when the big battleship is moving. It’s going to happen one customer at a time.”

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