Fertilizer/Herbicide/Pesticide, by the numbers
Consumer research from the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group showed sales in the Fertilizer-Herbicide-Pesticide (FHP) category are growing — up 5.5% from a year ago to $1.31 billion. According to NPD, sales may be boosted by a DIY approach to lawn care, a low-cost alternative to hiring professional lawn care services.
Most of the products sold in the FHP category are fertilizers (29.6%), with Fertilizer-Herbicide (FH) combination products running a close second. Ready-to-use powders/granules are easy to use, offer convenience to the customer and make up the vast majority of fertilizer type.
Consumers in the Northeast and West are putting more emphasis on their lawn care, but the South still represents the largest portion of the market. Across the age groups, FHP shows itself as one of the most age-agnostic categories in home improvement — all categories fit into a range of less than 8 percentage points.
In this category, being close to home is the key motivator for selecting a retailer. In terms of a specific product purchase, consumers place an emphasis on trusted brands, price and features, but are increasingly looking for sales and special promotions. Also increasing in motivational power is a recommendation from store personnel — up from 7.0% in 2009 to 8.9% in 2011.
Methodology: NPD data are based on monthly tracking of more than 30 home improvement-related categories and 30,000 opt-in consumers.
*2011 data reflects the period November 2010 through October 2011.
**Key: WHC: warehouse home center; MM: mass merchant; DS: department store; SS: specialty store; HS: hardware store
*** More than one answer accepted
Worthington plans to run Kansas plant full speed
According to an article in the Wichita Business Journal, Worthington Industries has no plans for workforce reductions in its new Maize, Kan., plant.
Columbus, Ohio-based Worthington took over the Maize plant, where pressure cylinders are made, from Coleman Co. According to the newspaper, Worthington bought the plant for $23 million. It has about 70 employees.
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At HD, checking out is in focus
Debbyn Milligan began her career at The Home Depot as a cashier 23 years ago in Oceanside, Calif. The front end of the store continues to be a major focus of her attention, but in some very different ways.
Today, Milligan is the VP operations for the world’s largest home improvement retailer. She describes her mission as taking responsibility for the nearly 2,000 U.S. stores from the front end to receiving to the back office. It’s a complex operation, but her team is charged to make it simple, or at least, as simple as possible.
“We want to make sure there is not a large amount of complexity that exists, and we want to make sure that the process is very simple, that anybody could follow it so they can focus all their energy on the customer,” Milligan said.
Coincidentally or not, some of the big advances in this regard are taking place at the checkout. Talking to a reporter on the floor of an Atlanta store, Milligan described a process recently initiated called register accountability. The new process replaced the old system of till assignments, switching out and logging back on when cashiers took a break, for instance.
“Register accountability allows any cashier, any time to jump in at any till,” she said. “That is a huge simplification.”
The company also revamped the interface on its self-checkout lanes, providing more intuitive directions on the screen to guide customers. And it just completed a cashier appreciation event that rallied around First for checkout (The word “First” is built on the first letters of the behaviors: find, inquire, respect, solve and thank.)
But perhaps the most significant front-end initiative is a small handheld device that was designed for use throughout the store: the First Phone. It functions as a walkie-talkie, a phone, a product lookup database and for checkout purposes, a line-busting tool or outright mobile point-of-sale system (for credit or debit card purchases.)
“We strive for no more than two or three customers per line,” she said. Employees armed with the First Phone can approach customers in line and either make the transaction (if the card reader is attached) or ring up the items and suspend the transaction to make the checkout quicker when it’s time to pay.
In its development stages, the First Phone was called “Project Unicorn.” VP IT Mike Guhl explained: “It’s integrated with everything in the store — that’s the interesting thing. We used to call it Project Unicorn because it was this mythical convergence device integrated with voice system, data system and POS system.”
One measure of its success, he said, is the demand from the user for the device. (Currently, there are about 15 to 20 First Phones per store.) Another is usage in transactions. In the fourth quarter last year, the device was involved in 1 million transactions. That number has grown in each successive quarter, according to a spokesman.
“It’s a customer service solution that also does tasking,” Guhl said. “It can answer customer service questions, and then also allow associates to do their tasking when they’re not with a customer. So I think that was a huge change for us culturally.”
Another initiative that received high praise during the company’s third-quarter earnings conference is a post-checkout process of returns handling. Today, for the first time, it’s centralized.
“We used to handle all of our returns individually in each store,” Milligan said. “We had 2,000 stores possibly doing it 2,000 different ways.” Not only that, the process was tying up 40 man hours a week in a back room. As of mid-December, that all changed with the creation of three facilities that handle the returns with the vendors for all the stores.
Overall, the checkout is a term that is losing its original meaning as the fixed location by the door that includes a cash register, a cashier, a surface for customers to place the merchandise and — sometimes — a line of customers. Thinking differently about throughput is going to continue. And Milligan has a pretty good idea where those new ideas will come from.
“We’re all the time getting feedback from the stores. That’s where a lot of ideas comes from.”