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At Home Depot meeting, a variety of voices

BY Ken Clark

Customer service, glue traps and corporate democracy were among the issues on the table at a wide-ranging Home Depot annual shareholders meeting in Atlanta Thursday.

Home Depot’s shareholders approved the company’s recommendations for its board of directors and executive pay structure. And it defeated a shareholder proposal regarding shareholder control of corporate political gifts.

Julie Goodridge, CEO of Northstar Asset Management, called the proposal a step toward corporate democracy and a way to make the corporation’s political donations in line with the shareholders, instead of the executives. 

Home Depot recommended against the measure regarding electioneering policies and contributions. "We believe that participating in the political process in a transparent manner is an important way to enhance shareholder value and promote good corporate citizenship," according to the company’s proxy statement. "We do not believe, however, that implementing an annual shareholder advisory vote on our political activity policy and plans would provide shareholders with any more meaningful information than is already available."

During the question and answer session, the first question was actually a criticism of Home Depot’s policy of carrying glue traps, described by Lindsay Wright as a cruel form of rodent control. An employee later in the proceedings applauded the company for carrying the same traps, which he described as effective.

Shareholders who praised the level of customer service were applauded roundly. But the biggest applause came when Frank Blake introduced four associates of the Joplin, Mo., store that was destroyed by a tornado May 22.

Speaking on the business of home improvement retailing, Blake showed a slide that added "interconnected retail" to the company’s traditional three-legged stool of retail success keys — passionate customer service, product authority and disciplined capital allocation.

"We believe over the next decade the winners in retail will be those that deliver a best in class multichannel experience that allows customers to buy how, when and where they want," he told shareholders.

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Home Depot recognizes Joplin associates at annual meeting

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Four Joplin, Mo., associates of a Home Depot store destroyed by a tornado May 22 were flown to Atlanta for the company’s annual shareholders meeting. 

CEO Frank Blake introduced Jason Smith, the manager on duty the night of the storm, Joe Barbosa, Joe Cabalero and Steve Cope, the store’s manager. The four men received extended applause as well as Angel Awards, given to associates who help save lives. 

Blake also read a letter from a customer who praised the store’s staff for saving the lives of her husband and her two children. The family was driving near the store and ran inside to escape the tornado. "We were met be calm employees the whole time," read the letter.

One employee, Dean Wells, died during the tornado as he made a final sweep of the store to check for customers, Blake said. Cope accepted the Angel Award in Dean’s honor.

"We are committed to the community, and we will rebuild the store," Blake said.

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Mixed message seen in retail comps

BY HBSDEALER Staff

Top-line retail same-store sales held steady with a 5.7% gain in May, but showed the effects of plans by shoppers to curb spending, according to Kantar Retail.

The sales-weighted composite for the 26 retailers reporting — most of them apparel retailers — was up slightly from the 5.4% gain for the combined March–April period, which eliminates the impact of the Easter calendar shift. The result was down from April’s 8.7% same-store sales gain, which was pumped up by a late Easter. The result was better than the 2.7% gain in May 2010.

The results do not include Walgreens, which reports Friday. The calculations also no longer include Walmart, which stopped reporting monthly results in April 2009. 

Apparel stores took the brunt of weaker spending plans; they significantly lagged the overall results. The results were led by the Food, Drug and Mass retailers — particularly Costco and BJ’s, which benefited from higher fuel prices. Department stores held up well, particularly upscale department stores, which benefit from upper-income households less affected by rising prices.

“Spring storms also affected the retail numbers, but there is little doubt that the strongest headwinds slowing sales are from higher prices for food and especially fuel,” said Frank Badillo, senior economist.  “Shoppers are stepping up their response as inflation persists, and discretionary purchases from apparel to homegoods are most susceptible in the months ahead.”

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