Jim Inglis walked the aisles in the early, formative days of The Home Depot. His sixty year career in home improvement included 13 with the orange-colored Atlanta upstart – from 1983 to 1996 – now the world’s largest home improvement retailer.
Cast of characters
On Pat Farrah’s contribution:
“The initial concept of a warehouse home center sprang from Pat Farrah’s vision Pat had been the general manager. Of National Lumber, a traditional home center in the Los Angeles market. Pat left National Lumber and, with the financial help of some friends and business associates in 1977, opened Homeco in Long Beach, California, which truly was the first big-box home improvement store.”
—Breakthrough Retailing, page 57
On Bob Nardelli’s management
“… [the early Home Depot] culture could not coexist in the new centralized world of rigid General Electric processes. Experimentation and risk taking were no longer part of the culture. The dynamic nature of the business had changed, to the detriment of the employees and the customers.”
—Breakthrough Retailing, page 168
HBSDealer: One of the phrases that jumped out at me was: ‘Very few light bulbs of creativity fire up while people are sitting at a desk in a corporate office.’
Inglis: On Monday mornings, we got in a plane and we headed out to the stores and we spent the whole week in the field. And that's where we found the problems. It’s where we found the opportunities. You don't really understand the problems and you don't really see the opportunities when you’re sitting in an office.
HBSDealer: Among the characters in the book are (founders) Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus, but also (early merchandise leader) Pat Farrah and (former CEO) Bob Nardelli.
Inglis: Pat was the creative genius of the real concept, the concept of the big warehouse store. And he was also the spirit of the culture, of whatever it takes to delight the customer we will do. And he was also the guy that encouraged us to be non-orthodox.
If you were to take a continuum of management styles and put Nardelli at one end, Pat would be at the other end. I mean, there would be no common ground.
HBSDealer: What’s been the reaction to your book?
Inglis: The most gratifying thing about the book has been how my clients that I've worked with over the past 20 years have embraced it and are using it as a textbook for their employees. And in the back of my mind, that was always why I was writing the book: to give that kind of a tool to my clients. They say that over time people fade away, but words and books last forever.
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Retail is Detail
Adding thought-provoking interest to Breakthrough Retailing are scores of “Retail Details,” including the following:
No. 30: “Whenever I talk about balancing the art and science of retail, I’m careful to emphasize that we will always start with the art.”
—Ted Decker, current CEO, The Home Depot.
No. 33 “Hierarchies were built for a slower, older time when we could all wit in line for an audience before the throne.”
– Kevin Hancock, CEO, Hancock Lumber
No. 37: “Retailing is a race with no finish line.”