Why Home Depot Has Sucked For You, And Will Probably Continue To

Ever wondered why Home Depot has sucked so much in the past years? A post-mortem on former Home Depot CEO Robert “Big Bob” Nardelli’s departure lays it out. Home Depot:

• Cut experienced sales staff, which often consisted of retired plumbers, electricians, etc
• Replaced with inexperienced, cheaper staff
• Siphoned resources from consumer side to focus on selling to professional builders

While Home Depot has pledged $350 million to improve customer service, long term trends suggest their heart lies elsewhere. Says NYT:

“Home Depot argues that the $200 billion do-it-yourself market is mature. Professional builders represent a $410 billion market.”

— BEN POPKEN

At Home Depot, the New Chief Needs to Sell an Old Story to Wall Street [NYT]

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  1. Negative says:

    You have no idea how pissed I was when they started letting the old experienced guys go. I had quite a bit of respect for HD until then.

  2. Kornkob says:

    It was like an Ace Hardware only filled with real experts (instead of just skilled tinkerers) and with a lot more stuff.

    Now it is just cookie cutter retail.

  3. Sudonum says:

    As a customer of Home Depot Supply they are dropping the ball there too. They took a pretty good company (Maintenance Warehouse) and have taken away all of their positives and done nothing to fix the negatives. But I’m sure they’ve squeezed out any waste that could make a customer satisfied.

  4. pronell says:

    So what happens when the professional builder’s market is “mature?” Is that when they fire the rest of their staff and close their doors?

  5. Keter says:

    In very succinct terms, Home Depot is having an identity crisis. Before they can improve customer service, they need to decide who their customers are. I shop both consumer and “pro” vendors for building supplies, and except for HD, it is quite obvious from the moment you walk in the door who they intend to cater to. “Pro” vendors feature almost no advertising fluff, simple floor layouts, and clearly marked and easy-to-find specifications. They don’t generally fool around with floor displays that show products “installed.” Lowes and other consumer DIY stores have lots of floor displays, and finding technical specs can be difficult…after all, most consumers don’t know the specs, they just bring in a part and say “gimme another one of these.”

    HD is the worst of both worlds. The stores are always cluttered and look like they were organized by a schizophrenic. The “design centers” are a useless hole in the middle of the store and are frequently not even staffed. (It took me an hour to get waited on to buy 2 expensive custom windows! The gal who waited on me had never used the window ordering system before, and we worked through it together!) Some items have specs, some don’t, and worse, some have conflicting information.

    The staff being unknowledgable is not great, but I would be happy if they would admit to being clueless when the are, rather than fake it. I put down the wrong kind of flooring underlayment on the advice of a person working in that department, who spoke as if he knew when it became obvious later that he was entirely wrong. That was about a $1000, 3 weekends of labor mistake, and wasn’t discovered until about six months later when the tile I put down over it started coming up. No way to get satisfaction at that point…I would have been so much happier if the guy had said “I don’t know” and I had gone home to do more research and come back later when I had a correct answer rather than to have been sent home with the wrong product only to end up with an installed mess.

    Now when I shop at HD, it almost always takes 2 or more trips…the first to find out what they have, go home and find out which products are the ones I should buy, and then go back to buy those products. I’m finding that I am buying more often at the expensive specialty stores to avoid this hassle. The “getting it right the first time” thing is worth the extra expense.

  6. Mojosan says:

    In my are I have a HD, and Lowes, and a family operated lawn/garden/hardware place.

    HD – Pretty much had to stop going. Never any staff.

    Lowes – Seems well staffed (maybe because it’s never busy) but staff are inexperienced.

    Mom/Pop place – gets most of my business, even if I know I’m spending $10 or $20 more. Always well staffed, always knowledgeable.

  7. DeeJayQueue says:

    I try to shop at TrueValue or Ace for anything that doesn’t require lumber to build. They have more selection there, and the employees stand a much greater chance of knowing what they’re doing.

  8. One can still come across the occasional experienced staffer at Home Depot. While by-and-large my experiences there have given the impression that (a) they are understaffed, and (b) their staff is incompetent, I did have one positive experience.

    The man helping me in the electrical department not only knowledgably answered my questions about positioning and sizing of electric baseboard heaters, he helped me track down the part number of a heater that they no longer carried (they had 750/1500/2000 watt heaters but not the 1000 or 1250), and provided me with a list of local electrical supply stores that would probably carry it.

  9. bluegus32 says:

    Well if the do-it-yourself market is mature and HD no longer feels the need to cater to it, I guess we can all just stop going. It seems to me like HD is openly telling us that they don’t care to have our business. Fine by me. As it is, I don’t like a teenager who’s barely capable of reading, trying to explain to me how to repair drywall in my home.

    I’m going to Ace, Loews, or whoever else actually wants my business.

  10. Timbojones says:

    /agree with bluegus. So since the DIY market is mature, HD is willing to hand that $200 billion niche over to the other guys. And instead they’re going to focus on the pro market, where they have to compete with the existing pro shops and big wholesale yards. Brilliant plan! I know pro builders really appreciate inexperienced staff.

  11. Jurph says:

    I don’t condone it, but a businessman might see cutting experienced staff as a viable experienced staff need training, or else you get what I got: an associate in the Hardware aisle who did not know what a pulley was.

    Questions on the employment application should probably include some basic hardware knowledge questions such as:

    – What’s the difference between a nail and a screw?
    – What’s the difference between a wood screw and a metal screw?
    – Name three kinds of rope.
    – What might someone use bare steel wire for?
    – What are the measurements of a two-by-four?

    I guarantee you the associate I met would get all five of these wrong.

  12. bluegus32 says:

    Jurph:

    1) A nail gets hammered. A screw has squiggly things on it.
    2) A wood screw is made of wood and a metal screw is made of metal.
    3) Twine, Bungee, and Noose.
    4) To kill a man in Vegas just to watch him die.
    5) 24

    Do I get the job?

  13. WindowSeat says:

    If I’m doing some work around the house, I usually hit Lowes since their selection of hardware, etc. seems to be more contemporary, but when I’m doing something more involved I hit Home Depot. I’ve built entire restaurants off the shelf from Home Depot in the past and I have a Commercial Account with them. I will say this; Home Depots are a chaotic mess and if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for you’re out of luck. With Lowes, you’ll know what you’re looking for, but it will be out of stock or moved because they decided to change the layout of the store. Either way, good luck.

  14. Mike_ says:

    Lowe’s has plenty of employees, but none of them are there to help you. That’s been my observation, at least. I bought a lawn roller there a few years back. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but the box was large and awkward. No fewer than 3 employees observed my struggle to get the box off of the shelf and onto the dolly. None of them lifted a finger to help. I’ve encountered similar situations at other locations. Also, it seems like there are always lots of employees milling about, but none of them are able to open registers when long lines are waiting at checkout. This despite the no-waiting pledge clearly posted over every register.

    As frustrating as shopping at Lowe’s can sometimes be, I still very much prefer them over Home Depot. I live within 15 minutes of 2 Menards locations, 2 Lowe’s, and a Home Depot. Guess which one I’ll never set foot in again.

  15. AcilletaM says:

    See, this is why I can’t work at Home Depot. I thought the answer to #1 was the amount of cuddling afterwards.


    This probably didn’t help you with that whole pr0n filter thing either…

  16. VA_White says:

    Home Depot invested millions of dollars into their BEAR program (Back-end automation something-or-other – I think it was realignment but don’t quote me on that) and what they bought were expensive new cash registers and self-checkouts.

    Their forecasting sucks because their technology dates to the Fred Flintstone era. What major retailer still DROP SHIPS to every single store??!! This is why nothing is every in stock. They can barely calculate what they are selling so they can’t order accurately. They have focused in all the wrong areas for the entire Nardelli era.

    When you work for a Home Depot supplier, you realize how terribly disorganized they are from both the front end and the back end. In short, they suck. I stopped shopping there a long time ago.

  17. WindowSeat says:

    Mike:

    I’ve noticed this about Lowes too. The main function of a Lowes employee seems to be turning and running the other way when they see a customer.(Probably to close all but one register)

  18. I love my neighborhood Ace Hardware. It’s all small towny feeling [even though it's in a central urban area]. The staff knows their stuff.

  19. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Home Depot had sales staff?

  20. straddy says:

    I know someone who works for Home Depot; apparently they’ve adopted the much hated method of scheduling that Walmart has—scheduling employees for 4 hour shifts in peak hours, thus leaving departments empty, without sales associates to help customers just because they do less business.
    They’ve also cut raises, and come evaluation time they make it next to impossible to get even a 25 cent raise, by cleverly scoring their associates lower in one or two areas, thus making their deserved raise much less.

    The person I know is actually quite experienced in 90 percent of the areas of HD, but because he is young, they pay him crap for what he does know and his skills with customers. He gets rave reviews from customers all the time, being one of the rare associates that HELPs customers. They don’t reward their employees.

  21. formergr says:

    I’m a big fan of the Menard’s here in Chicago. Cheaper prices and the staff is usually pretty knowledgeable and helpful. Plus their lumberyard is yooooge! This can sometimes be a negative when you just want a bag of mulch and you have to go outside and walk what feels like .5 miles to find it, but at least the selection is there.

  22. Rusdude says:

    Living in an apartment, I haven’t dealt with HD, but a friend who worked in one was very dissatisfied. She worked in the department that provides installations and said customers were getting screwed big time on the prices and the level of service.

  23. springbok99 says:

    @Kornkob: aCE PEOPLE ARE EXTREMELY rude, one branch is on nostrand Ave in Brooklyn,NY, 11210. They yes you, lie to you. Complain and get preparded to be publicly insulted, by no less than the manager himself. lose one custome and gain 100 more, who the hell needs you anyway? shop in ACE and get ready for that negative shopping experience plus public insulting is the order of the day in that store. name of the store is Corner Hardware, located at
    2266 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11210- (718) 377-8516.Good luck to anyone who shops there. Buyer beware.

  24. nile108 says:

    I use to be a fan of Home Depot. I have had an experience recently that was the worst experience I have ever had in a store, big or small and the people that are “at the top” speaking for Frank Blake are worse than the small customer service people. I was promised material that NEVER came in on time, I bought tile that was 60% broken or off sized, when I tried to rectify the situation I got caught in the maze of the worst management and customer service people I have ever had the bad luck to deal with. I will NEVER EVER walk into another Home Depot store again. Although this says they are targeting big builders, my contractor says he hates dealing with them as well. If you are reading this to see if you should shop elsewhere..Please save yourself time, heatache AND money (they were not cheaper) and go to your local service oriented store or custom designer