What’s the Story About Home Centers and Customer Service?

Is the Big Orange going sour? There’s no doubt that HD, the Orange Box home improvement warehouse is struggling these days as the economy tightens, but their problems go way beyond the economy. Think back about 15 years ago when HD started covering the country with large warehouse type building materials outlets. Everyone flocked to them and claimed about how good the customer service was in a HD store compared to smaller retailers and other chains. Big Orange had its way as it kept opening new stores right next to smaller businesses of the same kind as to swallow anything in site related to building materials. HD accomplished what it does best and bullied out the smaller competition and portrayed themselves as the largest home improvement warehouse in every community a new store opened. Many towns were willing to sway zoning and municipal ordinances to help HD open in their town, and give them red carpet treatment and tax abatements. As a result the small local businesses suffered and eventually many closed because they could not compete with the pricing, but they surpassed HD in customer service. The keyword here is “customer satisfaction and service”. HD had no magic marketing plan, they were just greedy mass marketers with an open bank account and had the philosophy that competition of any size was a threat and they wanted it all, at whatever cost to squeeze out the smaller local businesses.

The truth is HD never had a customer service policy or cared, they just claimed to have lower prices and tons of merchandise. For some reason consumers thought being able to return anything to HD was great customer service, they gave you your money back with a smile, and of course they did because you went from the returns desk back down the store isles and purchased more. Hey American consumer wake up, Sears and Lowes has been offering 100% customer satisfaction with a money back guarantee for decades before HD ever existed. All consumers have different expectations of what customer service is. I don’t consider returning items as customer service, especially for an inferior or damaged product that I am not satisfied with. Yes, Big Orange has a large selection if you can find it, don’t trip over it or it doesn’t fall on you. Is overstocking a warehouse with merchandise, and clutter in every isle customer service?

Home Depot History
Here is the quote taken right from HD’s website, “The Home Depot was founded in 1978 by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. Along with investment banker Ken Langone and merchandising guru Pat Farrah, the founders’ vision of one-stop shopping for the do-it-yourselfer came to fruition when they opened the first two Home Depot stores on June 22, 1979, in Atlanta, Georgia. The first stores, at around 60,000 square feet each, were cavernous warehouses that dwarfed the competition and stocked 25,000 SKUs, much more than the average hardware store at that time. Empty boxes piled high on the shelves gave the illusion of even more product”. Isn’t this great, the business was started by a couple of bankers and a merchandise GURU with a vision, not experience. I didn’t see the words “home town business”, “hardware store” or anything that gives the impression that the founders knew the difference of a hammer or plunger.

Lowe’s History – Over 60 years in business.
Quote taken from Lowe’s website, “Founded in 1946, Lowe’s has grown from a small hardware store in North Carolina to the second largest home improvement retailer worldwide and the 9th largest retailer in the U.S. The Lowe’s story began in North Carolina when H. Carl Buchan, part owner of the North Wilkesboro Hardware Company, envisioned creating a chain of hardware stores. At the time, Lowe’s was a typical, small town hardware store selling everything from overalls and snuff to wash tubs, work boots and even horse collars.” Do you see the difference, the founder was in the hardware business owning a small town store interacting with customers and instilling his pride and business practices into his employees. And in today’s rough economy they are still growing and strong.

Next time you go into a HD warehouse notice the environment and realize you are trying to shop in an active building supply warehouse. If you remember your old hometown lumberyard or supply center, the public could not go into the warehouse for safety reasons and because it was an active storage area for employees only. From my experience of shopping at HD I have noticed the following; warehouse floors are dirty, all the merchandise on the shelves and on display are dusty & dirty, open stock is piled on pallets in the isles, blocked off isles with employees stocking high areas, areas have poor lighting, it never fails that a step platform or forklift is parked in front of an item you want, the sound of beeping backup alarms from forklifts, no sales help in the department, unknowledgeable help, loud announcements on the pa system, if you need a lumber cart you have to find and bring one from the outside parking lot, waiting at the cutting saw for something to be cut, you ask an associate for help and they tell you they are going on break or this is his first day. All of those are customer service issues. If I need to wear a hard hat, ear plugs, eye protection, dust mask, old clothes and get my own cart, I should get a better discount than they currently offer. Since HD doesn’t offer discounts for lack of customer service, I shop at Lowe’s where the store and merchandise are clean, the isles wide, clear, well lit, and the employees are helpful, experienced and friendly.

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