Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More Saving. More. . . er, we'll get back to you.

Back in fall of 2005, I briefly worked as a salesman at Home Depot. Briefly, as in two weeks.

That summer, I had gotten a temporary job at Save On Foods, stocking shelves as part of an inventory reorganizing at two Save On Foods locations. It was the first "real" job I ever had (I had done some earlier part time work at an photo editing company run from the home of a family friend) and once I got over a few of the hiccups involved in working retail (like, um, people) I actually quite enjoyed it. So with school-- and tuition and textbook payments-- coming up, I was thrilled when I was hired to work as a salesman at the recently opened Home Depot.

Two weeks later, I quit. Officially, the reason I left Home Depot was because I was hired as a physics lab instructor at the university. But honestly, I probably could have stayed on at Home Depot while also studying and teaching lab. The real reason I left is because I hated the job.

The problem I always had with looking back at my time at Home Depot was that I could never decide whether it was that I sucked as Home Depot employee or that Home Depot sucked as a workplace. One the one hand,  I've never been the most socially graceful, and lack of social grace can be a detriment when half of your job is basically "talk to people and convince them to buy things". Plus, I've never been particularly inclined toward home repair and maintenance, despite/because of my upbringing. So, given my proclivity toward second-guessing myself (see the Family Guy/Star Trek II debacle), and given the fact that I was never again able to get a "real" job (i.e. outside UNBC), a part of me believed that I was simply not cut out for "real" work.

On the other hand, though. . . Home Depot kinda sucked. When I was hired, I was assigned to kitchen and bathroom sales-- as many put it, "selling toilets." Fine, I thought as the interview ended. I mean, I know next to nothing about kitchen- and bathroom-ware, but come on, they must assume that, right? They saw my resume, they know what level of home repair background I'm coming from, right? I'll get all the training I need. No sweat.

It turns out that "training" amounted to watching a few hours or useless video-- one of which was all about avoiding back injury by, you know, being careful 'n stuff, another of which was all about Home Depot's program to provide support for employees competing in the Olympics because hey that so applies to us!-- followed by us new workers being thrown out on to the floor and told to help customers. I'm serious. Right after "training", the new employees kicked out of the employee lounge and literally told "you have ten minutes to go out and help these customers", otherwise known as the "learn to swim by drowning" approach.

For the next two weeks, I tried as well as I could to learn the ropes. My immediate supervisor, a former soldier, was a nice enough boss, and I managed to get some stocking work done from time to time, but it wasn't enough to compensate for the systematic problems of working at Home Depot. First, there was lack of training-- one thing that sticks out is one time when, despite having received no formal instruction in how to sell kitchen and bathroom-ware (even info that I could study on my own time), I was told during my third day at work to take off my "In Training" pin, which in addition to being the fracking truth was also my one safety net in dealing with often nerved out customers. Another was the unpredictable hours-- despite assurances that I could work around my class schedule, my work hours more than once overlapped with a class period. I was able to talk to someone to get the hours changed those first couple of times, but I wondered how long I could keep doing that. Yet another problem was the fact I would sometimes get temporarily "transferred" to another store department, like electrical or plumbing or lumber; it was hard enough learning to function in the department in which I was supposed to be working without being thrown into a completely different one. This last problem, undoubtedly, springs from what one good-natured customer described as the Home Depot Experience: "Sixteen hundred square feet, four employees." I knew he was exaggerating, but even at the time, it didn't seem like much of an exaggeration.

And now, today, seven years after I quit, I find official acknowledgement of the Home Depot Experience, in nothing less than The New Yorker:
When Bob Nardelli took over Home Depot, in 2000, he reduced the number of salespeople on the floor and turned many full-time jobs into part-time ones. In the process, he turned Home Depot stores into cavernous wastelands, with customers wandering around dejectedly trying to find an aproned employee, only to discover that he had no useful advice to offer. The company’s customer-service ratings plummeted, and its sales growth stalled.
You can read the whole article, which discusses the business advantages retailers have found not cutting fucking corners in floor personnel, here.

As for me, I finally feel some relief about my Home Depot Experience. Or is that Schadenfreude?

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