The Home Depot (Atlanta) has announced a return to its roots. The company founded on customer service and easy-to-shop stores has been getting a different reputation lately: cluttered stores and uneven customer service. So, as reported yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, the retailer has announced a new in-store policy: no more stocking of shelves during the day; no more wooden pallets clogging the aisles; no more forklifts chasing customers out of the way.
The company calls the new policy Service Performance Improvement (SPI), and began testing it in six stores (in central Florida and Salt Lake City) last year. In January, the test was expanded to 42 stores in its home Atlanta area. The program bars employees from stocking shelves from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (though a forklift can still grind into action if a customer needs something from the top shelf). Instead, it has instituted a nighttime shift of stocking, moving and rearranging, during which time all truck deliveries will be scheduled.
The policy also returns some centralized store activity decision-making to the home improvement giant. Over the years, store managers had gained wide authority on what went on in their stores. "There were no rules before," Larry Mercer, executive vp of operations, told The Journal. "This is like renewing your wedding vows after 20 years."
The concept introduced in 1978 by Arthur Blank and Bernard Marcus was a store that was truly supposed to be a home depot warehouse - worksite conditions, backroom activities brought to the frontroom, an unadorned hammers-and-nails environment. But success has filled the aisles with products and shoppers, creating more backroom-type activity than even the widening aisles could handle. Customers have been complaining that there isn't any service anymore, that salespeople are too involved with activities other than helping customers. There have even been numerous cases of shopper injuries caused by overloaded shelves, merchandise in the aisles, forklifts running amok. It may not be a coincidence that the new policy comes at a time when Blank has retired as co-chairman of the board and the operations are in the hands of ex-GE executive Bob Nardelli, hired as ceo in December.