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In the Metro Commentary section of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s online branch, columist Carl Golden writes:

I am terrified of Home Depot. And Lowe’s. And places like them.

Oh, sure, I watch all the TV commercials that show helpful store personnel in orange aprons skillfully demonstrating the latest in power tools to smiling customers.

Everybody looks delighted.

Me? I break out in a cold sweat every time I walk into one of these places and take in miles of aisles offering merchandise to build, remodel, renovate or demolish just about anything ever constructed.

I have this recurring nightmare in which I’m stranded in the middle of the store, unable to find an exit.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m about to make fun of Carl for his lack of DIY know-how.  I’m not.  After reading the rest of his column, this bit stuck in my mind:

While I stand on the cold concrete floor looking like an American tourist in downtown Moscow, I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys in tan work boots, ripped blue jeans, and dirty T-shirts with cartoon logos on them. They all seem to have tattoos on their biceps, sawdust in their hair, and paint smears on their forearms.

But they all seem to know precisely what they’re doing and why. They all seem to know exactly which gadget to pluck out of a bin filled with thousands of similar devices, or exactly how many boards they will need for whatever job they are doing, or just how many gallons of paint they will need so there is none left over.

I’m not laughing at Carl.  I feel sorry for him.  His problem isn’t his lack of knowledge; it’s his quick — and thoroughly wrong — stereotype of those of us who use tools and do for ourselves.  I have no tattoos, own very few pairs of jeans with holes in them (they suck for welding — don’t ask), and don’t wear T-shirts by themselves while working because they make me look like Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances.  Sure, I know guys (and women!) who fit his description wholly or in parts, but the point is this: DIYer are marked by only one trait — the fact that they do it themselves.

If Carl could just look part the stereotype and realize that he doesn’t need tan-colored work boots to solve DIY problems, he’d soon realize that all he needs is a strong desire to do so and the will to figure it out.

I’d be willing to bet a quarter — even after losing dozens to Sean lately — that the guy he saw plucking a gadget from the bin probably threw it back and looked at 10 more before he found the right one.  And, the guy who knew exactly how many boards he needed likely spent a good hour drawing the job out on paper to figure it out (by whatever method works for him) — and likely had some left over as he accounted for the screwups that are part of learning the job.

We rarely just know how to do the job — we figure it out as we go, reading books or asking friends, collegues, or even the people at the store for help.

Speaking of the people at the store… five or six years ago Home Depot employed a lot of knowledgeable staff that could really help, even with difficult electrical and plumbing tasks.  While there are exceptions, I certainly feel that the level of service has dropped significantly at Home Depot since.  We hear that this has something to do with a corporate restructuring a few years ago, but I know nothing of the details.

One thing I do agree with Carl about:  “The power-tool section is particularly bewildering. The selection is so vast that I can’t understand how anyone could possibly choose the proper one.”  Well, Carl, we’re here to help.  If you get a chance, check out our guide to selecting your next cordless drill.  And, in late January check out our Ultimate Drill Test where we’re putting together a massive test of dozens of the market’s most common drills.

A Fear of Mr. Fix-It [Philly.com]

 

5 Responses to Carl Golden’s Afraid of Home Depot

  1. Scott says:

    “Speaking of the people at the store… five or six years ago Home Depot employed a lot of knowledgeable staff that could really help, even with difficult electrical and plumbing tasks. While there are exceptions, I certainly feel that the level of service has dropped significantly at Home Depot since.”

    I totally agree with you. I live in Wisconsin and have found this to be true at several Home Depot stores in our area. I work in the electrical trade. One day I asked someone in the HD electrical department where to find a motion sensor that mounts into the socket on a standard light fixture and then the bulb goes into the sensor. These are reasonably common. The HD employee looked at me as if I were speaking Klingon or something.

  2. Daniel says:

    I used to work for Home Despot and I can tell you there have been lots of changes over the last 5 years. People that are close to retiring from there are talking about quiting early and not getting their retirement, just because the working conditions are so bad. The moral is so low that they rarely keep a new employee more than one season. Most of this stems from the new CEO, Bob Nardelli who is very incompetent and sees nothing but ways to get his hands on more money, not how to make a company great (which would, in the long run, provide him more money).

    (from Bloomberg News)

    Shareholder Controversy

    At Home Depot’s annual shareholder’s conference on May 29, 2006, in Wilmington, Delaware, many of the companies shareholders expressed anger and confusion about CEO Nardelli’s pay package of $123.7 million, excluding stock option grants, over the past 5 years. Nardelli was awarded this package while Home Depot’s stock sunk about 9%, and competitor Lowe’s saw a 185% increase on a split-adjusted basis. While some stockholders were prepared to ask some tough and pointed questions to the board of directors, they were hindered by the fact that only one of the board’s members actually showed up to the meeting, Nardelli himself. Their comments were kept to a strict time limit, displayed on a large clock. Nardelli refused to acknowledge any shareholder’s comments, answer any questions, and he promptly left after only thirty minutes, causing an uproar of anger and rage. Votes on shareholder proposals afterward showed an unusually high level of dissent, with over one third withholding their support for Nardelli’s re-election as CEO.

    The company’s “official” excuse for the absence of the board on the day of the meeting was that “many” of the directors were at headquarters over the past few days for their quarterly meeting and remain there today on company business. But directors had over a month’s notice of the meeting, with the date and location of the meeting being posted on April 14th, 2006. Directors are also paid for travel expenses to and from shareholder meetings by the company, with full access to a corporate jet.

    Home Depot stock has sunk further since the debacle, from about $43 a share in April to just under $37 a share in early June.

  3. TourPro says:

    We’ve got rumors of a Home Depot coming to town, but till then Lowe’s is the DIY place in our town. Fortunately for me, it’s a small town. Everyone knows everyone. When I go trolling for supplies and I need help, it’s no surprise to find my local retired plumber ready to help. Same goes for the rest of the trades. Sure, there are a good portion of “worker bees”, but it is super easy to identify who to ask for advice vs. who to ask to get that box off the top shelf.

    I love this site, mostly because it makes my own DIY obsession seem tame. All the Best in the New Year!

  4. David says:

    The most significant factor in the recent lack of service at the Depot has been the building boom of the past eight years. Twelve to fifteen years ago, the economy was clicking along for IT guys, but that hadn’t really started to trickle down to the trade sector. A lot of guys were looking for work. And Home Depot was paying pretty well at the time. Hell, if you were a union electrician in the South, you could get paid more working at HD than you would on the job! As a result, you had a lot of guys with a lot of experience strapping on orange aprons. But then the building boom really hit, and everybody and his brother started a contracting company. And when CEO Bob Nardelli started cutting benefits, all the knowlegable folks in the aisles couldn’t get out the door fast enough.

  5. Roscoe says:

    Shop at your local Ace, True Value, or Do-It-Best! Most of the employees have a wealth of experience and many stores employ retirees with real trade experience.

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