A few months ago I wrote a piece about Home Depot’s rapid and decisive return to its roots entitled, How Francis Blake Saved Home Depot.  Recently, while reading about the commendable series of financials that the company has fashioned this year, I came across one of the current programs Home Depot has implemented which the company believes to be a considerable force behind its increasingly impressive financial reports.  The success of the program is a strong reminder of how quickly and solidly the company has returned to its roots.

The program is called the Customers First Initiative.  Essentially it not only emphasizes the importance of the customer lost in a big box maze; the program trains employees to be more sensitive to and on the lookout for customers who may need help but are not sure of exactly what to ask for.

The program also distinguishes a concept called power hours.  These are densely-trafficked periods when associates focus on and even seek out customers who seem to need help.  The program also trains employees to analyze the contents of a customer’s cart and quickly determine anything that might be missing to complete a project.

This program is more than an attempt to return to the company’s roots.  Similar efforts were enumerated by previous regimes of corporate management but little was done in terms of follow-up.  One such program, put into effect more than a decade ago, formally requested associates in addition to their regular duties to spy customers that seemed ‘lost’ or in need of assistance.  Corporate management had witnessed too many shoppers leaving the big box confused and empty handed.  They realized that many customers felt lost in the high-shelved, big box forest and might be ashamed to admit they were simply not comfortable looking for a product they knew little about.

A separate corporate mandate indicated the obvious but needless loss of sales as customers left the store assuming they had purchased all of their needs for a project only to eventually discover a few missed pieces.  These were generally retrieved through a convenient visit to the local hardware store, where the trip was more efficient and the help top notch.  As much as Home Depot’s previous administrations may have expressed the need for greater efforts in spotting customers in need of help and lacking all they actually require at the checkout, the talk never really led to results.

Back in the day I visited a Home Depot with a friend whose wife was an assistant manager at a nearby location.  While approaching the store he informed me of instructions associates had received to be on the lookout for customers in need of help, in addition to performing their regular duties.  Shortly after entering the Depot, we came upon a customer who was clearly floundering between two aisles and in need of assistance.  The nearest associates were a ‘cute’ couple who were clearly flirting.  This went on for some time and so we left the scene of the crime.

Based on recent financials, despite residing in an industry which has been among the hardest hit by a still challenging economy, it seems that current management’s follow-through is considerably more impactful than that of its predecessors.  As noted in How Francis Blake Saved Home Depot, current management under the firm guidance of Mr. Blake, upon taking control of the company immediately decided it was necessary to rapidly return to the company’s strong DIY roots.  This meant sacrificing several costly add-ons and acquisitions which had been a part of the prior administration’s desire to be all things to all customers while enhancing financials by cutting quality and service out of the bottom line.  These sacrifices were extremely costly and included exiting the company’s EXPO Design Centers platform while selling its costly pro dealer acquisitions.

Through these decisive actions Blake’s regime not only talked the talk, they followed through with determination.  This energy and follow-through are evident today with the apparent success of the Customers First Initiative, as Home Depot seems to have regained most, if not all of the reputation that made it a shining star amongst retailers shortly after its founding in 1978.