Big box store employees

25 Replies

I was wondering, how does the big box stores like The Home Depot or Lowes hire their "tech" people?

I mean, if you work at the plumbing aisle and are giving out advice to DIYers aren't they suppose to have some clue on the subject matter?  I mean, just SOME clue?  I will give several examples that happened just within the last few days that has me shaking my head.

At The Home Depot, I was looking in the plumbing section for a 3/4" copper male adapter.  I saw the box, it's empty, I asked the guy with the orange apron walking by, he waved over "Ron" the expert, and I asked Ron if he has any more 3/4" male adapters, he looked and grabbed a sharkbite and said "this is better".  I told him I prefer a rigid connection and I don't use sharkbites unless it's a temp fix or too close quarter to solder.  He said "its code approved..." and he never really helped me look for the 3/4" male adapter I was asking.  At the same time someone else also needed his advice and he got distracted.  I overheard the other guy asked him what the difference is between the two PVC elbows in his hands.  In one hand he had a 1-1/2" PVC elbow for pressure pipes and the other hand a 1-1/2" elbow for drains, the guy was asking Ron if there is any difference.  Ron told him the pressure pipe version is more "solid" because it allows to be under pressure.  After Ron left I explained to the guy what the real difference is, which is the drain version has a sweep that makes it possible to snake, and the inside diameter of the drain fitting guarantees a smooth integral bore for gravity draining when connected.

A day or so later I was at the same Home Depot looking for a 20A double pole switch in the electrical section.  It is marked on the shelf but nothing sitting on the shelf there.  Checked the ivory switch shelf, same thing, white switch shelf, same...hmmm...asked the expert again.  He looked at the shelf label, and told me he would be right back.  A few minutes later he came back with a handheld device.  OH good, they can check inventory on this.  He pointed the device to the label on the shelf, and it scanned.  Then he looked at the screen and said "its 705905".  So he backed a few steps and looked up above where they piled boxes and boxes and said "look for label 705905" if it's up there then yes we have more, if not then we are out.  WAIT, so that device is not linked to their inventory system?  You have to manually look up at the hundreds of boxes and see if there are more?  I could read from the label on the shelf it's 705905, what was the point of getting that device?  To convert the bar code to 705905 which is written in small print on the label in the first place?

So one of my tenants complained that the ceiling fan has a mild "hum" noise.  I went and looked at it.  Yep, a really faint hun when the fan is on.  Not easy to notice but once you do, it can get annoying.  I wanted to make sure it's not the fan speed control dimmer switch, so I disconnected it and hard wired the conductors, same thing.  So it's the fan.   Seems to have the same noise forward and reverse,   I move the fan slightly off the bracket and seat it back down in different positions, same thing.  It's a Hampton Bay "Midili" model and I have about six of these in different units, so I went home and looked at the warranty information and it says LIFE TIME WARRANTY on motors and 1 year on other things.  Not sure if it's motor, sounds more electrical but who knows.

Next day I called the Home Depot store I bought it from, spoke to them and they said come in to the store.  I went to the store and spoke to the customer service, they told me to talk to the electrical expert in aisle 9, oh boy...I did as suggested.  He said "hmmm...you need to talk to 1-800-HomeDepot", and he asked "did you get this fan from Home Depot?"  Now, we were standing in the ceiling fan section, next to a shelf with dozens of this fan which I told him is what I have.  This is a "Hampton Bay" fan, it's a Home Depot brand, they don't sell it anywhere else!  Where did I get it?

So, I called 1-800-HomeDepot.  After a few press 1, press 4, press 6, press 0, I got to someone who is the Hampton Bay advisor.  She asked me when I installed the fan.  I told her I honestly don't remember because I bought six of them over a period of time and I don't know which one was installed when, but it's between 1 and 3 years.

She then asked me to give her the UPC number off the fan.  I said where is the UPC number?  She said right on the canopy of the fan.  OK I am not there right now, is the UPC essential, can I give you the brand and model?  It's a Hampton Bay "MIDILI" fan, can you get the UPC from the brand-model?  She said she "doesn't have internet" and their internal system is based on UPC.  Okay now I need the UPC.  I said I will get the UPC in a few days when I stop back at the property.  I went back later and could not find a UPC on the canopy, not on the fan body, I even used a mirror to look on the top side of a fan body and the inside of the canopy, nothing...I called back and said no UPC number can be found, but I have the brand, model name, model number, internet number, sku number...would any of those work?  Nope, must have UPC number to further assist me.  I said OK, I have spent more than $100 so far on my time which is more than the price of a new fan so it's no longer cost effective to trouble shoot the UPC number.  Thank you.

"doesn't have internet"

I love when people say stuff that stupid.

These are minimum wage retail jobs. The qualifications to work there are the same as walmart, target etc.

I have worked with Home Depot for years as a supplier. HD used to be a great place for DIYers and anyone who had questions. All stores had a licensed and plumber working in the stores and the vast majority of employees had at least some "real world" experience. They also paid their employees as if they were valuable, which they were.

In the past 5 years or so they have switched their business model a bit, for the worse. As the older, more experienced, higher paid workers leave ( quit, fired, or retire) they are being replaced with mainly entry level retail workers with no real world experience. There are few stores that have licensed electricians or plumbers anymore. Starting wages are lower than they were 15-20 years ago....much lower. Benefits have been slashed. It doesn't help that the economy is getting better. Any tradesman worth their salt is on a jobsite making $30+/hr., not working for $10/hr at HD.
The new employees with no true experiences are trained through "distance learning", an Internet based classroom. So, while they might've watched a video on how to install that new drain they've never done it themselves.
That being said, HD can be a great resource with some of their credit options and some items are at a good price point. It can be pretty convenient too, as it's hard to drive 5 minutes in most major cities without seeing one. There are plenty of the "old timers" out there at the HD stores, but they're starting to fade away. Try to find them.
Best bet: if you have serious questions, go to
A true lumber yard or plumbing supply store. You'll usually get someone who knows what they're talking about, and the product is usually at a better price.

When Robert Nardelli took over he totally changed how the store did their hiring and what they paid the employees.

I remember reading a case study about this in college. 

I copied a little bit about the situation the I found online.

Nardelli became CEO of Home Depot in December 2000, despite having no retail experience. Using the Six Sigma management strategy also used at GE, he dramatically overhauled the company and replaced its entrepreneurial culture of innovative product design with one focused on relentless cost-cutting.[3] He changed the decentralized management structure, by eliminating and consolidating division executives. He also installed processes and streamlined operations, most notably implementing a computerized automated inventory system and centralizing supply orders at the Atlanta headquarters.

Nardelli was credited with doubling the sales of the chain and improving its competitive position. Revenue increased from $45.74 billion in 2000 to $81.51 billion in 2005, while net earnings after tax rose from $2.58 billion to $5.84 billion. During Nardelli's tenure, Home Depot stock was essentially steady while competitor Lowe's stock doubled, which along with his $240 million compensation eventually earned the ire of investors.[4] His blunt, critical and autocratic management style turned off employees and the public. Nardelli was notably criticized for cutting back on knowledgeable full-time employees with experience in the trades and replacing them with part-time help with little relevant experience.[5] This move reduced costs, but hurt customer service at a time when Lowe's was making inroads nationwide. While the board strongly stood by him for most of his tenure, questions about his leadership mounted in 2006, and in an ominous portent of the near future, he was the only director present at the annual meeting; he only allowed shareholders to speak for a minute each.[6] When the board reportedly ousted him in January 2007,[7] Nardelli's severance package was estimated at $210 million. He was succeeded by The Home Depot vice chairman and executive vice president, Frank Blake. Blake had served as Nardelli's deputy at both GE Power Systems and Home Depot.


In 2011, when we bought our foreclosures Home Depot was a huge resource. We practically lived there, and the employees new us by name. We found there was people who knew the answer and others who didn't. You had to "weed" them out. We haven't need home depots resources as much since so I couldn't speak to it. I think like everything in life its luck of the draw. but that is a huge bummer they are changing the culture as they were awesome.

That being said, the most annoying thing that exists right now for BOTH lowes and home depot is the fact that stores don't talk to each other easily. It is VERY hard to buy an appliance from a store in Virginia if you are located in California. I have found that the employees are very rude about helping you. One actually asked me why they should help me as they aren't making any money off the sale! 

Originally posted by @James Wise :

These are minimum wage retail jobs. The qualifications to work there are the same as walmart, target etc.

 I am currently a store manager for one of the big box home improvement retailers(17 years), and the above statement is 100% incorrect.  We strive to hire the most qualified/service oriented people to help our customers and neither company pays even close to minimum wage(I have worked for both) but just like in any industry there are good and bad and some stores do a better job and hiring/holding people accountable than others.  I hate to hear stories that the original poster gave and situations like that are unacceptable!   Generally speaking I can suggest that if you have an issue about anything in the store ask to speak with a manager on duty or the store manager, explain the service issues with Ron or the issue with the fan and they will get you taken care of.  

Why are some real estate agents and property managers great and some are not?   Does that mean that the ones who don't do a good job are making minimum wage and have same the qualifications as Target/Walmart?

Pretty much you get paid for experience.

My commission checks in commercial real estate go into the six figures per deal.

I remember the days I worked for Wal-mart as a teen over 20 years ago. Places like that and HD if you worked hard the stock option they matched and it kept splitting and splitting. I knew people working there who were multi-millionaires just from the stock. The hourly pay was good at the time with the stock upside.

Flash forward today and as mentioned pretty much anyone good will not work at these places unless it is supplemental type income going through school or retired, temp gap until they land a contracting job again etc.  

I occasionally strike up a conversation when I am at HD to buy something for my house.

If you are buying a specialized product you might be better off going to a specialty store. Yes you might pay a little more but the advice you can get from someone with decades of experience is priceless on how to install the product and use it. Well worth a couple extra bucks in that situation to me. If it's a regular type item then HD or Lowe's might be easiest and cheapest.

The real money is working for yourself and controlling your own destiny and happiness. To do that you can't be mediocre or sub-standard which cuts out a majority of the population. Many people say they want it but actions speak otherwise when the rubber meets the road.

When I just need a "thing" I go to HD- they have lots of things. When I need advice I go to Ace - not so many things, but a lot better advice! Those guys have saved my bacon more than once.

Originally posted by @Bill Sargeson :
Originally posted by @James Wise:

These are minimum wage retail jobs. The qualifications to work there are the same as walmart, target etc.

 I am currently a store manager for one of the big box home improvement retailers(17 years), and the above statement is 100% incorrect.  We strive to hire the most qualified/service oriented people to help our customers and neither company pays even close to minimum wage(I have worked for both) but just like in any industry there are good and bad and some stores do a better job and hiring/holding people accountable than others.  I hate to hear stories that the original poster gave and situations like that are unacceptable!   Generally speaking I can suggest that if you have an issue about anything in the store ask to speak with a manager on duty or the store manager, explain the service issues with Ron or the issue with the fan and they will get you taken care of.  

Why are some real estate agents and property managers great and some are not?   Does that mean that the ones who don't do a good job are making minimum wage and have same the qualifications as Target/Walmart?

Bill, I'm sorry if that statement offends you but I have been to many Home Depot & Lowes stores in my life. Lets be real here. The majority of the employees have no knowledge or skill set that involves any of the trades. Nor do I expect them to. They are retail employees.

Home depot & Lowes hires a lot of kids right out of high school. When I was just getting out of high school several of my friends worked at those stores. None of them had any experience that was any different than those working other big box stores like Walmart & target.

I have a friend of a friend who works at HD in the plumbing aisle. He knows nothing about plumbing. I hear stoies from my friend about the bad advice that this guy gives out. He also has an MBA and is now working for $8 per hour.

When I was remodeling my kitchen many years ago, I added an over the range microwave and had to run a line and add a circuit. I asked the "electrician" at HD if a 15 amp was enough or should I go 20? He said that "15 amp is plenty". When I opened the microwave box about a week later, I was shocked to see that a 20 amp circuit is required. I had to replace the line from the kitchen all the way to the panel in the basement and replace the circuit. That was fun.

I never really need any advice from these stores beyond asking if they have a specific item in stock.

Most times I cringe hearing advice they gave less experienced shoppers.

The plus side, they are open on weekends and they have a great return policy.

I worked at Home depot over 15 years ago.  When i was hired i had helped with installing carpet with a friend so they put me in the Floor and Wall department.  I worked there for almost 4 years and by that time i knew all the basics of all departments, but became a flooring expert.  Home Depot did do training and most of my experience came from being self taught and getting involved with any projects i could get my hands on.  Fast forward to present day and i have built/renovated lots of homes and have a deep understanding of how all materials work and their purpose. 

I know you say BIG BOX STORES, but what about contractors who show up to bid on jobs  and you have to interview to see if they know what they are doing?

I think it comes down to the individual and not just the store itself.I think that if you have a great understanding of a trade you would not want to work for a few dollars an hour when you could have your own company making much more.  I have meet over the years some knowledgeable individuals in these stores who could work for a big company or themselves but chose not too.

 I am sure there are a ton of knowledgeable experts in these stores, but you just have to find them.

Just my 2 cents

They should be required by law to say "Im just here to stock the shelves"

I have found more experienced staff at Menards, Ace and Do it Best...  Not sure if you have any of these retailers in your area but they seem to have better employees.

I'm a huge fan of HD for everything behind the wall.  Finish work is a different story.  As a builder I can walk in to any house and point out what aisle they found their lights/trim/tile etc and how much they paid for it.  For finish work I go to pro shops because I can get better quality and uniqueness.  And I know I'm getting top shelf advice.

@Sam Leon  I get your complaint and I sympathize.  You obviously know what you're doing when it comes to home repair.  With that knowledge you've also developed some standards.  You said you like rigid plumbing connections.  That's great, but the employee was correct in saying shark bite connectors are code and are faster.  All the plumbers I use prefer them and I use them all the time and have never had a problem.  Is it possible that you've become a little cynical?  Please, I'm not judging.  It's hard to not find idiotic behavior everywhere.  But having to look just a little longer for the right connector or fuse or what-have-you isn't all that bad, is it?

A DIYer asking advice from a Home Depot employee is the same thing as a trade professional asking advice from a DIYer, the results are going to be highly variable and highly unpredictable.

Wow, I am just surprised any of you actually found an employee at HD.  When I go there no one is in their departments,  so I an many other people beg a cashier walking to break to send someone over.  It seems the resident "plumber" or "electrician" is ALWAYS on break. When the guy gets there he is faced with several angry customers holding various pieces of merchandise all with twenty different questions.   

I prefer Menards, but there are not many of them in my area. 

Among my responsibilities while I worked at Menards was hiring for my department. The above posts with comments like, "this is a retail job" and "they make $12 an hour" are spot on. Finding quality employees is tough, regardless of the industry you're working in, and let's be real - if you came into my store to fill out an application, it's not because you were "looking for a career change", or "always wanted to work at a big box retail store". It's because you're in between jobs or didn't have enough experience to get work anywhere else. If you were a journeyman plumber who made $70k last year putting pipes together, you're lying to me when I ask "how long do you see yourself working here?" by answering "about a year" or "as long as you need me". That guy lasts a maximum three months on the job, and truthfully, generally isn't very good at stocking shelves, learning product, or showing up to work on time. As a hiring manager, I'm looking for the guy who looks good, smells good, has a friendly demeanor, can carry a conversation, and tells me he shows up to work on time. I have a better shot with that guy than I do with the one who is going to leave me for bigger and better in a couple of months or less.

From the consumer's perspective, the expectation that the employees of big box stores should be an encyclopedic representation of what the consumer just read on Google is far from realistic, and from my perspective - unfair. The "resident expert" that was mentioned above should never be confused with the guy who wrote Google. The resident expert is  the guy who has been there the longest, read the most product labels, and knows where most things are kept. His word should be rock solid on those types of things, not "Will this Dewalt battery work in the Rigid charger I bought 6 years ago?" or "If I do this or that, will I meet code?" The consumer would never go into a grocery store and start asking the kid stalking asparagus for dieting tips and the right caloric formulas for weight loss, just because he's responsible for stocking produce and knows how to properly identify a gala or fuji apple. Why anybody would expect journeyman electricians to stock shelves in similar environments is weird. 

The OP's complaint about the hand held scanner is fair. I can see how that would be frustrating. I can not talk about the inventory systems at Lowe's or Depot, but I can talk about Menards. We had a "floor count" and an "overstock count", which came to a "at-store total count". The product on the shelf and in the mega racking both fell into the "floor count". For various reasons: receiving error, theft, lack of accountability - the floor count gets thrown off. If I made a comment like 'if I have it, it's up there' it means the computer is telling me I don't have any "in the back", and may have some on the floor that aren't actually on the shelf, so the only place I could have it is in the mega rack. Big Box inventory is hard to keep accurate, and I would get bonuses for having an 80% or better audit on my inventory. Departments like Hardware, Electrical, Plumbing are INCREDIBLY hard to get bonuses in. 

My question for @Sam Leon  , why even bother calling HD about the ceiling fan? Why not call Hampton Bay directly? They know their product better than anybody else does.

Originally posted by @Josh Jacobsen :

My question for @Sam Leon , why even bother calling HD about the ceiling fan? Why not call Hampton Bay directly? They know their product better than anybody else does.

Josh, that is because there is NO Hampton Bay.  Hampton Bay is a Home Depot brand.  They source it themselves - most likely in China - and put on the Hampton Bay label.  It can only be purchased at The Home Depot and their contact is The Home Depot.

Originally posted by @Adam Stanton :

@Sam Leon I get your complaint and I sympathize.  You obviously know what you're doing when it comes to home repair.  With that knowledge you've also developed some standards.  You said you like rigid plumbing connections.  That's great, but the employee was correct in saying shark bite connectors are code and are faster.  All the plumbers I use prefer them and I use them all the time and have never had a problem.  Is it possible that you've become a little cynical?  Please, I'm not judging.  It's hard to not find idiotic behavior everywhere.  But having to look just a little longer for the right connector or fuse or what-have-you isn't all that bad, is it?

Hi Adam, me cynical?  yes it's possible.  My day job is in engineering so I tend to look at "code" as minimum standards and most times not necessarily best practices.

As a rule, I don't allow any mechanical joints behind walls or underground.  I don't care if it's a flared joint, threaded joint, compression joint or "quick fits" like shark bites.  Does it mean I don't ever use Sharkbites?  No I happen to have a bunch of them in my tool boxes because they come in handy in many situations.  I have used Sharkbites as a quick fix in underground copper line breaks where tree roots strangled the pipes, or in tight corners in the attic where if it would be dangerous to solder with so much flammable insulation around...etc, but in all cases those are emergency fixes to get tenants off my back, then I'll leave and think of a real fix and come back to do it a day or two later.  I just don't like it when it has an o-ring in it that could one day fail and leak.

In my opinion, sharkbites, like AAVs studor vents are great "last resort" type solutions to solve impossible situations.  I know of no self respecting plumbers who would use shark bites "as a rule" in plumbing supply lines.

But back to my original point, is that "Ron" didn't even ask what the application is.  I was looking for a 3/4" copper male adapter because the shelf for it is empty.  They carry it, it's either misplaced or out of stock.  I expect him to look for what I asked, but when he just grabbed a sharkbite without knowing what I am going to use it for, I think it's irresponsible.  What if I am using it to connect to a water heater's T&P valve escape line which down here in some areas still requires hard pipes.  His answer to the guy asking the difference between a PVC drain elbow versus a PVC supply elbow is down right dangerous.  I cannot imagine the guy buying a supply elbow to connect to his lav sink and end up with a flow impeding "lip" in his drain system or realized he can't snake his line later.

I don't have an issue if someone is not experienced or not knowledgeable and just say they don't know, but walking around giving bad advice is just irresponsible.

@Josh Jacobsen  

Well put Josh. I have made a few comments in this thread about HD employees not knowing anything about the trades not to bash them, but because if they did know something about the trades they would not be working at HD. HD wages are much lower than tradesman wages.

HD is a retail store & there will be retail employees working in it. A customer expecting anything more will only be disappointed.

While I understand some of the pushback from those in the industry, I've spent a lot of time in Depot and Lowes.  By and large, the workers don't know what they're doing and have no hands-on experience, which in this business, you absolutely need.  I worked at an ACE for 7 1/2 years through high school and part of college and we actually had people working there that were plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, etc.  Not everyone was experienced but the knowledge from the few guys in each department that were rubbed off on everybody else.  

I don't walk into Depot or Lowes with any expectation other than to ask someone where to find a product.  I usually know what I'm looking for and how to use it before I get there.  I'm not disappointed that they can't provide advice, I've just come to realize that most aren't proficient enough in their departments to be able to do so.  

To give credit where it's due though, there are a couple Depots around me that are starting to focus more on customer service and workers actually walk up to you and ask if you need help.  I never take them up on it but some stores are definitely stepping their game up.

I have two different Home Depots that I go to most often. One has a master electrician working there. He knows everything electric, but is kind of a jerk. Home Depot should really send him to a Dale Carnegie class. The other HD has a guy in the plumbing aisle that's a retired plumber from the Navy. He knows plumbing inside and out.

If you learn a little about the workers, you will know where to go when you need free advice. You Tube is also a great resource.

Around my hood, Home Depot has the smartest "trade" employees. 

My grandson and I think Home Depot is an excellent resource for free popcorn or hotdogs every Saturday.

Don

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