Home Depot will take anyone that is willing to smile and ask follow-up questions. They can tell you what the right follow-up questions are. They can teach you the keywords to listen for in the customer’s response. They can tell you to put a smile on your face. But they can’t tell you how to get that smile on your face. No, that has to come from you.
So people who work at Home Depot are pretty friendly, chatty folks. Everyone is always happy to see you. It takes some getting used to when you find out just how friendly everyone is. When people you don’t know greet you by name and ask how you’ve been, stopping and chatting with you, it’s weird the first time. After a while you just roll with it. There’s a lot less griping amongst Home Depot employees, from what I can tell. Sure, we all have Stupid Customer stories and complaints about idiotic policies from Corporate — but none of us really complain about our jobs.
This is a consistent rule of thumb for everyone except the people in Lumber.
Now that is really only true at the Durham store where I work currently. At the Fairfax City store, all the Lumber people were hard-working and friendly, if annoyed at the chronic understaffing of their department. But at Durham, that’s where they stick the young, able-bodied men for whom this is a first job or nearly a first job. They’re here to pick things up and put them down, and they know it, and disappear for hours at a time.
Admittedly it’s usually hard to track down people working in Plumbing or Electrical as well. Electrical is understaffed, and all the Plumbing associates are either running trucks in other parts of the store or hiding in the breakroom, ignoring their phones and resenting us for being young and energetic. But once you have them, they give you great service. And admittedly there are folks in lumber who are full of the Home Depot energy, but Khiry is usually working trucks in another part of the store too.
About two weeks ago I was wandering around in Lumber. It was slow at Flooring, so I was looking for wood for my dollhouse. I suppose I could have been doing something more productive, but I was excited about this new project.
A woman approached me, carrying a large stack of Composition notebooks. She had heard from a fellow teacher that we could cut these notebooks in half, thereby halving the amount of money she had to spend on notebooks for her kindergarteners. I did the only thing I could do, and did a general page for someone in lumber to meet us at the saw. I kept the customer occupied by asking questions about preparing for the school year until someone finally showed up.
It was a guy I hadn’t really met, although I had seen him around. He’s ageless, but not in a good way; he could be an ugly 20 or a young 40. No matter what time of day it is, he always seems covered in a layer of dirt. I feel like I’m being unnecessarily cruel. Something about him seems off, is my point.
He announced his presence by stepping in the middle of the two of us. He smiled at me. “What do you need?” he asked.
I gestured at the customer and said that she wanted notebooks cut in half, and she had heard that we could do it.
He was still smiling at me. “We don’t cut notebooks,” he said. He still hadn’t looked at the customer.
The customer began rattling off all the teachers she had heard who swore up and down that they had had notebooks cut at Home Depot, that it even said on the internet, and if they were cut in half she could use one half for math and one half for writing practice. Meanwhile, he was still looking at me.
I gestured at the customer again and said that surely we could try it. What could it hurt?
The conversation continued for a few minutes; he barely glanced at the customer except to look at the notebooks. He directed all his comments at me. I gestured frequently to the customer, trying to get him to look that way.
Finally he sighed, took the notebooks, and walked it over to the table saw. He cut them in batches while I kept up the conversation with the customer. I worked it smoothly into the conversation that, you know, I have experience as a Teacher’s Aide if one was ever needed and she said that I should have applied, they had had trouble filling TA positions. (by the way I applied to a whole bunch of TA jobs in Wake County today)
The cuts went perfectly. There wasn’t even slivers around the edges. The customer left, satisfied. As soon as she was gone, the lumber associate rounded to me, smiling. All I could think of was getting back to Flooring, to where my job was, away from him. He started telling me why he wasn’t in lumber when I made the initial page. I started walking towards the middle aisle. He sauntered along next to me. I was walking quickly, but he’s tall enough that a saunter could match my brisk pace. He asked me how I like Home Depot and Flooring and I gave neutral answers. When we got to the aisle I prayed silently that he wasn’t going to walk me all the way back to Flooring. Instead, he gave me a formal good-bye and walked away.
I mentioned the whole conversation to James. He said that I should report it to management. I said that he technically hadn’t done anything wrong. He was just sort of creepy.
Today I was working in the Blinds aisle, which for some reason is in the Flooring department. I was pulling boxes down from the overhead and filling up shelves with blinds. The Blinds aisle is right next to the breakroom, and as this lumber associate was leaving the breakroom, he saw me and started walking up the Blinds aisle. He said hi and I said hi. He asked how I was and I said fine, how are you?
He forced the conversation to continue, asking me about my night and how late I was working. Lots of people exit the breakroom and walk through the Blinds aisle. They also greeted me and asked how I was doing. But none of them stayed. Those conversations were conducted in Doppler. This conversation was a radio tower.
I turned my back on him and worked. I kept my answers neutral and as brief as possible. I didn’t want to have a conversation with him. I hate the way he looks at me. I thought, get the hint and walk away. Get the hint and walk away. Finally he left to go back to work.
On one of my days off last week, I visited Lowes to pick up dollhouse supplies (because I am shameless and would rather drive five minutes than twenty-five just for brand loyalty’s sake). Since it’s hot down here, I was wearing a short sundress. I had recently showered, so my hair was at its curliest. I had shaved my legs and armpits that morning. And I was wearing makeup. In short, I was as cute as I could be. And I was walking around the lumber aisles of Lowes. Lots of guys did double-takes.
I mentioned this to James that evening.
“Ah,” he said. “That must be good for some ego boosting.”
I thought about it. Finally I said, “No. No it didn’t really boost my ego at all.”