Last night two new folks were scheduled to close Customer Service and Paint, respectively, and as someone with experience in both, I was scheduled to train them both, at the same time. This is a fantastic plan that had no way of backfiring whatsoever. As I stood in the blinds aisle cutting vinyl blinds because all the Flooring folks were at lunch, with no one but a cashier in Customer Service, and Bernard, the new Paint guy, standing next to me asking how to make paint samples, I reveled in how good of a plan this was.
Just take a moment to unload that previous sentence, because there’s a lot of information in there, my goodness.
I actually spent most of the evening in Paint. For the first half of my shift, the Customer Service supervisor, Lashawnia, was working, so I could be away from the Customer Service desk. Then after that, there was just the cashier behind the desk, and I was there to answer any questions or to cover difficult cases. Because the new guy in Customer Service didn’t show up. So there was no one to train.
Not that Paint was much better.
When it came to the actual Paint-specific aspects of the work, Bernard did okay. It was his second day in Paint, so he had a lot of product-specific questions. He didn’t know how to build an order, and that’s okay, because there’s a lot to learn. He seemed to pick up on it and was doing pretty well building those orders by the end of the night. I told him several times that it was okay to ask questions and not know, because there’s a lot to know. If anyone from Home Depot showed up to chat, I made sure to introduce Bernard and tell them that he was doing a good job, because new folks need to be told that.
When I came back from lunch, I needed to take over Customer Service. So I walked the Paint aisles with Bernard. I gave him a basic tour of the four aisles, told him which products were the ones customers asked about the most, and which bays needed the most work. He said he knew about front-facing (pulling merchandise to the front of the shelf and lining it up to make it look good). The Paint department head, TJ, and told me specifically to make sure he understood this concept, because a lot of the new Paint department folks don’t do front-facing. So I did my best to make it sound like most of what we do is front-facing.
“So if something is in the wrong place, do I just put it in a cart and then put it away later?”
“I usually just walk it back to its correct spot,” I said. “But if putting it in a cart and putting it away later is what you need to do, then go for it. That’s a good idea.
“This should take you the rest of the night,” I told him around 7:30. “Heck, most of the time I don’t even finish front-facing. So just pull everything to the front, keep an eye out for customers, and every once in a while check on your returns.”
At 8:30, when I was in the middle of helping a customer find his order, Bernard walked up to me.
“I finished front-facing, what do I do now?”
I told him to hold on. I finished with the customers (their order was actually at the other Durham Home Depot). Then I went and walked the aisles with him.
He hadn’t finished front-facing. In fact, I’m not even sure he had done any work at all. Boxes of merchandise were still sitting in the back of the shelves, waiting to be pulled forward. There were tubes of caulk and bottles of glue leaning over. I found gloves and spackling sitting on the wrong shelves. Cans of paint were sitting on the floor. Boxes of sandpaper were sticking out into the aisles. Brushes were hanging backwards.
But, you know what? He’s new. He doesn’t know how to tell if a shelf looks good or not.
So I stood there with him and pulled some boxes of caulk forward, while explaining what I was doing. I pushed some sandpaper back. I combined two boxes of glue into one and put the now-empty box into the cart of empty cardboard boxes. I walked the spackling back to the spackling bay, and then showed him the returns boxes at Customer Service. So I showed him, physically, what to look for, and how to fix it.
I didn’t see him again for another hour. I don’t know what he was doing for that hour, but it wasn’t cleaning the aisles, that’s for sure. Next time I saw him was after I paged for him overhead to come make some paint for some customers.
“What do I do now?” he asked him when he finished with them.
I decided to show him how to fill the dispensers. He said that he had worked in a hat-printing shop for a while, so he knew how to do that. And he did, in fact, know how to work that aspect of the job. He did a fine job there. I made sure to emphasize to him several times only fill the containers if you can see four paddles and don’t leave quarts of colorant partially empty, use the whole thing.
I texted James, since he’s an assistant manager in a retail environment. I told him that I had first explained what to do, then showed Bernard what to do, and he still hadn’t done it. I was honestly flabbergasted about what to do. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be the bad guy, bitching at him about how messy everything was. On the other hand, everything was messy and I didn’t want to do everything myself. I’ve been take advantage of before. What do I say? How do I say it?
James told me that I had done everything correctly and that the only thing left to do was complain to his supervisor. Guh.
Bernard left at 10:00, which was when his shift was over. So I spent the rest of my shift cleaning the aisles. I worked mostly with the sandpapers, glues, and the applicators, pulling as much stuff forward as I could. I left the store knowing that everything still looked like crap, but I had only had an hour to work on it, and like I told Bernard, front-facing is a never-ending task.
At about 10:30 the cart o’ cardboard boxes was so full it was starting to topple, so I decided to walk it to the back, even though that’s usually something I do at about 10:50. On my way there I encountered Kelly, the department head of Electrical. When I started at Durham Home Depot, she was the head of Paint, and we’ve struck up a friendly relationship. After all, she’s Kelly M and I’m Kelsey M.
I told Kelly about my struggles with getting Bernard to clean the shelves and how frustrated I felt about it. She said that getting Paint workers to do work on the shelves was a never-ending struggle. The other new guy, Chris, always just hung out at the Paint Desk. She would regularly set him to some task, only for him to do the bare minimum amount of work and then go back to the desk.
I told her that last time I worked with Chris, it was an opening shift and I had had to show him how to do the Safety Checklist (which is fine, it’s easy to forget to tell new people about the Safety Checklist, so it was good that I showed him). Chris had done the checklist then went back to the desk. So walked up to him and told him that when I opened, I usually worked on Aisle 3 (so I could keep an eye on the Paint Desk) or on Aisle 5 (which always needs work). Chris had said, “Yeah, Aisle 5 is always a mess,” then went back to his phone.
“Why didn’t you tell him to put his phone away and get to work?” Kelly asked.
“We’re both hourly associates,” I said. “We’re equals.”
Kelly shook her head. “I think of you as a Lead Associate,” she said. “You can tell people what to do.”
I honestly had no idea what to say to that.
I remember last summer, I spent an hour or so doing nothing but cleaning the glue shelves. I organized and front-faced all of the shelves, pulled more glue down from the overhead, etc. Afterwards I gathered up all the cardboard and walked it to the cardboard cart over by the desk, only to look at the two associates there and realizing that they had just had a rush of customers.
“I’m so sorry, if I had realized you had a rush I would have helped,” I said.
One of the full-timers, Don, told me that it was okay. “You were doing work,” he said. “We handled it alright. That’s what we like about you, you’re one of the part-timers who actually does things.”
At the time all I could think about was how I hadn’t checked on the desk to see if there were customers. But now, remembering my frustration with Chris and Bernard, I understand where he was coming from.