Home Depot has a requirement that all employees, even c-suite executives, must work a Store day.
It's as simple as it sounds. You have to work for a single day as a frontline employee in a Home Depot store.
It was only for a single day. How bad could it be?
This Is Easy!
I arrived at my assigned store at 6:30 AM. I walked in and found the MOD, which I learned stands for the manager on duty. I was already learning some retail lingo! She asked me if I had a preferred section to work in that day, and I told her that I did not. Colleagues informed me that both paint and keys were super easy and fun to work in. Still, I wanted an authentic retail experience, so I decided against picking a section. Throw me to the wolves!
The MOD told me to start fixing the aisle she was standing next to, which happened to be Light Fixtures. For the next two hours, all I did was go down item by item on the shelves and rearrange them and make them look professional and presentable.
I had reorganized the entirety of light fixtures shelves by about 8 AM, and I remember thinking to myself:
"This is super easy! I've got to tell the team!"
I ended up sending a braggy little text to my team back at corporate:
"If you want an easy store day, work in light fixtures!"
My team lead responded with:
"Dude, it's only 8. Power Hours!"
I remembered from orientation that Home Depot's power hours were between 9 AM and 1 PM. It's when most people do their shopping.
Because I am a moron, I attributed the lack of people to the section I worked in. Who comes into a store to look at ceiling fans at 6 AM?! Nobody!
The First Customer
My very first customer interaction set the tone for the rest of the day.
By 8:30, the store was packed with people. I retreated to my aisles that I was now at least vaguely familiar with. I decided that if I was going to try and be helpful, I should probably be inside the aisles I had spent 2 hours rearranging. I went looking for my first customer of the day.
To my delight, I found an elderly lady casually browsing the aisle that had the outdoor, sidewalk-style lights. Like these. I casually walked up to her, and this is roughly how the interaction went:
Me: "Hi ma'am--can I help you find anything?"
I waited at least 10 seconds before repeating myself a bit louder.
Me: "Ma'am? Do you need any help finding anything?"
It was a thrilling affair. Was I invisible? I couldn't be sure. I decided to leave her to it, and I wandered the other aisles searching for a human that could at least confirm that I was vibrating somewhere on the visible spectrum.
No luck. There were no other customers on any of the other 3 or so aisles. I walked back over to the elderly lady, and I paused to ensure she was breathing before I decided to approach for a third time.
Me: "Hi! Need help reaching or finding anything?"
She sloooowly turned to face me the way a battleship turns to reorient itself at sea. She gave me the once-over.
She let the word out like a door slowly creaking open, and paused for another eternity.
Her: "I'm looking for like a plug, but...not a plug? You know what I mean?"
Keep in mind that this was my first customer contact of the day. As someone who finds most things pretty funny, I wanted to absolutely bust up laughing, but I somehow held my tongue.
Me: "Um, I wouldn't even know where to start with that description. Let me ask you another question: What are you trying to do? What project are you working on?"
Her: "Well, I'm trying to hook up my outdoor Christmas Lights."
I didn't have any clue where to start, so I thought about what outdoor lights needed.
Me: "Do you have your extension cords and stuff set up already?"
Her face lit up like the sloth in the movie Zootopia.
Her: "An extension cord! That's what I need. Where are those?"
At this moment, I still didn't know how on earth you get "plug, but...not a plug" out of an extension cord of all things.
Me: "I'll take you to them on the condition that you show me what you meant by 'plug and not-a-plug.'"
I couldn't help but smile. The old lady nodded, and we meandered over a few aisles to the extension cords, and I gave her one. She looked at me and held up the cord's male and female ends, gesturing at each end.
Her: "See? It has a plug side...and a not-a-plug side!"
There it was.
After this demonstration, I realized she couldn't have been any more clear if she had tried. To this lady, her description was perfect.
After seeing what she meant, I learned an important lesson. Genuinely understanding someone's perspective is hard, but sometimes they'll show you. It's also occasionally hilarious.
This Guy Wants The Nuts
A little while later, I found myself in one of the aisles helping a customer who was riding one of those motorized shopping carts. She was having trouble reaching something, but she was having even more trouble explaining to me what she couldn't reach.
Cart Lady: "That one. No, that one. The doorbell!"
Me: "Left, right, up, or down? I think these are all doorbells."
Cart Lady: "You were just on it! No, not that one. Not that one either."
I heard a voice from behind.
Nutso: "Hey man--uh--do you know where the KROH-NER nuts are?"
Imagine a man wearing a straw hat with grass hanging out of his mouth in a pair of overalls. He didn't actually look like that, but he sure did sound like he looked like that.
I didn't actually realize he was speaking to me, so for his first question, I accidentally ignored him.
Nutso: "Hey, you! Worker! Do you know where the KROH-NER nuts are?"
I turned to face him, realizing he was talking to me.
Me: "Um, I'm helping this lady right now, and if you--"
Nutso: "I just need to know where the KROH-NER nuts are. Do you know what aisle they're on?"
I was mid-sentence! Clearly, the guy was in a hurry, and I remembered from that morning that nuts and screws were on aisle 9, so I told him they'd probably be on aisle 9, and off he went.
Anyone with actual home improvement knowledge (i.e., not me) is usually baffled by the type of nut he was looking for. Upon investigation, it seems that perhaps he meant Kohler nuts, but I remember distinctly hearing KROH-NER. Maybe it was his super southern drawl. I hope he found his nuts.
DO YOU WORK IN POWER TOOLS?
It's now approximately 1PM, and I have arrived back from lunch. While helping someone in light fixtures, I made the mistake of physically walking with them over to nuts and screws to show them where to find the type of screw they were looking for. Walking over to nearly the other side of the store wasn't the problem. When I walked back to light fixtures...
Tools Man: "DO YOU WORK IN POWER TOOLS?"
Well that guy is a little loud, hope everything's alri--
At this moment, Tools Man puts his hand on my shoulder and physically turns me, so I'm facing him. Oh. He was talking to me. That's a bit forceful. Not okay.
Tools Man: "DO YOU WORK IN POWER TOOLS?"
Me: "No sir, I don--"
Tools Man: "DO YOU KNOW WHO DOES? YOU ARE LOSING CUSTOMERS, SIR. THEY ARE WALKING OUT OF YOUR DOORS RIGHT NOW, SIR."
Me: "No sir, but I'll go find them for you."
Suppose the man who was responsible for this forceful dialogue is somehow reading this. In that case, I want to say that I promise I did try to go and find who works in power tools. I was, unfortunately, unable to locate them.
Climbing The Not-So-Corporate Ladder
When we are told about the store day, we are offered no special training to be a store associate for a day. We're told about a day to show up and little else. The whole thing is honestly a bit of a mess. I don't remember being informed about tasks I was not allowed to do.
So when a lady came up to me and asked me if I could get something from the overstock section, I told her I'd go find out what I could do. The overstock section at The Home Depot is above the normal shelves. It's approximately 20 feet off the ground. It requires a ladder to reach the smaller boxes or a forklift for anything a human is incapable of holding safely on a 20-foot tall ladder.
I hurried around and tried to find the MOD but was unable to locate her. I asked at least 4 employees whether or not I could use the ladder to get stuff from overstock, and none of them gave me more than a shrug. Nobody seemed to know anything about whether or not I could help out. I am not the type person to walk back empty-handed, and I had seen the ladder-stair-thing earlier in the day, so I went to find it.
I eventually did find it, and I dragged it all the way back to the aisle where the lady needed her overstock product. I have no clue how to properly use one of these ladders, so I wasn't quite sure how to lock it into place. I saw a metal bar thing near the bottom, so I kicked it a few times until some legs swung downward that seemed to act as ladder-stair-thing brakes. Overstock Lady seemed worried, so she spoke up.
Overstock Lady: "Are you sure you're allowed to use this ladder thing?"
Me: "I'm actually not, but nobody else seemed to know either, and I couldn't find the manager on duty, so I'm just going to wing it."
Overstock Lady: "Well, I know several people at Home Depot's corporate office and I don't think you're supposed to be up there."
My heart was suddenly beating out of my chest. All I could think was that this lady was actually a plant to see if I was breaking any rules throughout my store day. I acted like nothing was wrong.
Me: "Well, that may be, but I don't think you'll be able to get your item you want any other way."
Overstock Lady: "I mean, you're not supposed to be up there, but you are also literally the only person who's tried to help me, so I really appreciate it. Please don't fall off."
We went back and forth until she helped me figure out which fan she wanted, and I brought it down to her with no trouble. Then I took the ladder-stair-thing back to where I found it, and nobody seemed the wiser.
Later, I found out that I wasn't supposed to use the ladder-stair-thing because I wasn't covered under workman's comp insurance. Whoops.
- Everyone has a unique viewpoint of the world, and if you take the time to listen, you might get a laugh out of it
- Treat retail employees with respect--they don't get enough of it.
- Don't take yourself too seriously. People can be goobers! Roll with it!
- When you bend the rules to help out, people are usually extremely grateful. Don't be afraid to be a go getter!
These should be taken with a large grain of salt. I knew going into this experience that my retail journey was only going to last a single day. That drastically affected my attitude about the experience.
These types of stories probably stop being funny for the warriors out there who work in retail every day. I can only imagine how exhausting it must be. After this experience, any retail workers have my utmost respect. I didn't even talk about how badly my feet hurt from standing up all day long. How long does that take to get used to?