Today’s Boston Globe carried a major news story about Sprawl-Busters legislation that would require stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart to report incidents of injuries and deaths in their stores, and issue hard hats to prevent head injuries from falling merchandise. Home Depot considers such incidents are private, proprietary information (see www.boston.com/globe/newengland and search for “Home Depot”). In the Globe article, Wal-Mart admits that in 1998 it had as many as 2,500 customer injuries in its stores, while Home Depot refused to make its figures public. But in November, Home Depot held a meeting in Atlanta for securities analysts, called “Intelligent Growth”, and according to the National Home Center News, “the quality of Home Depot’s instore customer service has become its most exposed Achilles Heel”. The company is therefore expanding a program it has experimented with in 6 stores that allows store workers to spend most of their time helping customers, rather than stocking shelves. The NHCN quotes Robert Burton, a Senior VP at Home Depot, as saying the new customer service program “is really a return to basics. We want to emphasize the shopability of the store, and want to put the stores into a ‘grand opening’ position every day.” The magazine then adds: “That means cleaning up the clutter and chaos in the aisles that is often caused by the need for stores to put away merchandise during work hours.” The story says that Home Depot is therefore asking its vendors to deliver merchandise after work hours, and using a night crew at the store for receiving and stocking store shelves.” Burton told the magazine that the new program will make life easier for the “aprons”, because their work will be more focused on helping customers. The plan also makes shopping at Home Depot less imposing for customers, Burton says, because “the forklift putting away merchandise is the exception rather than the rule. And instead of having 50, 60 pallets around the store during the day, there’s one or two, tops.” The NHCN refers to this program as “the cleanup campaign” at Home Depot, and says that a year from now the Home Depot stores in Atlanta will begin receiving products at night. This is one “cleanup” that is long overdue.
There is no reason why stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s can’t stock their shelves after most of their customer traffic has left. The experience of the past five years suggests that many shoppers have been needlessly injured or worse from this style of “warehouse” format store. Home Depot should not be allowed to operate heavy equipment in shopping aisles between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm. My legislation is forcing companies like Home Depot and Wal-Mart to publicly discuss these safety concerns. Home Depot carries many things in their store, but “clutter and chaos in the aisles” should not be one of them. In the Boston Globe story today, both Home Depot and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts took shots at the Sprawl-Buster. “‘We know Al Norman,’ said Home Depot spokesman John Simley, laughing. ‘He’s a professional opponent of development’.” The Retailers Association added: “Any chance he gets to sell some books or take a shot at a couple of companies, he’ll take.” In this case, its seems to me it’s shoppers who are taking the hits, and every retailer should be prepared to make its injury or death statistics public. What is Home Depot hiding?