Are Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement Stores abandoning homeowners?

The Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement Stores play up the idea of helping home owners make their home remodeling ideas become a reality. However, there's something entirely missing when you visit one of their stores.

On April 24, 2007, Business Week reported that home retailers giants Home Depot and Lowes revenues were down due to a slow housing market. The principal reason stated in the article was that home owners are rethinking major home remodeling projects since the real estate market is in the dog house.

  There is another reason that sales may be down that is not really written about. Perhaps Home Depot and Lowes have been abandoning homeowners who do small home remodeling projects and traditional home improvement. That's the impression that I am getting and here's why.

Not a Good Experience
If you are into remodeling and home improvement, you have probably experienced being in Hell or Purgatory by being stuck in the local Home Depot or Lowes Home Improvement Store. These large retailers and others like them offer relatively bargain prices that few smaller stores can compete with. But you do pay a price and a steep one at that if you value your time.

I'll start with Home Depot since I do more business with them than Lowes. This is just a matter of location and not preference. Home Depot Stores are located closer toward the Washington DC metro area. Lowes Home Improvement Stores are farther out in the suburbs.

When you come into the Home Depot, you are immediately asked if you want to get an estimate on replacing windows, an air conditioner, etc. No one asks, how can I help you today. I find this very annoying. There must be something in the Home Depot Manual that says "Don't be helpful unless the customer spends big bucks on the following products and services."

Lowes is no better. The stores near me don't ask you about siding, windows or installing new air conditioners. You just have to go in and navigate until you find what you need or find someone who can tell you where to look.

Wouldn't it be great if when you came in to either store, that there was a desk where you could ask where something was. Giant Foods, a grocery food chain, has such a desk in the front of the store. They are very helpful. Perhaps Home Depot and Loews' management can go to the Bethesda Maryland store and see this in action. If Lowes or Home Depot associates can't be bothered assisting me, then at the very least, give me a card that shows the major aisles and where things are. Again, follow the lead of grocery stores.

When you finally find help....
If you are like me, after awhile you have to ask for help. This is a big disappointment. When I ask for a widget, I am directed to aisle 43 left hand-side. I am never taken there. I must have the eye sight of a peregrine falcon to find what I need on aisle 43 from the 10,000 items that are stocked there. The real places that are difficult are hardware, plumbing and electrical. Both Home Depot and Lowes don't score well here. However, on occasions Lowes' staff will take me to the aisle and show me what my choices are. That gets my vote and sends a strong signal that Lowes values my time and me as a customer.

Does Management watch their Television Commercials?
Home Depot and Lowes are supposed to be the place for do it yourselfers. Their television commercials give you the impression that the stores not only provide the tools and materials but also the expertise. NOT SO when it comes to expertise at least here in the Washington DC area.

I just don't think that either Lowes or Home Depot staff really live up to their image. The exceptions are the Millwork Department in both stores where you can order windows and doors. There are also certain employees that have good instincts for custom service. For example, a friend of mine was going to install drywall on the ceiling of his garage. If it were not for a helpful Home Depot Associate who asked what was above the garage, my friend would have bought the drywall that was not fire retardant. The Home Depot associate steered him to the 5/8 inch fire retardant drywall.

No matter what anyone tells you, you really need to do research on your home improvement project and have a basic knowledge before beginning your project. You just can't fully depend on either store to advise you.

Why aren't they in a rush to take my money?
On average I am in Home Depot for about an hour and 20 minutes every time I go there. At least 15-20 minutes is spent standing in line to jut pay for things. If you think contractors have it easier, you are wrong. On busy times, only one cashier is on the contractor's check out side which handles lumber and larger items.

Having to wait in line so long is absolutely terrible. I can't figure out why Home Depot or Lowes are not in a hurry to take my money. Maybe it's because we don't walk out. Believe me, there are times I do want to walk out and I am sure others do also.

An Alternative to Home Depot and Lowes
There are occasions when I need a small part that I go to Strosniders Hardware in Bethesda Maryland. The staff there are very knowledgeable. There is a desk as you enter the Bethesda Store where you can ask where something is. Once you are on the aisle, you can easily find their helpful staff. They hire a lot of people and they are extremely knowledgeable. Their sales people will not only will take you directly to what you are looking for, they'll ask what you are trying to do and work with you to make sure what you want will actually work.

Now, I know that the prices in Strosnider's are higher than either Home Depot or Lowes, but I might be saving money in the long run. That's because I am in and out of Strosniders in less than 15-20 minutes and I think that my time is better spent doing stuff then standing in line waiting at a Home Depot or Lowes Checkout.

Recommendations for Homeowners
If you have a small home improvement project, don't waste your time going to the Home Depot and Lowes. They really are not set up to cater to you. In the long run, you'll waste more time their and erode any savings from their cheaper prices.

Not all Lowes or Home Depot Stores are the same. If you find a store that is more customer friendly or has more knowledgeable associates, by all means go to that one. You might also let the manager know why you shop there instead of the store that is closer to you.

Recommendations for Home Depot and Lowes Management
Home Depot and Lowes need to decide if they still want to cater to small home improvement and do it yourself homeowners who do small to moderate home remodeling projects. If they do, then they should do the following:

  1. Establish a Help Desk at all of your stores to get us pointed in the right direction fast
  2. Get your staff to take customers directly to the aisle and point out what the customer is looking for,
  3. Train your staff to be knowledgeable about certain departments- plumbing, electrical, hardware,
  4. Have a department manager around to answer the more technical questions,
  5. Stop making us wait an eternity to check out. Open up those registers and take our money,
  6. Have staff available to assist with loading heavy items, and
  7. HJave rope and shrink wrap readily available.

Lowes actually called us and discussed this article. See Lowes' response.