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The Orange Promise

The Home Depot is one of the greatest business success stories of the past quarter century. Founded in 1978 in Atlanta by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, the company grew to more than 1,100 stores by the end of 2000. It reached the $40 billion revenue marker faster than any retailer in history. The company’s success stemmed from several distinctive characteristics, including the warehouse atmosphere when you enter these orange stores and providing store managers and associates extreme independence, which in turn promotes innovation and establishes an intimate experience for the customer.

As a current sales associate in the paint department, I have grown accustom to the values The Home Depot uses to govern their enterprise. One of the values is the “inverted pyramid” that dates all the way back to the company’s roots. This pyramid illustrates the opposite of what most large corporations preach- as far as hierarchy is concerned.  The inverted pyramid places customers at the top and the CEO at the bottom; with the front-line associates, field support, corporate support in the middle.  The goal behind this unorthodox strategy is to place customers as the ultimate concern. The Home Depot strongly believes if they “put customers and associates first, the rest will take care of itself.”

The Home Depot may be a home improvement haven to some, however it doesn’t always receive such ravishing reviews. This home improvement store poses as quite the “retail nightmare” to one thoroughly disappointed customer on a website designed for customers submit reviews on their experiences with businesses. While scrolling through the Home Depot section of the website, I was met with an overwhelming abundance of one-star, disgruntled customer complaints. This website is updated quite frequently; a recent review left on April 15, 2017 states: “Bogus information was given to me on the online chat…I am ready to cut up my Home Depot card and close my account. I do not plan to shop or step in a Home Depot ever again.” The criticisms don’t stop there. Commonly used words in these posts included “Dissatisfied” “Hassle” and “Mistake”. Many customers highly recommended “buying elsewhere”.

As a current employee working in the paint department for a year now, I am no stranger to customers lodging complaints – both in the store and over the phone. Some days I feel like a therapist more than a sales associate. Even though I can relate to a customer irritated by a faulty piece or dissatisfied with the color of paint they bought, these are not the criticisms I normally receive. Believe it or not, the thing customers seem to be most disappointed with is myself.


Whenever I mention in conversation that I work at The Home Depot, I am usually met with confused laughter or questioning of some sort, as this is not a typical job for a 20-year-old female. My job entails roaming the three aisles of the paint department, merchandising the shelves, answering any questions that customers may have, and of course, mixing paint. There are very few shifts where I am able to work without receiving at least one snarky comment or man gawking from afar- like a vulture honing in on its prey. It doesn’t take long before one of the vultures swoops in for an attack. It dives down off its perch and claws at its victim with the ultimate prejudice. The vulture doesn’t stop there. Just when you think it’s all over; that you’re safe, it comes back with even more wrath. It’s strong, curved beak jabs at you with more and more foul discrimination. Then it leaves. Just like that it has vanished; with absolutely no remorse, and you’re left alone, confused, and afraid. Perhaps this is an over-exaggeration; however, this is how I frequently feel after many encounters with male customers.

“Are you new here?” “Do you know what you’re doing?” “Is there anyone else in the department now that can help me?” These are all questions- and genuine concerns-  I’ve been asked by an abundance of male customers that make their way into the paint department. Some men seem to have no problem blurting out these insulting remarks for everyone in the store to witness. These are the types of snide comments that have me envisioning spewing an equally malicious remark right back. But alas, I smile and answer their chauvinist questions with poise and respect. The customer is always right…right?!

Yes, I’d have to agree, a 20-year-old women isn’t the first person you’d anticipate when walking into a giant warehouse to buy spackling and sheetrock, but give me some credit. These men seem to forget I’ve been through the exact same training as everyone else in the department, and in fact, I’m more technologically savvy with the computer software than most of my elderly coworkers. Such training consists of a two-weeks worth of computer course and quizzes. Associates are not allowed to set foot onto the sales floor until they have passed several assessments. Each course varies depending on the department you are training for. The courses I completed were packed full of knowledge on every type and brand of paint we supply, which sheen to use depending on location, everything one would need know about stains, and all the products used to complete a customers’ painting project including primer, tarps, and rollers.

Not only do we have to be knowledgeable about the products in our aisles, we also must be competent in mixing paint. Many customers have the common misconception that the paint stocked on the shelves is already tinted. However, the base paint is white, and it takes the skill of an associate to mix it by hand. This task is completed using a computer hooked up to a paint machine, which dispenses the tints into the can of white paint. Before one dispenses the tints, all information must be input into the computer software. The computer takes you through a linear step of options that the employee must manually select. These options include: brand of paint customer wants, the sheen, location, quantity, and finally, the color. After this is completed, the computer prints out label with a base number that corresponds with a paint base on the shelves. The associate is then responsible for retrieving that paint can, bringing it to the machine, and dispensing the tints. After the machine is done dispensing, the associate must secure the lid and place it in a shaker machine which mixes the can vigorously for 3-5 minutes. If any of these steps are skipped or done incorrectly, the entire can of paint will be ruined.

Different quantities of paint are needed depending on the area a customer wants to cover. The paint is available in sample sizes (8 oz.), quarts, gallons, and 5 gallons. The 5 gallon containers weigh around 60 pounds, and whenever I lift one in front of a male customer, a series of uncomfortable scenarios unfold. Most of the time, the customer will run over and try to carry the load for me. I will often deny this help with a “oh, it’s okay, I got it”, partially due to my extremely stubborn nature and partially because I feel uncomfortable allowing a customer to share part of the labor. As the employee, it is my responsibility to ensure each customer is pleased when they exit the store. It would feel unprofessional to allow a customer to do a portion of my job for me. However, I do recognize there may be good intentions behind this request. Some of the male customers mean well, and genuinely want to help. Even so, the same issue prevails: these men only go out of their way to assist me because they believe that I cannot lift the bucket without their aid. Even though some of the elderly male associates in the department could benefit from this act more, I have never witnessed male customers assisting a male employee.

The Home Depot hired me because they know I am competent of the job and possess a great deal of intelligence, yet for some reason I must prove myself to most customers; it’s almost as if they are testing my knowledge before they allow me to help them. Is it because I’m a woman? While the policies of The Home Depot preach diversity, many customers still hold a sexist stereotype and engage in discriminatory behavior.

“Diversity is the unique set of differences and similarities that our associates, customers, and suppliers bring to The Home Depot. Inclusion is welcoming and accepting differences to ensure that associates, customers, and suppliers can openly share their perspectives and bring their whole selves to The Home Depot every day.” I completely support this awareness; yet there’s always a lingering aftertaste of exclusion when I have encounters such as the ones I’m talking about here. Where, as a competent and devoted worker, is my inclusion?


I am not the only individual suffering from these gender stereotypes. I work with two other young women in the paint department who both have faced similar experiences. It is common for any of us to be addressed as “babe”, “beautiful”, or the most nauseating of them all: “sweetheart”. Considering my name is written in bold black ink across the top of my apron, I don’t see how there could be any confusion. They didn’t seem to have much trouble finding Tim’s or John’s name on their apron. There is a time and place for such names- and referring to any worker on the floor of The Home Depot by a pet name will never be appropriate. Ever. Not only does this reek of a power play, it is extremely objectifying and condescending. Calling a stranger “babe” or “beautiful” insinuates they are only valued for their outward appearance, and completely eradicates every other positive feature they possess, especially their ability to perform on the job.

People want their legacy to be epic- to impact others’ lives in an incomparable way, not to be remember by something as shallow as having a pretty face. When I’m at work, I want to be regarded and treated as a vital member of the team. I often feel like a joke when a customer calls me one of these pet names. It strips me of everything I have to offer the world, which is completely unfair and frustrating. I am a functioning, competent human with a brain and thoughts; I have aspirations and goals as well as fear, doubt, and guilt. How dare somebody boil all that down to something as superficial as my gender, age, or appearance.

After all this, you might be thinking “Why don’t you just quit if working there is that offensive?” That’s the thing- it’s not always offensive. In fact, there are many aspects that are quite lovely; one of them being my coworkers. Despite being the youngest by at least decade, I have formed some great relationships – dare I say friendships – during my time at work. From the first day of training, I felt a continuous sense of community. Even though Home Depot is a melting pot of ages, cultures, economic classes, and belief, there is still unity amongst us all. I like to believe it is our differences that are the strongest uniting factor.

Despite the occasional ill-mannered male customer, a silver lining remains: the strong community atmosphere amongst coworkers. Since day one, I have felt nothing but unity and support from everyone I work with. This is a vital element in The Home Depot’s success. This family-like mentality is infectious on the customers, and subsequently, one is much more likely to invest their time and money into a company when they feel at home- especially when they are purchasing items for their own residence.

I have discovered throughout my time working at The Home Depot that many of my coworkers disclose a great deal of information to me. Much of this information is more than just the mundane chitter chatter between fellow employee. In fact, I have seen many of my coworkers in a light many of their closest friends probably haven’t. For instance, Tucker*, a young man I work with- around 40 years old- has shared with me sobering stories of his past. He had a very rough home life to say the least, and ended up homeless at the age of 16. Alcohol, drugs, and even theft were used as ways of coping and staying alive. These disturbing anecdotes were all disclosed as we eagerly mixed paint for customers and organized the aisles in the department. After my shift had ended, I pondered the knowledge I had acquired and why it had been disclosed to me. I barely knew this man, yet he was comfortable (or desperate?) enough to share the depths of his darkest days.

Then there’s Allison*. Her frail physique greatly contrasts with her hard-headed, demanding attitude. Even though Allison has made it clear that she struggles financially, she will do anything to get out of work. When the department head notices the lack in Allison’s productivity, and provides her with a task to complete, she often grumbles under her breath in annoyance. Allison will hunt me down afterwards in order to rant and blow off some steam. "I cannot believe Jim* is making me merchandise the aisles again. This is so pointless and so boring." Yeah, I know right? How dare your boss hold you accountable for doing your job while you’re at work. Realistically, I’ll respond with a quick "Thank goodness there’s only a few hours left!”  In addition to Allison’s difficult personality, her health is also increasingly problematic. At age 29, Allison should be at the peak of her physical condition. However, her incessant cough and decaying, discolored teeth reveals otherwise. The scare of being hospitalized several times does not phase Allison; and she ironically proceeds to take a smoke break right after.

Perhaps one reveals this depth of information about themselves at work, or to strangers on the street, because they have nothing to lose and a lot on their plate. Chances are you’ll never cross paths again, or won’t have a close relationship outside the workplace. However, it should not be ignored that great friendships can blossom at work, and they have blossomed for me at The Home Depot, yet it usually stays within the confines of the store. Personally, I always have pleasant shifts with fellow workers, but at the end of the shift, we’ll clock out and so does the friendship. There is no risk and complete reward in this method. One can safely share information - and perhaps advice on the matter- without having to worry about the other individual’s impression of you.

I often find during my time working at the Home Depot, I am able to escape the daily plague of stress. The work is never easy; however, it can be used as a diversion from a troublesome reality. When I get into an argument at home or am feeling troubled, I am often rejuvenated by the interactions with my coworkers, and whatever was troubling me doesn’t seem as severe.

Life working at The Home Depot is complicated, but full of many learning experiences. Throughout my time working as a sales associate; my people-pleasing disposition has transformed into a self-assured mindset. Just like The Home Depot, our world is full of countless people with an array of values and morals. I have learned that a number of these values cast upon me while at work will not align with my own, and a few will be downright offending; however this is only a reflection on the character of the individual casting the remarks.

Working at The Home Depot incorporates me into a community I have never been exposed to before. This sales associate position acts as a magnifier into the lives of customers and coworkers. Even though many encounters have left me angered and defeated, these experiences have strengthened my mind and confidence. Working in a male-dominant environment forces me to adapt. I am no longer hesitant to defend myself, but also know when to let things go. I am learning to pick my battles; sometimes saying nothing is the best response. This realization has empowered me, and I am now liberated from past injustices and able to move forward. Working at The Home Depot is my first glimpse into the “real world”. Facing these unfavorable encounters at The Home Depot, has prepared me for facing the same type of insults further down the road. I am grateful for these experiences because they are proof that I am on my way to becoming a more self-sufficient and confident individual. Voicing my opinion at The Home Depot, especially towards those older, has provided me with an unshakable dose of confidence. I remind myself of these encounters outside of the workplace when a peer or other individual is challenging my competence. As I blaze my trail through life, I will be met with a plethora of obstructions; it is how I choose to deal with these obstructions that ultimately defines my character.


* All names have been changed to protect identities. 



Works Cited

"The Home Depot." Jobs. Indeed, Dec. 2015. Web. 01 May 2017.

Speculations, Great. "Home Depot: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017.

Pines, CA Rachel, FL Howard Deland, and GA Gregory Fairburn. "Home Depot." ConsumerAffairs. 20 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

"The Home Is Where Our Story Begins." The Home Depot. The Home Depot, 15 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017.

Farfan, Barbara. "Home Depot Fun Facts, History, and Home Improvement Retailing Trivia." The Balance. 07 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

Boyatzis, Richard E. "Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership." Research Gate. Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2008. Web. 01 May 2017.

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