Home Depot holds analyst meeting

Customer service was again the chief topic of conversation for Home Depot executives, with an added in-depth discussion of the retailer’s distribution network at the annual Home Depot analyst meeting, held today.

In addition to his usual talk on “Aprons on the Floor,” the retailer’s initiative to help improve customer service, Home Depot CEO Frank Blake discussed other factors in customer service, such as store appearance, that impact perception by consumers.

“We don’t have to have an environment that’s like a Target, but [our customers] do want a clean and uncluttered store,” he told analysts. He also reiterated company initiatives to focus on core DIY products, a commitment that led to, in the past year, selling HD Supply, closing Home Depot Landscape Supply stores and closing the retailer’s floor stores. The company also has ongoing plans to refocus home services.

Craig Menear, executive vp-merchandising, discussed the importance of proprietary and exclusive brands to sales in stores. He highlighted programs with Andersen Windows, Ryobi tools, Behr paint and Thomasville kitchen cabinets and flooring. He also said a recently launched patio furniture program from Thomasville has been a “tremendous success.”

Chris Webber, an analyst with J.P. Morgan, asked about the revamping of distribution centers, a major nationwide Home Depot initiative. Webber likened the process to a difficult operation, as though “you’re replacing your arteries over a very short period of time. What are your fears in that process?”

Mark Holyfield, senior vp-supply chain, said, “We don’t have a lot of worries about the capabilities of the system,” but the retailer is more worried about training the people who work within that system quickly, he added. “We’re building a distribution culture. We’re setting up an academy to train managers to be sure that they know what they need to know about running a Home Depot RDC,” he said.

The analyst conference, held in Atlanta, concludes today at 11:30 a.m.