Here to Help

— Interview with Christina Cornell —

The Home Depot, which remains open during COVID-19, prioritizes the safety of its employees and customers, while still getting the job done.

 

Christina Cornell, The Home Depot

The Home Depot is the world’s largest home improvement specialty retailer, with 2,292 stores. Whether facing a natural disaster or pandemic, the Atlanta-based retailer remains an essential business, so its stores stay open. In mid-April, Retail & Restaurant Facility Business interviewed Christina Cornell of The Home Depot about its business response, how it has adapted store operations, safety measures that have been implemented, and what other retailers can learn from its protocols.

R&R: How are you guys hanging in there? Are all U.S. Home Depot stores still open for in-person shopping or select stores?

Christina Cornell: We’re designated as an essential retailer in the communities we serve, so we’re keeping stores open just as we always do during times of crisis and natural disaster. We know that homeowners and businesses depend on us for urgent needs such as hot water heaters, refrigerators, electrical and plumbing repairs and weather items like tarps, propane and batteries.

In the past month we’ve heard countless stories from customers who needed to fix a broken toilet, repair a leaking doorframe and replace an appliance that stopped working. One of our stores in Florida took a call from an elderly customer whose refrigerator wasn’t working right. They listened to what was happening and figured out the part he needed. Because he didn’t want to leave his home to come to the store, an associate drove the part to his house that day.

R&R: The Home Depot acted quickly at the onset of COVID-19. Please discuss the safety measures you implemented back in March. How have they continued to keep customers and associates safe?

Cornell: The safety of our associates and customers has always been at the center of our decisions. We’ve had a task force, led by our Medical Health Management team, looking at this situation from all angles since January. Since that time, we’ve introduced many new safety measures, operational changes and expanded benefits for all hourly associates.

For example, we cancelled all of our spring promotions to avoid driving foot traffic to our stores, closed stores early to give associates more time to clean and restock, and introduced several new social distancing measures in our stores. We’re also giving associates thermometers and asking them to perform health checks before coming to work. If any associate is sick, we’re asking them to stay home, and we’ve provided additional paid time off to encourage them to do so.

R&R: The Home Depot was also forward-thinking and fast-acting when it came to enhancing employee benefits during this unprecedented time. Please tell us how these benefits have been received, from expanded paid time off and bonuses to waived copays…

Cornell: We believe that when you take care of your associates, they’ll take care of customers and the rest will take care of itself. We’ve made many resources and benefits available to all hourly full-time and part-time associates like expanded paid time off that can be taken at any time for any reason until the end of the year. We are then giving additional paid time off to hourly associates who are 65 or older or have a health condition that puts them at higher risk.

Our associates are working incredibly hard, and we recognize their commitment to each other and to their communities, which is why we’re providing weekly bonuses as well as double-time pay for all overtime hours worked.

We know that many parents are struggling to find care for their children with schools closed. So, we’re expanding our backup dependent care benefits and have waived the copay.

R&R: You are also completing fulfillment orders for hospitals, donating PPE and so forth to support local communities. Tell me how that has been going so far.

Cornell: The work of our health care providers and first responders is truly heroic. As hospitals made the public aware of the shortages of N95 masks, we redirected all shipments to be donated to hospitals, health care providers and first responders. We’re donating millions of dollars in personal protective equipment and other products across the country to those groups.

Masks and PPE are the priority, but the needs go beyond that. For example, a major metro police department reached out to us in need of rain ponchos and boot covers. We were able to provide those products quickly, so they could focus on their roles on the front lines.

We’re always impressed by how our associates in local stores live our values and build strong relationships in their communities. One of our stores in Baltimore heard that a nonprofit that houses the families of children being treated at Johns Hopkins needed a new freezer. Since meals for the families couldn’t be delivered anymore because of coronavirus, they needed more space to store food. The store donated the freezer and several minifridges and delivered them the next day.

R&R: How have you mobilized your supply chain to aid the COVID effort?

Cornell: Our supply chain has done a phenomenal job pivoting and adapting to increased demand in certain product categories and greater demand for customer delivery. Our distribution centers are working extremely hard to replenish items in our stores and prioritize the most essential items.

R&R: Are you implementing more curbside pickup or delivery in your stores? One-way aisles with social distancing inside the stores themselves?

Cornell: We’ve implemented numerous measures to promote social distancing in our stores. We’ve cancelled our major spring promotions to avoid driving foot traffic to stores, limited the number of customers allowed in all stores, assigned social distancing captains, signage, floor markings, PA reminders, and even badges for associates that remind customers to stand 6 feet apart. We’ve been closing our stores early so stores can deep clean and restock.

We’re certainly seeing increased demand for curbside pickup and delivery. We’ve been offering same-day delivery options since 2018, and we’ve been able to expand that service to even more stores as demand increased in the last few weeks. We’ve also expanded curbside pickup to the majority of our stores nationwide.

R&R: What is your advice for retailers trying to stay in business during this time? I realize not all retailers are the same; for example, grocery stores must remain open. Is The Home Depot fortunate that its products are deemed essential?

Cornell: As an essential retailer, we know the communities we serve look to us to provide vital products, which is why we’re committed to keeping stores open just as we always do during times of crisis and natural disaster. If you have a plumbing leak, or if your hot water heater goes out, hardware stores become incredibly important to find urgent repair needs. Plus, a lot of Pros depend on us to continue serving their customers.

For The Home Depot, we’re solely focused on 1) keeping our customers and associates safe and 2) continuing to serve our customers and communities. Those two principles have guided all of our decisions throughout this crisis.

R&R:  Are you expanding your digital strategy/online sales during this time? How are you approaching that?

Cornell: We’re seeing an increase in online shopping, as you would expect. Our interconnected customer experience has been a key priority for our business for several years now, and we’ve made significant investments in this area. We’re also seeing real benefits from the investments we’ve made in Buy Online, Pickup in Store (BOPIS). We’ve added curbside pickup to our BOPIS capabilities, and with the increase in demand for curbside, we’ve been able to extend this option to the majority of our stores. Finally, our investments in supply chain and delivery have really benefited our customers who are choosing to shop online and deliver items to their homes.

R&R: Please share some hope and encouragement, as you see it, for retailers struggling during this time.

Cornell: We’re all in this together. It’s been inspiring to see our associates and communities take care of each other during this very difficult time. As with any crisis, as businesses and as individuals, we’re forced to focus on what’s most important, to act quickly, and to adapt. If we continue to keep our focus on doing the right thing for our people and our customers, the everyday decisions become much easier.

 

SIDEBAR:

THE HOME DEPOT’S BUSINESS RESPONSE TO COVID-19

The Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, made several changes to its business in response to COVID-19, as it announced on April 1, 2020.

“As our communities battle COVID-19, The Home Depot is committed to providing the essential needs required to maintain homes and businesses while doing our best to protect our valued customers and associates. This has resulted in several temporary changes to our business as we look out for your safety and the safety of our associates,” said Craig Menear, chairman, CEO and president, in a statement. “We want to thank our associates and our customers for their patience and cooperation as we work through this challenge together.”

Safety Measures
The company has instituted several measures for the safety of its customers and associates, including:

• Closing stores early to allow more time for sanitization and restocking.
• Limiting the number of customers allowed into stores at one time.
• Promoting social and physical distancing practices in stores by marking floors and adding signage to help customers and associates maintain safe distances.
• Eliminating major spring promotions to avoid driving high levels of traffic to stores.
• Limiting services and installations to those that are essential for maintenance and repair needs in impacted markets.
• Distributing thermometers to associates in stores and distribution centers and asking them to perform health checks before reporting to work

Expanded Benefits for Associates
The Home Depot has introduced several benefits enhancements to take care of its associates. To date, the company has:

• Added 80 hours of paid time off for all full-time hourly associates and 40 hours of paid time off for part-time hourly associates to be used at their discretion at any time in 2020 and paid out at year-end if not used.
• For associates who are 65 years of age or older, or determined to be at higher risk by the CDC, added 240 hours of paid time off for full-time hourly associates and 120 hours of paid time off for part-time hourly associates to be used at their discretion at any time in 2020 and paid out at year-end if not used.
• Providing paid time off for any associate who has contracted COVID-19 until released by a doctor.
• Providing up to 14 days paid time off for any associate required to be quarantined by a public health authority or the CDC.
• Providing additional bonuses to hourly associates in stores and distribution centers — $100 per week for full-time hourly associates and $50 per week for part-time hourly associates.
• Providing double pay for overtime hours worked by hourly associates.
• Extended dependent care benefits and waived co-pays.
• Asked all associates in store support functions who can work from home to do so while continuing to support our frontline associates.

Supporting Communities
• Several weeks prior to April 1, voluntarily froze pricing nationwide across product categories in high demand due to COVID-19.
• Executed a “Stop-Sale” on all N95 masks in stores and www.HomeDepot.com and redirected all shipments to be donated to hospitals, healthcare providers and first responders around the country.
• Donating millions of dollars in personal protective equipment (PPE) and other products to hospitals, healthcare providers and first responders.
• Prioritizing order fulfillment for hospitals, healthcare providers and first responders.
• Marshalling the resources of our merchandising and supply chain teams to globally source quality products and expedite the availability of needed items.

SOURCE: The Home Depot

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