Looks Deceiving, New Store Doing Well

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Despite a seemingly empty parking lot, and construction delays that postponed the opening of the maligned roundabout intersection, The Home Depot is doing better than expected, said store manager, Shane Monahan.

The Home Depot's current boom hasn't been without its pitfalls, especially in the first few months of opening.

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Despite training challenges and the roundabout's construction, The Home Depot's manager, Shane Monahan says business is good.

The most common complaint about Home Depot is that its employees don't know enough about the goods they sell.

Jackie Stancil said she tried Home Depot but gave up after the employees were rude and didn't know enough to be able to help her find what she needed. "They didn't want to mess with me," she said.

Kenneth Wall said he prefers Ace Hardware because the employees know hardware and how to help their customers.

"(Ace Hardware has) got everything," said Kenneth Wall. "They've got the greatest help in the world."

Training new employees and overcoming the learning curve have been the biggest challenges for the store's management, Monahan said, but he's confident that his store is overcoming the problem.

About 100 employees were hired locally, while 20 transferred to Payson from other Home Depot stores.

"Generally in new stores it takes six to seven months to get everybody up to speed on training," he said.

A big part of that break-in period is giving people time to get comfortable in their surroundings coupled with monthly training sessions to help employees become proficient with some of the more complicated tasks, like entering special orders into the computer.

Part of the problem is that employees are trying to balance the responsibilities of a new job with quick customer service, Monahan said.

"I think a lot of our associates feel like they're rushed," he said.

Even though Home Depot is still finding its legs, so to speak, it seems the people who like it aren't deterred by the new employee break-in period.

Bryan Miller, a flooring contractor, said he normally buys his materials wholesale in Phoenix. But when he can't make it to the Valley he can save time and avoid multiple stops by shopping at Home Depot. "If I'm short on (materials) I can get it all here," Miller said.

Judy Chlupsa said she tried other stores, but Home Depot is the only one that carries a weed eater line she needs. If it wasn't for Home Depot in Payson she'd have to drive to the Valley for it, Chlupsa said.

But while Home Depot works to train its employees there are some challenges that will simply have to be worked out over time.

Some of the problems are beyond employee control and have more to do with corporate policy, like the discount extended to veterans over the Fourth of July weekend.

People get frustrated that a big corporate store, unlike smaller local businesses, doesn't have the freedom to make exceptions and extend the discount to everyone, Monahan said.

While some customers still ask if Home Depot had a hand in putting in the roundabout as opposed to a traffic light, the roundabout hasn't had any long-term effect on business.

Since the roundabout's opening in May, Monahan said customer traffic in the store has doubled.

Monahan speculated that some of the extra customers are seasonal visitors to the area, but one thing is clear, Monahan's store isn't suffering from a long-term sales slump.

"We're a lot farther ahead than corporate thought we would be," said Monahan.

Business impact

The Home Depot opened in late March, amid concerns that the hardware super store would have a negative impact on smaller operations.

Although The Home Depot is Payson's only big-box home improvement store, area business owners and managers are saying the decline in sales that many predicted hasn't materialized.

Klay Clawson, general manager of Foxworth-Galbraith, said some products haven't been selling as well in recent months, like paint and lumber, but business overall is still strong.

"(Sales) are actually not off as much as we thought they would be," Clawson said. "It's always been that our focus is with the contractor, the builder."

John Patricia, owner of Ace Hardware, said he has increased the mailings and other direct marketing materials he sends to existing Ace Hardware customers even though The Home Depot hasn't had a significant impact on his store.

With 55 stores in Maricopa County, Ace Hardware has found a way to compete with big-box stores. And part of that strategy is offering specialty services that The Home Depot doesn't provide, like fireplace sales and service, Patricia said.

The specialty services offered by The Home Depot, like custom cabinet and carpet installation, aren't offered by Ace Hardware, but are offered by Foxworth-Galbraith.

"Our niche, simply put, is the convenience service end of the spectrum," Patricia said. "And we're doing quite well at it."

Ace targets customers undertaking smaller home improvement projects who want to get in and out of the store quickly, Patricia said.

Patricia also said The Home Depot's presence in town is a positive move for Payson.

Customers who were once driving to the Valley for cabinets and carpets are now spending that money in Payson, which means it stays in Payson, Patricia said.

"For the most part we keep doing what we're doing," Patricia said. "We've got a successful formula."

Monahan acknowledges that there is a stigma associated with a large corporate store opening in a small town, but he's working to overcome that problem by building a friendly atmosphere and a strong relationship with the surrounding community.

"I think sometimes (being personable) gets overlooked because it is such a large corporation," Monahan said. "It's just going to take time for us, for people to realize, ‘yeah, it's a corporation but it's a neighborhood store.'"

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