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The Customer Service Advantage: Innovative Learning Solutions

How do you mold a large workforce with a significant part-time segment into experts in home improvement so customers get the answers they need every time they walk in the doors of The Home Depot?

It requires committed associates, strong leaders, and innovative learning solutions.

The Home Depot offers innovative professional development programs for our hourly associates – many of whom are part-time and don’t have the time or the desire to consume lengthy learning solutions. We reach over 40,000 associates each year via our Distance Learning classes that build competence and confidence in areas such as merchandising, selling skills, operations, etc. The speed, reach and consistency achieved with this delivery platform have served our associates and customers well.

In addition to equipping our hourly associates with the skills needed to be successful, we also need to develop strong leaders.

Cultivating and Supporting Effective Leaders
The vast majority of first line leaders at The Home Depot are promoted from the ranks of the hourly associate base. They are excellent at serving customers and have extensive product knowledge. But they may never have come into contact with a store P&L or had the responsibility of motivating a team.

Putting them in a position to lead others – many of whom are their peers and friends – without the necessary leadership and business training would be setting them up to fail.

We created Home Depot University to develop leaders who serve their teams and create an environment where associates want to work and customers want to shop. We created Fundamentals to give leaders foundational survival skills training within the first 90 days of their new role.

After Fundamentals, leaders continue to build effectiveness through other learning solutions. We have introduced two programs that support our goal of developing strong leaders. Both are custom learning programs developed by one of our University partners, Bellevue University, and both offer college credit.

The first is a 36-credit-hour learning program in Professional Retail Management (PRM) that combines current academic concepts in retail management with Home Depot specific context, examples and assignments. The program is for Home Depot associates only so participants create and maintain strong networks with fellow associates from across the company PRM stands alone as a certificate or associates can build on the 36 hours to earn a bachelor’s degree. They can also leverage tuition assistance to help pay for this unique learning opportunity.

Because associates can apply what they learn immediately, almost all of the graduates report vastly improved confidence. Many PRM graduates have been promoted to new jobs within our company.

“I learned so much about the business of retail. I’m a lot more confident when I’m talking about merchandising, when I’m talking about financials – and when I’m training and coaching associates. Now I look at the store differently – the concepts I learned from PRM I take back to my team so we can apply them real time. ”
– Chris Wilson, PRM Graduate and District Manager at The Home Depot

Support for the First Rung on the Leadership Ladder
A new leadership program just launched by The Home Depot is DS-LEAD. This program was developed specifically for Department Supervisors to give them a greater ability to impact store success. Department Supervisors play a critical role in our company. In addition to overseeing businesses within our stores, they help set the tone for customer service and are responsible for building and leading effective teams.

DS-LEAD is a short education program from Bellevue University and consists of two college courses in business acumen and leadership skills. Like PRM, its foundation is leading edge business management concepts contextualized to The Home Depot. Just launched last fall, Bellevue University and The Home Depot worked very hard to make this program affordable and accessible to all of our Department Supervisors because we believe that, like PRM, it will have a huge impact on the confidence and acumen of our first line managers.

Comments from DSs in our first class indicate that it will.

“I was taught so much that I have been able to use in my day-to-day operations. My whole outlook on leadership has changed. Using real-life scenarios made it easier for me to make the transition from school to work.”
– Robert Carter, DS-LEAD graduate and Department Supervisor at The Home Depot

Keys to Learning Programs that Create Business Impact
At The Home Depot our learning team is focused on creating confidence and empowerment through knowledge so that we can better take care of our associates and customers.

There are four key steps that support our vision.

1. Define the problem. Identify issues that are getting in the way of our associate’s ability to take care of our customers and each other and go after those.

2. Choose the ‘right’ solution. Understand the environment our audience is operating in so we can develop solutions that are relevant and will be executed in the way they are intended.

3. Clearly articulate the outcomes expected and delivered. Each of our learning programs has clearly stated outcomes. It’s the only way we know – and our leaders know – that we are making a difference.

4. Work with solid partners to help bring the strategy to life. We are fortunate to work with a partner like Bellevue University who has the business acumen and flexibility to create custom programs for us.

Finally, while the business impact of our learning programs is essential to The Home Depot, our associates are at the center of every decision we make and every action we take. Along with evaluation metrics, we know that we have the opportunity to enhance the lives of our associates. They are able to earn a college degree, learn how to be effective learners, leaders and coaches and feel an overall sense of fulfillment that makes their world richer.


Michelle A. Thompson is Director, Learning, at Home Depot University

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Going direct: VF shows retailers how to grow

BY CSA STAFF

After opening 75 stores in the fourth quarter and with expectations for 150 units this year brand powerhouse VF Corporation has emerged as one of the nation’s fastest growing retailers.

VF is best known for brands such as The North Face, Vans, Timberland, Wrangler, Lee and Nautica that are sold through other retailers. However, rapid store expansion in recent years has seen the direct-to-consumer business steadily account for a larger percentage of sales.

That was the case in the fourth quarter when VF added a record 75 units, compared to 53 stores in the fourth quarter the prior year. Store openings accelerated throughout the year with 23 units added in the first quarter, 41 in the second quarter and 49 in the third quarter. The additional selling space drove a 25% increase in sales and caused the direct-to-consumer business to account for 32% of fourth quarter revenues of $3.6 billion. That’s up from 29% in the fourth quarter the prior year and on a full year basis the direct-to-consumer business accounted for 26% of revenues of $12.3 billion, versus 22% the prior year. “Our powerful brands and the competitive advantage of our business platforms combined with our relentless focus on operational excellence delivered another year of strong returns for our shareholders,” said Eric Wiseman, VF chairman, president and CEO.

“Our four largest brands – The North Face, Vans, Timberland, and Wrangler – along with many of our other brands, were strong performers as we grew our business in every region and channel around the world.” VF ended the year with a total of 1,401 locations and with another 150 units planned for this year the direct-to-consumers business is expected to account for 28% of the company’s full year revenues. The additional selling space will help, but VF said it is also counting on an unspecified level of same store sales growth and a 30% increase in e-commerce.

“2015 will be another great year for VF. Our fundamentals have never been stronger and despite the strength of the U.S. dollar, which will continue to pressure our reported results, we expect meaningful growth in every region around the world,” Wiseman continued. “Our consistent and proven, powerful-brand, powerful-platform approach to business gives me tremendous confidence in our ability to further increase competitive separation for our brands and provide sustainable, long-term returns for our shareholders.”

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Food Lion recognizes top talent

BY CSA STAFF

Rhonda Mauldin was selected from more than 1,100 Food Lion store managers for the retailer’s highest honor.

Mauldin, who is the store manager of the Food Lion located at 1004 W. Georgia Road in Simpsonville, S.C., is Food Lion’s 2014 Store Manager of the Year.

"I really don't think of myself as an exceptional store manager; however, what I do think of as exceptional is my team," Mauldin said after receiving the award."They really are the reason I'm here today and I'm honored to accept this award on their behalf."

Mauldin was honored at an annual event at Food Lion's headquarters in Salisbury, N.C., which was attended by her family and colleagues. This is not the first time Food Lion or the grocery store industry has lauded Mauldin for her outstanding leadership skills. She received store manager excellence awards for her work both with Bloom and Food Lion stores in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014. In addition, Mauldin received Progressive Grocer's Top Women in Grocery award for the Store Manager category in 2014.

Our store managers are the face of Food Lion to our customers," said Meg Ham, president of Food Lion. "Rhonda personifies this every day by running a great store, teaching and training associates, mentoring future leaders and caring for our customers and her community through outstanding service. Her store is always one of the top stores in donating meals and time for her local food bank. She is an exceptional leader, has developed an outstanding team, and is so deserving of this honor. We're proud to have her as part of the Food Lion team."

Mauldin has worked in the grocery store industry for nearly 30 years. To honor Mauldin and her exemplary community service, the company will donate $2,000 in Mauldin's name to her store's local feeding agency, Harvest Hope Food Bank, in Greenville, S.C. Mauldin and her team support this food bank with food donations and volunteerism throughout the year.

Food Lion, based in Salisbury, N.C., since 1957, has more than 1,100 stores in 10 Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states and employs more than 63,000 associates.

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