Monday, June 14, 2004

Home Depot vs. Lowe's

The fight for market share, even in a market the size of B'port, is serious business.

In the titanic struggle between newcomer Home Depot and entrenched stalwart Lowe's, this is played out in the smallest of ways.

I was buying paint. Blue paint of a certain shade. I told the clerk that the shade of blue was nearly identical to the garish color of her fingernail polish. But I omitted the word "garish" so as not to offend the young woman, who probably was powerless over whatever force led her to paint her fingernails blue.

Yet, she protested that the blue paint I was buying wasn't anywhere near the color of her fingernails.

They looked blue to me, maybe purplish blue, but I didn't quibble. Still, she went to say that she'd get fired if she painted her fingernails blue.

"Oh yeah, why's that?"

She rolled her eyes and took an exaggerated deep breath, and then went on to explain that blue was the color of their competitor, located right across the street -- Lowe's.

"Oh, yeah."

Yeah, she said.

She went on to tell a story about a colleague who works in an office setting at the new Home Depot, whose color scheme is orange. I'm pretty sure I know what office she's talking about. It's located right behind the Customer Service desk and has a picture window, allowing customers to see inside, where more often than not a woman is sitting at a computer and working the telephone.

Anyway, the lady who works in there wanted to spruce the office up a bit, and paint its bare white walls a different color. She wanted to paint the walls her favorite color, evidently to make it more homey, but unfortunately, her favorite color is blue -- the color of Lowe's.

The boss forbade her to paint her office walls blue.

"And blue's her favorite color," the clerk said, again, for emphasis.

I was beginning to get the impression that this was one of those small battles in a business setting that takes on a lot more significance than it is worth. But significant it was to this young woman.

A certain segment of the employees, at least the ones who give serious thought to what their favorite color in the whole wide world is before finally deciding what that color might be, probably were chatting a lot on their coffee and cigarette breaks about management's unilateral decision not to let the office worker paint her walls blue. Oh, the injustice! And no union stewart to grieve to! Ahhhgh.

Like the clerk said to me, a perfect stranger, "Who would want to paint their office bright orange?"
"Well, I guess that wouldn't be my choice," I offered, not wanting to further escalate the paint color debate.

What if local management let the office lady paint her office blue? Would that have sent the wrong message to its customers, who, peering through the picture window, would ask themselves, `Hey, that blue wall in there makes me wonder if I'm shopping in the right place. I'm taking my business across the street to Lowe's!" Probably not, but what if the regional manager was in one day, spotted the blue wall, and asked the office lady why in the hell she painted her office walls blue? She'd say her manager said it was OK! Right? Better to cover your ass, so in our view, the local manager made the right call. Always cover your ass.

Alternatively, what if the office lady, upon hearing that she couldn't paint her office walls blue, just let the issue slide and didn't mention it to any of coworkers, in order to foster harmony in the workplace and a create a positive, cooperative working environment for management and workers? Are you crazy? Then what would they have to talk about on their coffee and cigarette breaks!

1 comment:

Jen said...

I was just searching for some information on Lowe's and Home Depot's different corporate cultures (for a business class I'm taking), and I came across your blog. Hilarious, to say the least! :) Don't know if it will impress my instructor or not (though the "article" is interesting!), but I may just include a link to it in my bibliography! ;)