HD gets rid of Kitchen Designers in store!

live_wire_oakAugust 7, 2013

We're hosting a NKBA chapter meeting at our store next month, so I've been hitting some of the design shops to issue personal invitations. I also know several box store designers, so they were next on my list this week.

I went into one of the HD stores in the Memphis market only to find the KD there working in the adjacent department and no one at all in the kitchen department. I don't want to be too specific here in the identity, because I don't want to cost this person their job for giving me this information.

I know the person fairly well, so we got to talking. I was told that if the designer were to do a design for a customer, "they'd fire me." Well, call me flummoxed! I was pretty shocked, because they used to be all about getting their KD's certified to earn customer trust, and this one earned a certification.

Seems like this was a test market, and now they're rolling this out nationwide.

If you want to buy kitchen cabinets from HD, you'll have to do that online and through the phone with a remote designer in Atlanta. They're shoving the entire responsibility of customer interaction off onto the "home services" outside salesmen (with NO design training) and the local installers.

I know there have been instances where people have worked with remote designers and things have gone well. Equally, there have been reports on here (some recent) where it went poorly indeed. I just can't imagine the average person feeling comfortable dealing with a salesperson with no clue about kitchens and then basically receiving a design by email with almost no interaction between the person that designs and the client being designed for.

How do you all feel about a setup like that? Do you think that you'd be OK in not even talking to a designer at all? I'm picturing all kinds of disasters happening. Even for very self sufficient customers who have their layout 95% worked out, it's that extra 5% that can make or break a design. That's where we check for correct moldings, clearances, and the right kind of finished sides, as well as give tips on how to get the project in inside their budget by doing something a less expensive way. I get that this will save them millions in staff salaries, but I only see it costing them equally in customer goodwill and mistakes that they'll eat.

In other box store news, having associates assigned to departments where they know and understand the products to be able to help customers is also going away. Except for a few specialty employees, employees will be no longer be assigned to departments and will have to learn the whole store and help customers storewide. It's another cost saving move to lessen staffing requirements. But, they only training that they will receive for the cross departments is computer based and barely skims the surface. And I bet they don't up the $8 an hour salary just because someone learns the whole store either.

Is it any wonder that they jettisoned the "You can do it, we can help" slogan in favor of "More saving, more doing.".

Can Lowes be far behind? They already eliminated commission for the designers and gone to non design "helpers" in many of their departments. Warm bodies that really don't know anything. With online business now making up almost 1/3 of a store's sales, how long will they even keep just the warm bodies?

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That is very sad. Although I think cross training can be a good thing eliminating any kind of special knowledge will only hurt the company and customer. They are taking away customer support, and I hope the many people on this forum who have been to HD and Lowes for KD help will chime in on this.

A professional who is trained and educated in a specific area is more likely to keep up with trends and research in that field. My DH has a niche position in a company with programming for railroads. He is the only one with his knowledge, and the president of his company told him before DH came along they had no idea what they were missing.

The loss of customization and specialized knowledge in a specific area is very sad indeed.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 11:55AM
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That's too bad. Unfortunately, I can see a lot of people being MORE comfortable working with a remote designer, because the whole KD thing can be a little intimidating. Also, I think a lot of people don't pay attention to the details of their kitchen even after it's installed. I imagine a lot of very disfunctional kitchens are going to come out of this. And probaly an increase in the use of caulk to fill in all those gaps!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:06PM
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I think some things are lost in the internet/email communication that would not be otherwise with a face to face conversation. I would not go for that arrangement.

I can barely handle it with all of the advice given here. I definitely need hand holding, lol! I am pretty computer savvy but for large expensive projects I'd definitely want a warm body.

Is it a generational thing? Maybe the younger generation would have an easier time with the remote communication.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:33PM
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I think some things are lost in the internet/email communication that would not be otherwise with a face to face conversation. I would not go for that arrangement.

I can barely handle it with all of the advice given here. I definitely need hand holding, lol! I am pretty computer savvy but for large expensive projects I'd definitely want a warm body.

Is it a generational thing? Maybe the younger generation would have an easier time with the remote communication.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:34PM
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I'm in my early 30s, and I would only work with a KD in person. I think it boils down to expecting the best end product you can get, and that usually comes with experience and education.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:45PM
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I am in my early 40's so early I might just say really really late 30's. ;)

I am thinking the generation in their 20's but they may be too young to have had much experience with these sorts of things.

It's probably a sign of the times similar to when businesses switched over to the 'auto attendant'. Bad news.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 12:51PM
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I'll be the voice of dissent here. For a lot of us who are doing more budget-oriented kitchens - not a $100k reno - it would be a lot more convenient to deal with someone online. I work FT, so does my husband, we have kids, and during the weekends we have a million other obligations. I was baffled when I explored working with HD on my terrible small kitchen that I had to make appointments for each discussion about the options, and that I couldn't get a design or a price range without taking up at least an hour out of my day to sit with a lovely young KD while she worked up the design on her computer.

I'm not deriding the value of a KD, or the utility of dealing with someone in person. I've been lurking here for 2 years and I still don't understand half the things the experts reference, so I'll happily use the services of a KD. But there is a reason that a lot of people at the lower-cost end of the kitchen spectrum are attracted to options like Ikea, where you can examine your options and get a sense of costs without leaving your couch or your office. I imagine HD would be better off with a hybrid, where there is some inhouse expertise but online design help.

But I don't necessarily think it is crazy or a sign that the internet has diminished all customer service or artistry in the world either. I'm an academic and the availability of online publishing has totally changed my field, in ways good as well as problematic. I think the internet is inevitably going to change the way people approach home design as well. It already has, which is why we are all here. Hopefully the big retailers will find a way to adapt that adds value for everyone.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 1:26PM
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I would expect there will be training or trained people doing this. Not sure why it's being said they will have sales people with no training. On the other hand, I've worked with their "trained" HS division (in-house and sub versions) and they were a joke. Project management was no better. I would never trust a BB with anything important again.

As far as offering a "remote" designer, to me, going into a store with no one actually coming out to the house is pretty much working remotely anyway. I don't see why the same discussions and questions can't be covered through phone, email, face to face web conference meetings if you want. I can see how it would be more cumbersome with the paper work though, or walking over to look at an example of something. You'd at least have the discussions in writing for reference so things wouldn't be forgotten. Conversations so often go in one ear and out the other.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 1:28PM
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After years of reading nightmare stories about kitchens ordered through HD designers I think it sounds sensible.

Maybe people will come over to you more LWO, even for a flat consult fee if they can't manage fees for better cabinets.

As for internet consulting on kitchens, isn't that what happens on this board? Few here are designers and yet they hold strong opinions and give advise.

I order a lot over the internet but there are certain things which I don't feel work easily in that respect. Kitchen cabinets are one of them.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 1:30PM
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This is sad, but not unexpected. I've had Lowe's employees ask me gardening questions, when I'm in the garden center. I am not a professional landscaper/designer (at least. not yet) but I like to stop by and check clearance plants, when I'm in town.

Nice gals, but if I were shopping for a new kitchen...

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 1:35PM
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In my work we aim for the best of both.
We have use an online collaboration tool where each customer gets their own site. I cover a huge geographic radius.
we also do at home appts (including evening and early morning but not on weekend), start every project with a site visit. I do ask that clients visit the showroom at least once (there have been two exceptions to that). We get suitable (not final but high enough not to go over) by the second meeting. And yes I do budget jobs competing well with KM etc at the box (course I also do a lot of higher end but we treat all exactly the same)

What I've found is that doing the job properly, on line/email/remote meeting require more work than the extra time traveling to their home. They also involve more reworking.

I don't see how this will save them money without having real problems. I also don't see how it benefits the customer, unless they really just don't care.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 1:44PM
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I just had a bad experience at Lowes. Bought a gas dryer that was to be delivered. The whole order was a mess. Turns out the salesperson in the appliance department was from a different department and knew nothing about appliances. In fact the store manager told me that couldn't even determine who she was???? They ended up giving me free installation on the dryer.

Lately both HD and Lowes appear to be going downhill.

My layout was already done so I just needed it to translate to shenandoah cabinets at Lowes. The KD was great and gave us tons of tips to save money and get the look we wanted. I don't know if that would happen with an online designer. Also if the KD needed to show you different styles in different stains how well would that translate on a computer? We all know how colors show up very differently sometimes.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 1:53PM
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On the positive side, this is an opportunity for the smaller shops to differentiate and offer in-person service.

This type of model could work for many types of products, as long as the person you were reaching remotely actually had more expertise than the usual staffer. For example, it could work to have a video conference station in the appliance department so that a true expert could go through detailed appliance tradeoffs, specifications, and details with you. The local staff could simply set you up and point out where the floor models were and act as the arms/legs of the expert.

I actually bought my windows via a big box, after considering smaller dealers. The person who managed the sale and installation was a former window manufacturer's rep who demonstrated more knowledge about windows and installation than the sales agents from the smaller shops. I'd hate to see this person turned into a generalist, as they secured the transaction by adding value.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 3:50PM
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I can't say much about HD getting rid of their KD, but I am sorry to learn about taking people out of their specialty departments. We are 2 years into a DIY full house remodel (2 of 10 maybe at the rate we are going). And very early on we realized that the employees at our local 5 Lowe's stores knew absolutely nothing and IF they did offer advice it was your fault if you took it and whatever you were working on went to crap.

HD on the other hand, we have one location that is so full of experts we actually stop in the middle of a project, make up something we need to go buy if we are having an issue, and seek out "one of our experts". Not all the HD's around us are as spectacular as this one, but they are all good and I never feel they were just hired from McDonald's like I do at Lowe's. I really hope HD realized a slight cost cutting will not be worth it in the end. I can not tell you the amount of money we spend at HD weekly.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 5:19PM
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I don't understand how this would work. I am 29 and I wouldn't want to do the whole online thing, it is just weird. I made online designs with ikea, yes, but ikea cabs arenot kraftmaid! Our KD at Lowes was wonderfully helpful and she really secured the sale. If it weren't for her we'd be quite behind. I don't see very much value in remote designing when it comes down to the wire to actually pay for the cabinets. Lowes will do one of two things...either match home depot's practices or keep KD's and differentiate.

I fail to see how making an hour appointment for a KD is a burden...if one cannot spare an hour for a purchase that amounts to mega bucks, it doesn't seem quite right to me.

Not everything can be done online.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 5:20PM
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Did this just happen in the last week?

I had a great person at HD design my cabinet layout and help me order Innermost cabinets. I had a basic overall kitchen design in place beforehand but we went through this in person over three visits and he built the cabinet design with the 3D modeler. I just talked with him last week -- he didn't mention anything about a change like this. This is in CA.

Our final order arrived in 46 boxes and included over a hundred separate product line items with modifications. This isn't a large kitchen. Even so there were mistakes. I can't imagine getting all the details right by doing this self-service online.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 6:36PM
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With web cams and inexpensive laser measuring tools I don't see why some kitchen designing couldn't be done online. There is a lot of computer coding that is done remotely by people in different countries. Many of these project teams never meet face to face, but easily communicate with instant message or email.

I think web designing will just be another method to achieve the design result. Is it for everybody, probably not. It wasn't for me.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 6:44PM
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This Might have a chance if, and only if, they use CKD's, and I hope word gets out quickly if they don't and it sounds like they're not going to. I'm going to trust my kitchen renovation to an online sales clerk hired to man a call center for $8 an hour?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 9:29PM
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My experience with HD kitchen designers has been hit or miss, and mostly miss. Part of this is because I live in one of the rudest cities in America by some reports.

I have gotten to the point that, when I would walk into Home Depot with a client and go to the kitchen department I warn them ahead of time that the KD will be rude and dismissive.

Each time, I have walked in with a full set of measured drawings with cabinet specs from the brand I expect to order. I have said the the kitchen designer "Hi, I have a plan here, and I want to review it with you, and we are probably ready to order.

"Snort! I highly Doubt It!" is the reaction I've faced every time. When I pull out the plans and Show them, most of them have backpedaled and apologized. But the problem Is that they didn't Find out first if I was the person who walks in with a paper towel with two measurements on it or if I was the person who actually knows what they are doing.

Multiple stores in the region, near identical responses, though.

One of them actually seemed to resent the fact that we Had a fully developed plan. All of them made technical mistakes in the ordering. None of them were certified in any way.

Generally the staff walking around the store is pretty helpful, but not always very knowledgeable.

I asked where a specific item was in my local HD and the guy said "I can tell you Not in This store because there is No Such Thing" (smirk). Then I pulled out the paper I printed off the website.

Like I said, part of it is where I live, but I have never been blown away by their KDs anyway.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 10:15PM
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June 6, 2013-from full article credit to Andria Cheng of Market Watch.

"Home Depot Inc. HD is benefiting from the housing market rebound. Its stock rose another 2.9% Thursday, the No. 2 gainer on the Dow. That led to a 25% gain so far this year"...

..."Investors have praised the retailer�s moves to improve customer service, use technology to free employees from tasks, and build regional distribution centers to streamline product shipping process. They also like the company�s online initiatives."

..."At a Goldman Sachs conference on Thursday, Kevin Hofmann, president of Home Depot�s online sales, said the company sees online opportunity not just on things like power tools or faucets. It�s also using it as a medium to sell larger projects from floor installation to kitchen cabinets and catering to professional contractors."

Here is a link that might be useful: Marketwatch on HomeDepot:

    Bookmark   August 7, 2013 at 10:34PM
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"...There is a lot of computer coding that is done remotely by people in different countries...."

OMG! Do NOT get me started on all the outsourcing to so-called programmers to India and China! That's one of the worst examples you can give - it's all negative! There's a reason companies do it - cheap labor - and you get exactly what you pay for!

Then there are the outsourced "Help Desks".... >>shudder""

At least if it's out of Atlanta it's still in the USA...

Regarding the elimination of KDs at HD and, perhaps, Lowes - I think it's a mistake - at least from my point of view. I would never remodel a kitchen w/o an experienced onsite KD... But, then again, maybe HD doesn't want to deal with people like most of us....

You lose a lot when dealing with people on the phone rather than face-to-face. We have a lot of meetings on the phone, and I think we miss a lot of communication by not being able to see people's faces and read their body language.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 1:58AM
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Never, as I talk with my hands......


    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 8:16AM
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We had another post that indicated there is absolutely no need for a kitchen designer. You are better off getting information from this forum.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 12:59PM
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If their kds were anything like the Expo kds, good riddance. What a bunch of rude, dismissive, arrogant conformists.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 1:01PM
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"OMG! Do NOT get me started on all the outsourcing to so-called programmers to India and China! ... There's a reason companies do it - cheap labor - and you get exactly what you pay for!"

Funny, I say things like that when I use a dumb program or telephone menu system ... Does anyone test or use this stuff? This thing must have been written in India. Not that we in the States don't do dumb or inadequate things. Sometimes it just seems like a total lack of understanding, like they're from a different world, due to cultural and communication differences or something.

Now if kitchen design starts to come from call centers overseas, that will be pretty funny. Not really, of course. What chaos.

This post was edited by snookums2 on Thu, Aug 8, 13 at 13:20

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 1:19PM
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Well, I give out advice no one would pay for all the time, but I'd never say there's no need for a designer, only that some designers are awful and careful shopping is imperative. At absolute minimum, competent and ethical clerks and facilitators are needed and definitely worth paying. Those who can actually design are special and really worth paying a lot more, maybe more so with a tight budget--for those who can find one in their budget.

I hope HD's change results in better design service in general, but I worry when I remember what members from various parts of the country are reporting on these forums about the "designers" their developers provide for supposedly "semicustom" homes--"designers" who refuse to give design advice and assist with decisions but instead push limited ranges of products at confused and unhappy clients as "deadline" after "deadline" loom. These designers are advertised as part of the package the buyers are purchasing, but it's looking like many developers may be really just hiring people to keep the buyers on schedule and calling them designers

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 1:40PM
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