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Manager: National chain store growing, but needs more staff

Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2008

Juneau has posed some special challenges for the national chain Home Depot in the last eight months, according to the store manager.

"Somebody decided that we were going to open with natural-gas hot water heaters. And there isn't a natural-gas hot-water pipe in Southeast," said Troy Wolfinbarger, manager.

Despite its early challenges, the store is bringing in money, though it's at the lower end of the Home Depot revenue curve, "in the $40 million (per year) range," according to Wolfinbarger.

On the other hand, the Alaska Home Depots are somewhat buffered from economic downturns in the Lower 48, according to Wolfinbarger.

"We actually had a very good year," Wolfinbarger said. He wouldn't say how good, except that the Juneau store exceeded its sales plan by 5 percent.

The store opened June 28 last year. Some headaches were to be expected from opening in midsummer, when suppliers have already run out of the most popular items. But the store received an enormous rush of customers and ran out of many goods, said Wolfinbarger, who has been working for Home Depot in Alaska for 17 years.

Some of the new store's growing pains are more Juneau- or Southeast Alaska-specific.

Anyone can see the piles of Home Depot wood at the storage facility at the end of Industrial Boulevard, neatly wrapped in plastic and safe from the rain. But the store's wood wasn't ready for the fall rains it was exposed to on an open barge and in the storage yard. After some wood was ruined, the store started paying more attention to how it was wrapped, the manager said.

That was one problem solved, but another one continues: Juneau's tight hiring market. Help can be hard to find at the store. Wolfinbarger said that about 90 people work at the store now, and he could easily do with 20 more, especially as spring approaches.

"It doesn't let us offer the level of customer service that we would like to," Wolfinbarger said.

He mentioned installing call boxes on the floor for customers to contact store workers and moving employees from night to day shifts. But he would not say whether paying more was part of the plan to attract more people, and he would not reveal how much entry-level people are paid.

Wolfinbarger also said he would love to hire installers of blinds, doors, windows and fences. But skilled installers are hard to find.

At the moment, the store flies up floor installers from the Lower 48, only after it has enough square footage in work for them. There can be a lag time of up to six weeks for a customer. But Wolfinbarger said that's because special-ordering carpet takes as much time, it works reasonably well.

He said the store's business with contractors is growing rapidly, and that its delivery service to other Southeast towns has been good.

The store is also focusing more on do-it-yourselfers - "people sprucing up their houses in simple, cosmetic ways," Wolfinbarger said. "We do more business in those areas than an average store of our size."

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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