On June 21, 1979, Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus took a massive leap into the unknown: They opened the first two home improvement warehouses ever. After what was likely a restless night, the cavernous stores in the Atlanta area, stocked with 250,000 products each, swung open their doors. (A local radio personality later said, “I tell you, if these stores were any bigger, they’d be paying Alabama sales tax.”) And that was the beginning of Home Depot history.
Bernie and Arthur handed their kids 700 $1 bills and sent them into the parking lots of the stores. Yup, they were paying people to go in and spend money. After a slow day, the kids still had $1 bills in their hands.
But that was only the beginning. By 1990, 100 stores had opened. By 2000, 1,000 Home Depot stores were operational. In 2005, that number reached 2,000. Now, with more than 2,200 stores and hundreds of thousands of associates, you could certainly say that the leap of faith built an empire.
In addition to filling an important need in the marketplace, the company took a “whatever it takes” approach to customer service from the very beginning. “We had so few customers that if I saw someone leaving a store empty-handed, I took it personally,” Bernie Marcus wrote in Built from Scratch, the book that chronicles the company.
He’d follow the would-be customer out into the parking lot, asking what they were looking for that we didn’t carry, then offer to hand-deliver the item himself. (After ordering the item for future stock, he would head to a competitor or wholesaler to pick it up, taking care to scrape off the stickers.)
“As we became more successful, that became our customer service philosophy: ‘Whatever it takes.’ There was nothing we wouldn’t do for a customer,” Bernie wrote.
The “orange-blooded” associates in the aisles still live it. One of the longest-serving associates, Calvin from Store #1777 in Kennesaw, Georgia, looked back at his over 30 years at the company. “Customers ask for me by name because I have built relationships with them over the years. I enjoy helping them build their projects. There’s nothing better than having a customer invite you to come to their home and share the excitement of their new deck or floor because you helped them realize they could actually build something on their own,” he said on the 30th anniversary a few years back.
“Making at least one person’s life a little easier or… bad day a just a little better makes me proud to put my apron on at the start of every shift,” writes another associate.
Another early story in Home Depot history: In order to stock the first stores, which were 160 to 540 percent bigger than their competitors at the time, Bernie and Arthur propped up over 500 empty boxes as well as stacks upon stacks of empty paint cans to give the illusion of fullness. They did what it took to make it happen—and we’re proud to say that it worked.
Special thanks go to the keeper of history for The Home Depot, Jennifer Wyatt, for her help with this article.
Read more Home Depot Stories about Home Depot customers, associates and history here on the Home Depot blog.