I got holes in my shoes and I'm way overdue
January 7, 2014 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Last night I stopped by my local big box home improvement store to buy ice melt and saw that they were looking for part-time help. I'm thinking about applying since we're preparing to buy our first home this fall and thought this might be a good way to learn about home repairs and improvements. Anyone else considered or done this before?

I had been considering doing part-time SAT tutoring (something I've done on and off for the past 10 years) but thought this might be a better time investment since we've never been home owners before and will probably have to do some home improvements. I currently work remotely as a programmer and draw a great salary but we're still paying off some massive medical debt I encountered a few years ago and could use the extra funds. While the additional money would be really helpful in paying that down, I'm more interested in using this as a way to get some "work socialization" (since I currently have very little) and to learn about home improvement.

If you have worked for one of the big box home improvement retailers (particularly as a part-timer) what was your experience like working there and is it something that you would recommend? I'm interested in what your training experience was like and what you learned during your time employed there and what, if any, home improvement background you had before working there. I'm not looking to make this a replacement for my full-time job, but I am interested in staying part-time (<20 hours per week) for at least a year or so.
posted by playertobenamedlater to Work & Money (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You don't learn so much from training as you do on the job. I did this when my husband and I were remodeling. I learned a ton from customer questions.
posted by squirbel at 8:09 AM on January 7, 2014

I worked for Lowes (in the office though, not on the floor) and was pretty happy with them, well happier than I was working in the office at Macy's. The new hire training doesn't really include a lot of training in actually doing any projects but there is the 10% (iirc) discount so that would come in handy if you are buying a home.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:13 AM on January 7, 2014

I think I would worry about how much flexibility you'll have in choosing what part time hours you want to work.
posted by jferg at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

IIRC from my horrible experience at the big orange box store, you could only use your employee discount at certain times. The new hire training did not cover home improvement at all. It was definitely the worst retail job I ever had. Corporate policies ensured you felt like a cog in the machine and not an actually person, to the extent that I have never experienced elsewhere.
posted by Ruki at 8:24 AM on January 7, 2014

I loved it and I would recommend it. I worked at the Home Depot for three years in a part time-role at the paint desk. I worked there because we were saving for a wedding and a house, so my experience and needs mirrors yours in many ways.

I had all the luxury of knowing it was only part-time so there was no pressure to advance, and while I think the store would have liked me to take on more responsibility, they were also happy to have someone who would work the close on Saturday and then work the open on Sunday - it's a tough combo but I had a 9-5 full time job M-F that took precedence. I also worked 6 to close on a Wednesday and would pick up random shifts here and there as needed. They gave me the choice of taking secondary training as a cashier or a forklift operator, and I choose forklift - though I never got very good at it because I only needed to move something with a forklift a half dozen times. I also helped as needed doing other non-specialist jobs like gathering carts in the parking lot here are there, as not a lot of people are buying paint at 9pm on Wednesdays in a Midwest winter and they want you to be busy, whether facing, stocking, or helping. Our paint department was so well run and organized that they actually knew they could come get me to help somewhere else as the paint department was always in good order, and other teams and departments had organization and team concerns. Because of this I actually got really good at cutting blinds, of all things.

The raises were not a lot because I was part-time and didn't want to advance and take on more responsibility, but that was fine for both sides. I think I topped out at $10.75 per hour when I left but I do not think they pay that much anymore, certainly not to someone without specific experience in a trade. I did my job without a lot of pressure or supervision from the managers, and they got a guy who showed up on time, didn't complain, and got the job done. Other associates were not so lucky, which was mostly their own fault.

When I started had general handyman skills, but I was no specialist. However, they do take training rather seriously and I learned a lot from the Depot training programs and the training put on by the paint reps. Also, remarkably, one of the guys I worked was a retired paint chemist so he loved to chat through the more scientific aspect of paint, which helped when talking with the paint professionals who purchased their product through the Home Depot. One of the other guys restored wooden Morgan car chassis so he taught us all about stain and wood repair. The manager was retired from the maintenance department at Motorola and knew everything about cleaning. It was an odd group of people but the point is that I learned from them skills that otherwise would have escaped me in real life.

In order to gain even more skills, I took handyman books from the sales racks and read them I over my break time or my lunch hour, and that helped me speak more of the handyman language and recognize what I could accomplish DIY, which was most everything. Sort of a Home Depot library, though I don't think taking new books off the rack and reading them would be encouraged...

Working at the Depot allowed me to purchase a lot of handyman supplies at really low cost. I kept my eye out for things I needed, and watched the sales and the markdowns and when the price was right, I bought things like drills and saws and toolboxes. There was no employee discount as they paid you a slightly better wage, however there were Friends and Family 10% discount coupons here and there, and once you understood the markdown policies you just watched for what you wanted. I was able to build an entire toolbox and DIY workshop in those three years, so that had some value beyond the paycheck.

All in all the atmosphere was positive, engaging and had a good ole' boy / good ole' girl feeling - there was lots of laughing, helping out other people when needed, and a genuine desire to help the customers as no one really had a mind numbing job folding or serving or anything really menial - we each had a department that needed specialty knowledge. There were bad apples of course, but all in all it was a positive experience that I would do again just for fun, if the opportunity ever presented itself.
posted by lstanley at 8:27 AM on January 7, 2014 [11 favorites]

A lot of the big box stores hire folks who have skills in the areas they work in. So plumbers in plumbing, electricians in the electrical department. The thing that's good though is that you may get to know local contractors, and they in turn can be good contacts for serious work you need around your home.

Lowes is supposed to be decent, I had a friend who moonlighted there for a few years. She WORKED her employee discount. I live in Atlanta and it's pretty well acknowledged that they're dysfunctional in a big way, although the folks at MY Home Depot seem to be pretty happy and helpful.

They won't train you per se in any home improvement, but you may pick stuff up from being in the environment on a regular basis. Also, attend some of the weekend workshops, those can be good.

This is a low risk venture for you. Give it a shot, see if it clicks. If not, quit. No harm, no foul.

One thought. Be sure that the extra income doesn't bump you into the next tax bracket and wipe out your earnings.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:30 AM on January 7, 2014

My husband worked part-time for Lowes for a few years when we first moved to our current town. I'd agree with the others above that your training for the position wouldn't teach you that much. However, he did learn a lot about a number of things from the older people that he worked with, many of whom had past experiences as handymen, construction workers, etc. He was also assigned to the plumbing and hardware sections, which probably helped more than if he'd been in seasonal or appliances. He also met a number of reliable local people that we can call if we need construction help, and they'll let him assist for a bit of cost break.

Being able to get supplies as a good cost helped too. The discount was always 10%, but being able to know right when a scratch-and-dent dryer was coming in, or when a mis-order meant that some decking was going to be sold for about 1/10th its typical cost was awesome.

There were some things he didn't like, of course. Most of those went with the typical big-box territory - someone way off making management decisions without knowing anything about the people at that store. There was also the fact that the store sometimes opened at 6, so he might have 5am starting shifts one day, then closing another. On the good side, he really liked a lot of people that he worked with. They were a diverse group in terms of ages and backgrounds, and he still goes in to see people every so often. Part-timers get health insurance there, which is one of the main reasons he applied to begin with. He also had some other benefits as a part-timer.
posted by bizzyb at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2014

Be sure that the extra income doesn't bump you into the next tax bracket and wipe out your earnings.

You can't end up with less money (that is, it won't be "wiped out"), but you could make a few percent less on the extra income if you end up in more brackets. This is because brackets only affect the money in that bracket.

posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:50 AM on January 7, 2014 [18 favorites]

I currently work part time at the blue box. In my locale, hiring is competitive and most schedules fluctuate depending on anticipated need.

Cashiers learn very little about products, but if you're in a specific department, you'll receive training about your area. One of the best positions for someone like you will be a "weekend team" person who does Friday afternoon / evening plus Saturday and Sunday. That role works throughout the store assisting customers and you have the opportunity to gain familiarity with many products.

The thing to remember is that the job is only as good as you make it (attitude) and only as good as management and co-workers allow.
posted by mightshould at 8:51 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mom took a few classes at a community college and she is the beast of renovation now. I'd say do the tutoring and take a class.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I worked for Lowe's in rural/suburban NC for just under a year in the midst of the housing boom, so I remember the days where I didn't get a break because we were so busy. I was supposed to be part-time, but they had to make me full time since they kept needing me to come in over 38 hours/week. I learned a lot in my time there, and even became more fit from stocking shelves and lifting heavy products. My experience was a mix, on balance, not positive, but I don't regret it.

I was hired at the same time as several gentlemen. The gentlemen with college degrees (no other experience) were hired directly as floor associates. Those without a degree and with experience were also hired directly to the floor. Those with neither could be cashiers. As a woman with a college degree and leadership/supervisor experience, I was hired as a cashier for several months before they eventually moved me to a (higher paying) floor position (home decor & paint, of course), after several department managers requested me.

I underwent as much extra training as possible, because I sincerely enjoyed helping customers figure out the answers to their questions. I was always taking home training manuals to become certified in various areas of the store.

I endured sexual harassment on a daily basis, mainly from customers but also from co-workers. The health insurance and 401K were nice, but not nice enough to keep me in that environment, even though management did try to ameliorate things when approached. I switched to a less rural store shortly before quitting altogether, and the environment there was better.

tl; dr: If you do work there, you have learning opportunities if you pursue them, but be mindful of the issues I described. Wear good, supportive shoes; standing on concrete all day isn't fun and you don't get to sit down.
posted by Schielisque at 11:35 AM on January 7, 2014

I worked at Home Depot for a year and a half during college, part-time to start and full-time when school wasn't in session. Started in lumber/building materials then managed the paint department. I was an engineering student, which made me more clued-in and inquisitive than your average home improvement retail employee.

Your experience is going to depend pretty heavily on what store you work at and how much you want to learn. I worked at the busiest store in a 3-state region. I got plenty of useful training due to mandatory requirements, but also because there was a good amount of it available through the company system and from vendors, and I was encouraged to get a lot of training in general. Because we were really busy, and because management took complaints seriously, we had to answer a lot of questions from customers, and would usually try to figure it out when we didn't have the answer then and there. I agree with the above statements that you learn a ton from answering questions. The store preferred to hire ex-contractors, who had experience in the department where they worked. But I also interacted with employees from other stores, a lot of whom didn't seem to know... certain body parts from their elbows. My experience was probably a better one than most due to the store conditions. In the end, it's big-box retail, and that gets frustrating on a number of levels.

In terms of wages, I started at $13/hour and was bumped to $15/hour when promoted to management. This was in 2003-05, and I've also heard that they don't pay as well as they used to. I also did not get any discount (only a $10 Home Depot gift card at Christmas), but I did take advantage of some pretty nice mark-downs due to knowing about them beforehand and an unscrupulous assistant manager taking some extra % off a couple times.
posted by hootenatty at 4:25 PM on January 7, 2014

I worked at Home Depot for five months three years ago. By that time - post recession - the wages, at least in my area, had gone almost all the way downhill and have remained there: they start at $8 an hour and they do not go up. I worked as a cashier; standing still on concrete for 8 hours a day is really no fun at all. Here are some things I learned.

1) There is no employee discount at Home Depot.
2) You can be fired for buying things on sale if you don't do it exactly right, i.e., you are only allowed to shop when off the clock and you cannot hide or stash anything that is on sale to buy when you get off because then another customer won't be able to get it and they get preference. You also can't keep your purchases at Home Depot; they must be put in your car immediately after purchase, which of course in the summer will kill your plants. I actually watched somebody get fired over this kind of thing with a plant, but then they wanted to fire her anyway because she had been working there long enough to be making pre recession wages of over $10 an hour and they were in the process of canning everyone like that.
3) They're not interested in full time workers at Home Depot anymore; everyone except management and a very few old timers are part time.
4) You don't get to pick your schedule. You will work when you are assigned to work - and depending on how dysfunctional your store is (mine was extremely, as can be seen by this) that may well have absolutely nothing to do with when you say you are available. Show up or get fired. Your schedule is assigned every week for the next week. Each week is different and sometimes it gets changed without notice.
5) If you're a cashier, you won't really learn much at all except the register, which is quite arcane enough. I cannot speak to other areas but I suspect that if you don't come in with at least some skills, you're going to be pretty much out of luck.
6) Corporate does not care about you.
7) It is truly amazing what assholes some customers can be. It is also truly amazing how hard they will try to rip the store off. Like, mind boggling. All that effort for a couple dollars!
8) The associates, however, are by and large super nice and really genuinely awesome. They made all the horrible stuff not only bearable but basically enjoyable.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:01 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

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