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13 DIY Facts About Home Depot

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Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Walk into any Home Depot store in the world and you’ll be confronted with a cavernous, sprawling inventory of virtually anything you’d need to make your property more comfortable. Founded in 1978 to satisfy the increasing numbers of hammer-wielding do-it-yourselfers, the company is currently the fourth-largest retailer in the country—an impressive feat considering it doesn’t sell food, electronics, or clothing. (Unless you count their stylish, figure-flattering lead paint abatement suits.) Have a look at some structurally-sound facts about the franchise, apron flair, and how the circus lent them their distinctive orange glow.  

1. THE FIRST STORES WERE FILLED WITH EMPTY BOXES.

When Bernie Marcus (left) and Arthur Blank (right) were abruptly fired from their managerial spots at the Atlanta-area Handy Dan hardware chain, they decided to experiment with discount, bulk-volume pricing under their own banner: the Home Depot. While the first few stores to open in Georgia were up to 60,000 square feet, the two didn’t necessarily have enough stock on hand to fill them up. Instead of looking at empty rafters, employees stacked empty boxes and paint cans on the upper-tier of shelves, where no customer could reach them. To drive home the warehouse aesthetic, Marcus and Blank also sped around stores on forklifts after hours, slamming on the brakes to create skid marks.   

2. THE ORANGE COLOR SCHEME CAME FROM CIRCUS TENTS.

Home Depot’s signage is so synonymous with orange that the color is the first thing people say when asked to play word association with the company. But there was no calculating psychology behind the selection: The company gravitated toward the color because early signage was made from discarded circus tents. They even trademarked orange when it's specifically presented as a backdrop in advertising home goods.

3. THEY COULDN’T PAY PEOPLE TO COME INTO THE STORE.

Home Depot

As marketing strategies went, it was fairly pedestrian: Marcus and Blank stationed their kids at the exit door of their first store during its grand opening in 1979 and had them gift shoppers with a dollar as a way of saying thanks. But by 6 p.m., so few customers had stopped in that the kids were now out in the parking lot offering free money to anyone who would step inside. After consumers became familiar with their selection and instructional clinics, Home Depot grew successful enough to put Handy Dan out of business.  

4. THEY EMPLOYED OLYMPIC ATHLETES TO BOOST MORALE.

Up until they canceled the program in 2009, Home Depot employed Olympic athletes from the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico in an effort to support amateur athletics and boost employee morale. Olympic hopefuls got part-time hours with full-time pay and benefits so they could continue training; if they won medals, they were encouraged to show them off to other employees in an effort to motivate them to go for their own (store-oriented) goals with more enthusiasm. The athletes were even able to draw a salary when they were on the road for qualifying competitions. For the 2000 Games, more than 100 entrants were Depot employees.

5. WORKERS CAN CUSTOMIZE THEIR APRON.

Not all of the store's omnipresent vests are orange. Some workers, including military veterans, have customized their apparel to better reflect their personalities. The company also encourages employees to write their names in longhand—they ditched white name tags decades ago.

6. THERE’S A STORE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. (BUT NOT TO ANT-MAN.)

Film productions shooting in Fayetteville, Ga.'s Pinewood Studios have perks beyond personal assistants: The property is also home to the country’s only private Home Depot. Open to cast and crew members only, the store primarily stocks lumber, screws, and other common set supplies. (The company was attracted to the idea that films spend about 30 percent of their multi-million dollar budgets on construction.) So far, so good: Marvel Studios set up shop there for 2015’s Ant-Man and is currently on location for 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.  

7. THEY GOT IN BIG TROUBLE FOR ALLEGEDLY NOT PROMOTING WOMEN.

The chain was among the stores swept up in a wave of gender-discrimination lawsuits in the 1990s alleging unfair promotion practices. According to the New York Times, Home Depot paid an $87.5 million settlement to workers on the West Coast who argued the store kept women at checkout stations and off of the floor, thus removing any potential for advancement. While the company didn't acknowledge any wrongdoing, it also agreed to reform internal policies on promoting women in their workforce.

8. THEY MIGHT LET YOU HAGGLE ON THAT CHAINSAW.

While "haggling” sounds like something JK Rowling dreamed up, in the pre-Internet world of retailing it was the term used for trying to talk a shopkeeper down on a price. Elevated to a kind of conversational art form—sighing, weight-shifting, and condescending chuckling optional—it’s largely disappeared. But because e-tail prices frequently undercut physical stores, Home Depot is among the chains that may discount their price by as much as 10 percent after matching a competitor. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

9. THEY TRIED OPENING CONVENIENCE STORES.

Mike Kalasnik, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Seeing dollar signs in trucker pills and expired milk, the company entered the convenience store market in 2005 by setting up gas stations next to four of their Nashville, Tenn. locations. Despite ambitious plans to open 300 such footprints over the next several years, they only managed to launch six before deciding to focus on other growth areas.

10. THE APRON CAN BE DANGEROUS.

Every Home Depot ground troop is issued a customary orange apron for easy identification and to keep concrete dust from ruining a perfectly good Van Halen shirt. But despite the utilitarian nature of the uniform, the aprons aren’t always appropriate. In 2003, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined a Denver-area location $5000 for incidents relating to dress-related injuries. In two instances, associates lifting heavy items got them inadvertently caught on the smock, leading to a loss of balance and shoulder injury, respectively. Employees who spoke to OSHA complained of its “kangaroo” pockets, which are loose enough to catch corners of major appliances. The company subsequently allowed workers to take the aprons off when loading rental equipment.

11. WANNA KNOW WHAT THEY CARRY IN THOSE POCKETS?

Probably lots of loose nails, cell phones, and assorted grit. But when former military man Robert Nardelli took over as CEO in 2003, he required that employees keep something else in their pouches: a copy of How to Be Orange Every Day, a 25-page booklet with breezy tips on how to better service visitors. “Every person, penny, and product counts” was a typical recitation. Nardelli resigned in 2007. In his pockets: a severance package worth $210 million.  

12. THE COMPANY HAS ITS OWN FONT.

Osseous, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The store’s distinctive brushed typeface used for pricing on shelves is exclusive to the store. Named HOMER in honor of their mascot, Homer D. Poe, it may not be quite as functional as Times New-Roman, but the slightly smudged edges are reminiscent of an afternoon paint job.

13. A CAT LIVED IN ONE FOR OVER 13 YEARS.

Putting to shame all of the performance artists who have filmed in IKEAs and people camped out in Walmart lots, an alley cat named Depot can probably claim the record for most time spent living rent-free in a retail location. As of 2014, the feline has been lounging around a South Carolina Home Depot for 13 years, greeting customers and spending much of her time luxuriating in the garden department. After word circulated the store might evict her because she kept setting off security alarms, online protests led a company spokesperson to declare Depot had tenure. Said one customer to local news outlet WTOC: "I'd get rid of management before I'd get rid of the cat."

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Supermarket Introduces 'Quiet Hour' to Help Customers With Autism Feel at Ease
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For some people on the autism spectrum, a routine trip to the supermarket can quickly morph into a nightmare. It’s not just the crowds and commotion that trigger feelings of panic—sounds that many shoppers have learned to tune out, like intercom announcements or beeps from the checkout scanner, can all add up to cause sensory overload. But grocery stores don’t have to be a source of dread for people with such sensitivities. By turning down the volume for one hour each day, one supermarket is making itself more inclusive to a greater number of customers.

As Mashable reports, Australian grocery store chain Coles is partnering with the Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) organization to roll out "quiet hour" in two of its stores. From 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., the lights will be dimmed by 50 percent, the radio and register sounds will be turned down to their lowest volumes, and cart collection and non-emergency PA announcements will be put on hold. The changes are meant to accommodate shoppers with autism and their families, but all shoppers are welcome.

The initiative is based on research conducted by Aspect on people on the autism spectrum and those who care for them. In addition to modifying the atmosphere, Coles has taken steps to educate its staff. If someone does start to feel overwhelmed in a Coles stores, employees trained in understanding and dealing with autism symptoms will be on hand to assist them.

Coles is following the lead of several chains that have made themselves more inviting to shoppers on the spectrum. Last year, British supermarket chain Asda introduced its own quiet hour, and Toys "R" US implemented something similar in its UK stores for the holiday season.

The Coles initiative is just a trial run for now, but if the customer reaction is positive enough it may be here to stay. Visitors to their Ringwood and Balwyn East stores in Victoria will have a chance to experience it now through the end of October.

[h/t Mashable]

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10 of the Worst Jobs in the Victorian Era
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Next time you complain about your boring desk job, think back to Victorian times—an era before the concept of occupational health and safety rules—and count yourself lucky. Back then, people were forced to think of some imaginative ways to earn a living, from seeking out treasure in the sewers to literally selling excrement.

1. LEECH COLLECTOR

Leeches were once a useful commodity, with both doctors and quacks using the blood-sucking creatures to treat a number of ailments, ranging from headaches to "hysteria." But pity the poor leech collector who had to use themselves as a human trap. The job usually fell to poor country women, who would wade into dirty ponds in the hope of attracting a host of leeches. Once the critters attached to the leech collector’s legs, the individual would prise them off and collect them in a box or pot. Leeches can survive for up to a year with no food, so they could be stored at the pharmacy to be dished out as required. Unsurprisingly, leech collectors were in danger of suffering from excess blood loss and infectious diseases.

2. PURE FINDER

Despite the clean-sounding name, this job actually involved collecting dog feces from the streets of London to sell to tanners, who used it in the leather-making process. Dog poop was known as "pure" because it was used to purify the leather and make it more flexible [PDF]. Leather was in great demand in Victorian times, as it was used not only as tack for horses but for shoes, boots, bags, and in bookbinding. Pure collectors haunted the streets where stray dogs amassed, scooping up the poop and keeping it in a covered bucket before selling it on to the tanners. Some collectors wore a black glove to protect their scooping hand, but others considered it harder to keep a glove clean than a hand and eschewed the protection altogether.

3. TOSHER

A Victorian illustration of a tosher, or sewer collector
An 1851 illustration of a sewer-hunter or "tosher."
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Victorian London had a huge network of over-worked sewers under the city, washing away the effluence of the crowded metropolis. Toshers made their living down in the dark sewers, sifting through raw sewage to find any valuables that had fallen down the drain. It was extremely dangerous work: Noxious fumes formed deadly pockets, the tunnels frequently crumbled, there were swarms of rats, and at any moment the sluices might be opened and a tide of filthy water might wash the toshers away. As a result of these dangers, toshers generally worked in groups, instantly recognizable in their canvas trousers, aprons with many large pockets (in which to stash their booty), and lanterns strapped to their chests. Most toshers also carried a long pole with a hoe at the end to investigate piles of human waste for dropped treasures, or with which to steady themselves if they stumbled in the gloom. After 1840 it became illegal to enter the sewers without permission and so toshers began working late at night or early in the morning to avoid detection. Despite the stinking and dangerous conditions, it was a lucrative business for the working classes, with many a coin or silver spoon sloshing about in the quagmire.

4. MATCHSTICK MAKERS

Matchsticks are made by cutting wood into thin sticks and then dipping the ends into white phosphorus—a highly toxic chemical. In the Victorian era, this work was mainly performed by teenage girls who worked in terrible conditions, often for between 12 and 16 hours a day with few breaks. The girls were forced to eat at their work stations, meaning the toxic phosphorus got into their food, leading to some developing the dreadful condition known as “phossy jaw”—whereby the jawbone becomes infected, leading to severe disfigurement.

5. MUDLARK

Like the toshers, these workers made their meagre money from dredging through the gloop looking for items of value to sell, although in this case they were plying their messy trade on the shores of the Thames instead of mostly in the sewers. Seen as a step down from a tosher, the mudlarks were usually children, who collected anything that could be sold, including rags (for making paper), driftwood (dried out for firewood) and any coins or treasure that might find its way into the river. Not only was it a filthy job, but it was also very dangerous, since the tidal nature of the Thames meant it was easy for children to be washed away or become stuck in the soft mud.

6. CHIMNEY SWEEP

A photograph of a very happy chimney sweep
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Tiny children as young as four years old were employed as chimney sweeps, their small stature making them the perfect size to scale up the brick chimneys. All the climbing in the claustrophobic space of a chimney meant many sweeps’ elbows and knees were scraped raw, until repeated climbing covered them with calluses. Inhaling the dust and smoke from chimneys meant many chimney sweeps suffered irreversible lung damage. Smaller sweeps were the most sought-after, so many were deliberately underfed to stunt their growth and most had outgrown the profession by the age of 10. Some poor children became stuck in the chimneys or were unwilling to make the climb, and anecdotal evidence suggests their bosses might light a fire underneath to inspire the poor mite to find their way out at the top of the chimney. Fortunately, an 1840 law made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to climb and clean a chimney, though some unscrupulous fellows still continued the practice.

7. FUNERAL MUTE

Anyone familiar with Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist will remember that one of the orphan’s hated early jobs was as a mute for undertaker Mr. Sowerberry. A component of the extremely complex (and lucrative) Victorian funeral practices, mutes were required to dress all in black with a sash (usually also black, but white for children), while carrying a long cloth-covered stick and standing mournfully and silently at the door of the deceased’s house before leading the coffin on its processional route to the graveyard.

8. RAT CATCHER

An illustration of a group of Victorian men watching rat-baiting.
Getty Images/Rischgitz

Rat catchers usually employed a small dog or ferret to search out the rats that infested the streets and houses of Victorian Britain. They frequently caught the rats alive, as they could sell the animal to “ratters,” who put the rats into a pit and set a terrier loose upon them while onlookers made bets about how long it would take for the dog to kill them all. Catching rats was a dangerous business—not only did the vermin harbor disease, but their bites could cause terrible infections. One of the most famous Victorian rat catchers was Jack Black, who worked for Queen Victoria herself. Black was interviewed for Henry Mayhew’s seminal tome on Britain’s working classes, London Labour and the London Poor (1851) in which he revealed that he used a cage which could store up to 1000 live rats at a time. The rats could be stored like this for days as long as Black fed them—if he forgot, the rats would begin fighting and eating each other, ruining his spoils.

9. CROSSING SWEEPER

The “job” of crossing sweeper reveals the entrepreneurial spirit of the Victorian poor. These children would claim an area of the street as their patch, and when a rich man or woman wished to exit their carriage and walk across the filth-strewn street, the sweeper would walk before them clearing the detritus from their path, ensuring their patron’s clothes and shoes stayed clean. Crossing sweepers were regarded as just a step up from beggars, and worked in the hopes of receiving a tip. Their services were no doubt sometimes appreciated: The streets during this period were mud-soaked and piled with horse manure. The poor sweepers not only had to endure the dismal conditions whatever the weather, but were also constantly dodging speeding horse-drawn cabs and omnibuses.

10. RESURRECTIONISTS

An 1840 drawing of a group of resurrectionists at work
Getty Images/Hulton Archive

In the early 19th century the only cadavers available to medical schools and anatomists were those of criminals who had been sentenced to death, leading to a severe shortage of bodies to dissect. Medical schools paid a handsome fee to those delivering a body in good condition, and as a result many wily Victorians saw an opportunity to make some money by robbing recently dug graves. The problem became so severe that family members took to guarding the graves of the recently deceased to prevent the resurrectionists sneaking in and unearthing their dearly departed.

The "profession" was taken to an extreme by William Burke and William Hare who were thought to have murdered 16 unfortunates between 1827 and 1828. The pair enticed victims to their boarding house, plied them with alcohol and then suffocated them, ensuring the body stayed in good enough condition to earn the fee paid by Edinburgh University medical school for corpses. After the crimes of Burke and Hare were discovered, the Anatomy Act of 1832 finally helped bring an end to the grisly resurrectionist trade by giving doctors and anatomists greater access to cadavers and allowing people to leave their bodies to medical science.

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