Guest Rants, Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Smart Remarks from the Seasonal Department, or How to Not Get Promoted at the Big Box Retailer

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Following years of selling to and then working for independent garden centers and landscapers, I went to work for a mass merchandizer – the seasonal department of Home Depot, the other half of the retail horticulture industry.  It was a great place to try out comedic patter, or just be the bland peon expected, depending on the customer. I developed some fun jokes to tell, fun for me anyway. So I’ll try sharing, the various customers’ dialogue are in italics.  I swear, they just kept feeding me straight-lines:

  • “I’m looking for an organic fertilizer for my orchid collection. It has to be organic.” “Hmm. For epiphytic orchids, which live in the trees and are fertilized by dust, detritus, monkeys and such. …uhm, can you perch on a credenza?”
  • “What should I spray to kill all the bees in my yard?” “You could just cut off all the flowers? Or just grow conifers and grasses. They don’t attract pollinators.”
  • “How do I kill everything in my yard?” “This bottle of pesticide should do the trick.  Just make sure you drink all of it… just kidding about that, though suicide by pesticide is pretty common in parts of Asia. Always read and follow the directions on the label.”
  • “Do you have the male-female couplings for a hose-end?” “Why yes, yes we do. In fact, the downtown store carries ‘male-male couplings’”.
  • “Should I get the curved-shaft or straight-shaft string trimmer?” “Now that is quite a topic. A lot of guys have a curved-shaft trimmer, and that’s ok. Nothing to be ashamed about; they seem to get along fine. The straight shaft of course can tolerate more sustained and regular use, what with the gear box on the end. It also has more reach.”
  •  “Could you load 25 bags of topsoil out to my car for me?”    “I’d be happy to! You know, this isn’t actually top soil – sand, silt and clay with 5-20% organic matter. This is 100% organic matter, usually manure and mill or green waste, composted and screened, sometimes with charcoal added to make it blacker. Kitchen and Bath has composting toilets available by special-order. You could save the bagging cost on these topsoil bags, which is, like, half the production cost.”

Anyway, I also wrote a poem for the store newsletter. Not exactly Ozymandias, though also poking at an edifice, or maybe just observational comedy. Here’s some:

The Ballad of Home Depot*

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon,
The home-lives of these boys will need a few improvements soon.
With bleary eyes the married guys are bending to their tasks.
All hairy backs and low-slung slacks, they say, “The Mrs. ‘asks’”.
“Hey, I need some underlay. My paint has dried to glue.
Against my will my grass grows. Still! My God, what shall I do?”
“Need low price and need advice, even if it’s poor.
So off we go to Home Depot. They’ll stock this stuff, I’m sure.”
40,000 products and a grin shall greet our guest.
Our orange smocks (which no one mocks) with Kevlar make us best.
The freaks and trolls, clog up the strolls on up and down the aisles.
They stand and stare. Then we are there to help, with winning smiles.
Sometimes the smiles are not enough. There’s rage within our midst.
This patron is a dominant, note clenching jaw and fist.
Their shopping time is valuable, on this we all agree.
Though if they wait, all filled with hate, they think this stuff is free.
“Free to you. I mean this true. I’m sorry, we were wrong.
But when you face your parking space, you’ll find your car is gone”.
You know our Lot Associates** can break in with a wire.
They drive them off and part them out to our friends: Canadian Tire***….”

The poem went on and on, and while you’re thinking it, I did quit my day job. For a better one.

* With apologies to Robert W. Service
** Lot Associates = parking lot helpers
*** A big box chain specializing in automotive.

Posted by on August 7, 2013 at 9:00 pm, in the category Guest Rants, Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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22 Responses to “Smart Remarks from the Seasonal Department, or How to Not Get Promoted at the Big Box Retailer”

  1. Not sure I could keep my mouth shut long enough to get hired.

    • Geoff Lewis says:

      Touche! One snappy remark I seldom got to use is “I see your point. Fortunately, you can hide it under that hat.” An ex-girlfriend apprised me of that one.

  2. Curved-shaft string trimmers are more fun to use, though.

    • Geoff Lewis says:

      Wear protection. And so many young trees and shrubs’ lives are cut short by overenthusiastic string trimming, straight and curved. We should all be careful out there. Straight-shaft is the standard for your trimmer-for-hire everywhere I’ve seen.

  3. Laura Bell says:

    Even before I read the footnotes, I was thinking this was more Cremation of Sam McGee than Ozymandias. Love the poem. Love your answers, but I do hope the HD folks in other departments aren’t mocking me for my lack of plumbing/carpentry/whatever knowledge.

  4. Monish says:

    I want the back story here; what caused you to go over to the other side? Pay? Sounds like you would have more options than that. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I sometimes consider it- I live in a small town and there are not many choices for a life-long hort head. I know it would be so ridiculous and lacking any credibility at all. I think I’ll go back to landscape maintenance and set my sights on starting my own nursery- am in business classes now.

  5. Geoff Lewis says:

    Not pay! I had to get two part-time jobs to make a full-time job. Rent, bills, you know.

  6. greg draiss says:

    Wondering if this condescension carries over into the real end of the garden industry. Do not understand why it would only come out at Depot. Better yet would be for more of us to get jobs at Depot and tell every one to go to a real garden center…………………………….

    The TROLL

    • Geoff Lewis says:

      Let us read from the book of Joni Mitchell:
      “I’ve looked at yards from most sides now
      From up and down and still somehow
      It’s plants’ illusions I recall
      I really don’t know life at all”

  7. marcia says:

    Hate to break this to you, but I wear the orange apron and have for 15 years, most of it in the garden dept. (once, I was on sabbatical in paint.) a vacation!
    Most of my frustration comes from our “return anything policy.” dead plants, you really bought it looking like this? abused lawnmowers, power washers (the job was over and I was too cheap to rent one). I know a thief when I see one.
    About the wonders of chemistry, I believe in NOT killing every bug in your yard. Spiders are not vegetarians. There are “safe’ products on the shelf right along with the bad stuff. Fertilizers whether organic or blue crystals contain mostly N_P_K. My inside urban gardeners want high P numbers and steal the micro pruners faster than I can reorder them.
    Where we live, we have a homeowners assn. that wants only certain shrubs in the front yard. (Even though the last two died, wrong plant , wrong site.) They’re still planting Chinese hackberry trees in spite of the aphid problem. I refer my customers to a “real” nursery to buy shade trees because our So Cal. buyer only sends me palm trees. By the way, management knows I do it. Its called pleasing the customer.
    I love reading this site and was especially pleased with the rant about impatiens. We’ve been heavily impacted with the downy mildew problem. unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of alternatives, other than begonias where we are. Thanks for listening .

    marcia

    • Geoff Lewis says:

      Returns, I hear that. Pots with mush in them. Spent lilies, poinsettias. One guy tried to return a flat-deck truck’s-worth of a dead hedge. He didn’t make it, but what a show! I was at HD in seasonal for three years, the last bit in flooring.
      Cheers!

  8. gemma says:

    If you want to hear comments from the other side (customers!) go to any yelp (or similar) site for your local independent nurseries AND big box stores. You’ll hear about it if a customer was the target of an employee’s bad attitude. I wanted to find out how early a local garden center opened, and I happened upon the reviews. I was surprised at the vehemence of some commenters, because it’s always seemed to be a pretty relaxed place — but then I’ve never asked for help.

  9. emily says:

    There is the other side of the problem, too. I have a bad goutweed problem. I went to a rival big box store to buy sheets of plastic to solarize the stuff after cutting it back.
    I was looking for plastic sheeting. They asked me why and stupidly I told them. They insisted it was in the garden department. Once there, they told me I meant fabric to prevent weeds. I said no, I want plastic sheeting to kill weeds. They treated me like a stupid child. I could feel them all laughing behind my back. Finally, a very nice man took me to the right section. I was truly grateful.
    There are several morals to this story. #1 – don’t explain why you want what you want.

  10. Geoff Lewis says:

    Goutweed, variegated or otherwise, is tough to get rid of. I appreciate the challenge and the options. And plastic vapor barrier is usually in building materials. At a guess, I think we all suffer feelings of being excluded, and also take pains to exclude others. You had other morals to the story?

  11. michele says:

    I try to only shop at ‘real’ nurseries;I’m actually on a first name basis with the hort guys at my favorite. There are times when due to time constraints or severe budget problems that I will go to a big box store. I don’t talk to anyone there because I’ve never met any staff that has the slightest idea about the products or plants. You should have been a godsend, but that just proves your point.

    • Geoff Lewis says:

      Thanks! But I was just trying to share some accumulated horticultural humor. I learned at HD that most homeowners don’t much like gardens, or biology, or horticulture etc.

      • gemma says:

        I used to know someone who used the word “gardening” to refer to mowing the lawn and cleaning up the yard. She hated it because she got dirty and had to deal with bugs. From the looks of most suburban yards, many people feel that way!

  12. Joel says:

    I worked at Home Depot for a few years a while back. I bounced between garden and delivery coordinator the whole time. It kept me busy, so the day went by quickly at least. But I am still amazed at how many projects I had to coordinate for the customers.
    Customer: “I’m building a deck.”
    Me: “Great! How can I help?”
    Customer: “Uh… so what do I do?”
    Me: “What type of deck? How big is it?”
    Customer: “Huh? Can’t you just tell me what to buy?”

    And it went on like that everyday for years.

    -Fun read! :)

    • Joel says:

      Oh! And one Dr. (he made sure we called him Dr.) went to the general manager when I refused to shove a pallet of pavers into the back of his brand new Escalade with the forklift. I mean never mind that we were about 1/2″ shy of fitting, I didn’t want to be responsible for destroying that new Caddy. My manager told me to do it and I did but it was too heavy and his tires were rubbing the wheel wells. Of course once its jammed in like that you have to take them all out one-by-one. Fun times. Fun times.

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