Credit: GRAPHIC BY NICK ORABOVIC
When she shops for home and garden supplies, Laura Minert has
plenty of reasons to choose Orchard Supply Hardware.
“They go out of their way to have excellent customer
service,” says the sales and marketing manager at
Herb’s Pool Service in San Rafael, Calif.
“They’re always greeting you, always helping you find
product — and they know the product well enough to actually
explain it to you.”
These are all qualities that Orchard — often known by its
acronym “OSH” — actively cultivates in its
employees, from the initial training process through the minutia of
day-to-day operations. Combined with the company’s innovative
approaches to store-wide promotion, this dedication to friendly,
expert assistance makes Orchard stand out from a crowd of
competitors, Minert says.
“Training our employees to be attentive and responsive to
customers is a practiced, deliberate thing,” says Rick
Saunders, director of marketing at Orchard Supply Hardware in San
Jose, Calif. “Our associates also go through intensive
training, both in terms of product knowledge and about how you
should meet and greet a customer.”
Staff members are trained to greet customers as they enter, and ask
what they’re looking for. Employees can then point a customer
to the right place, saving shoppers the hassle of tracking down the
Many Orchard stores also feature “shelf talkers”
— mounted displays demonstrating how to install, say, a light
fixture or a sprinkler system. “Some stores even have a
cutaway model of a toilet,” Saunders says, “so we can
take customers over to that model and show them how to take it
apart and repair it.”
Though other hardware stores might include these features, Minert
says Orchard adds attentive customer service to make home
maintenance shopping fun. Moreover, many home and garden stores
evoke the feeling of a warehouse, but Orchard’s atmosphere is
much more oriented toward the average homeowner — the person
who might not know how to plumb a sprinkler system, but wants to
learn. This emphasis on customer education marks a key difference
between Orchard and many of its competitors, Saunders says. The
company even offers free how-to’s on its Website.
Similarly, Minert trains her staff to be knowledgeable about every
product in her stores — and proactive about approaching
customers who may need tips or input.
“The way the staff always greet you promptly, and are eager
and knowledgeable about helping you find product — I
definitely try to apply that when I’m training my
employees,” she says.
Another area where Minert sees a close kinship with her own
business is that of localization. Managers at every Orchard branch
tailor the product selection to the needs of their immediate area,
and work to make the store a reliable neighborhood fixture.
“Each store manager has a lot of latitude in terms of what
products to put in, and how to arrange them,” Saunders
Orchard also innovates in terms of promotions. In addition to
targeted weekly ads in local papers, the company celebrates unusual
store-wide events. For example, rather than announcing a “10
percent off” sale, a branch of the chain will announce a
“we pay all sales tax” day.
Despite the fact that a 10 percent discount would actually save
customers slightly more than a store-paid sales tax, Saunders says
shoppers respond more strongly to the latter concept. “People
just like the idea of it,” he says. “There’s
something about this feeling of freedom from paying sales tax that
really appeals to them.”