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The Nuts and Bolts of Customer Service: How Home Improvement Stores can Win.

When we discuss specialized industries, some bring more trepidation to Guests than others.  For many, there is nothing more daunting than a foray in to the world of home improvement.

Let’s face it, for most people their home is their single biggest investment and a symbol of family and security.  It is also a complex beast full of wires, pipes, and ducts that are governed by rules and laws that ensure the safety of those who dwell within.

That means that not only does this represent an enormous fixed asset, but a potential money pit and safety hazard when folks decide to try a little DIY.  Why mention this?  Because during this 10 week series I want to help everyone crawl inside the heads of the Guests in a way that can bring understanding and drive excellence.

Which brings us to the focus of today’s article.  This week we will be talking about the multi-billion dollar industry that revolves around home improvement and the stores that deliver these services.  This article has relevance for the big box home improvement stores, the local hardware proprietor, and even those who offer home improvement supplies as a part of a wider retail experience.

I recently finished a home renovation project, and I can tell you that I have never embarked upon something more satisfying in my life.  But that isn’t to say that it was easy.  It was hard, dirty, dusty, back breaking work that was full of frustration and bloody knuckles.

But remember that those who seek to improve their homes are doing so not just for themselves, but for their families, and that means that special care must be taken to protect their dreams.

So this is week 4 in our 10 week series – in case you missed any of the past articles, you can click to them right here:

So let’s put on our safety gear and talk about the secrets to winning in the home improvement space:

THE MISSION Remember when we talk about the mission, we want to discuss the mission bigger than ourselves.  So yes, you will be selling Customers pipes and ratchets and bolts, but you are selling more than that.

You are helping them with their dreams.

Dreams are powerful things and those who help people nurture and achieve them can grow fantastic loyalty with their Customers.  This is the power of knowledgeable, helpful associates in the home improvement space.  Most times folks see this fantastic idea on one of the many home improvement shows out there and want to replicate it in their own homes.  Often budget is an issue, so “doing it yourself” becomes a cost effective way to achieve the end goal.

All that said, this comes down to the dream.  That special goal that Guests have in their mind’s eye and that has brought them to the hardware store on a Sunday afternoon.  They are looking for someone to buy into their dreams and help them create a road map to success.  They are looking for a company that is patient, of service, and knows how to help them connect the dots.

THE GUEST PERSPECTIVE There has always been a certain level of desire for folks to dabble in home improvement and DIY – but much like cooking, it has taken on a whole new level of enthusiasm with the various television channels showing tricks of the trade.  These shows depict dramatic changes to spaces that often don’t quite line up with reality in terms of time, budget, and ability for a home owner with basic skills to complete.

So this puts a unique twist on the relationship and dynamic.  Safety is the most important thing that any business can focus upon, but in home improvement it takes on a whole new meaning.  There are many nuances to plumbing and electrical work that must be followed to be sure that the safety of the home and those inside are protected.  Often this may mean level setting with Guests and ensuring that they have considered the safety aspect of the project.

It also means keeping an eye out for those who are lost and in need of help.  For sure there are weekend handymen who need little or no attention when they visit – and then there are guys like me who never seem to get the right bolt, nail, or paint brush with out a little well timed assistance.

So be sure to engage Guests and ask how you can help – it opens up the conversation and allows them the chance to ask a question.

Work tools

THE PITFALLS There are many places a DIY adventure can go wrong.  We discussed safety up above and let’s touch on it again very quickly.  There is something to be said for doubling down on the safety of people and their assets.  Keep in mind that you may have folks who try to bite off more than they can chew so be sure you are ready to ask the right questions to help them achieve their dreams.

Also remember that folks often lament that they have to make multiple trips to home improvement stores to get everything.  Make sure you help them minimize their trips by suggesting items they may not have thought of.  It also means organizing your store in such a way that helps people see items they need together.  For example, a Guest might have thought about paint brushes and trays when selecting paint, but they may not have thought about drop cloths.

Finally, remember the bugaboos of home delivery.  You may sell stoves or washers that you will happily deliver and install for your Guests.  Keep in mind that your drivers must be good stewards of your brand while on the road and protect your Customers’ homes while delivering.  Make sure they understand to keep themselves and their Customers safe during these deliveries.  Stepping into someone’s home could mean navigating floor plans with tough corners to turn, pets that could escape, and children could be injured.  It’s a lot to keep in mind, but be sure your training here is top notch.

HOW TO WIN: There is power in helping folks achieve their dreams and provide excellence for their families.  In most cases this is what is going on when folks head into home improvement stores to begin a project.  Remember that they are going to be a little stressed out and possibly confused about what they need and how to begin.

Start by embracing the tenants of great Customer service.  Genuine smiles and warm welcomes always begin things off on the right foot – and if you couple that with attentive and intelligent service things are definitely moving toward excellence.  Remember that there are plenty of places folks can go to get home improvement items – now that isn’t to say that they are all on the same level.  In some cases those who focus on this as their core competency may have a better product – and thus must ensure Guests know that knowledge and quality are worth the slightly higher price point.

From there think from the Guest perspective with regard to how products are positioned and where you place check outs, carts, and even pick up locations for large items.  Be responsible about estimates regarding delivery times and make it very clear which items are available right now and which must be ordered for later arrival.

Make sure your teams are well trained and versed in their sections and never guess when it comes to a safety question.  Knowledgeable teams will often be your greatest asset.

Finally, become a partner by offering workshops and how-to courses that will not only bring folks to your store but also foster loyalty as you become a member of the family.

This is all by way of saying that you are taking on a big responsibility when you help folks renovate their biggest asset – do it with pride and like you would for your most cherished friend.

Next week we will take a trip into the world of the department store – a century’s long tradition that perhaps has lost a bit of its focus on the basics of great service.


Tony Johnson is a Customer Experience Expert, Keynote Speaker, and Author with a wide background including decades in retail and restaurants.  He regularly speaks and coaches organizations to IGNITE THEIR SERVICE PASSION using his common sense approach to Customer engagement.  Tony has spoken to government agencies and Fortune 500 companies to unlock their amazing capacity for excellence.

Check out Tony’s FREE Resources and Training Tools: Web: YouTube: Twitter:

Check out Tony’s book: RECIPE FOR SERVICE Now Available on

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