Clint, Home Depot, and Re-thinking Local


by Guest Susan Tomlinson of The Bike Garden

This is Clint. As you can see, he works in the paint department of Home Depot. What you can't see is TomlinsonClint Miller that he’s also the bass man in a beloved local band, The Thriftstore Cowboys. I met Clint a few years ago when he was dating a woman in the office where I worked, and I've been to a few of the band's gigs when they are playing in town, but other than that, I can't say I know him very well. But I see him from time to time when I go to Home Depot. And I go there a lot, since I am a do-it-yourselfer of every sort of stripe and it is just down the road from me. I'm not sure Clint really remembers how he knows me, but I do, and since the band and our mutual friend are both good associations, it always makes me smile to see him.

As a gardener and someone generally interested in sustainability, I’ve been thinking lately about what we mean when we say the word “local.” And when I saw Clint this morning at Home Depot, it suddenly occurred to me that I think of it, through associations like this and others, as a neighborhood store.

I know, I know.

I know.

But consider this: Clint said, when I asked him, that he appreciates working there because they let him take off—sometimes for weeks at a time and several times a year—to tour with the band. When he comes back, he still has a job. He said that though he’d rather not mix paint for the rest of his life, the people he works for are “pretty laid back,” and it’s nice that they support him touring.

Doesn’t that sound like the kind of values-based thinking you’d want from a neighborhood store?

Sure, it competes with my favorite mom and pop nursery, but I shop there, too. I just can’t afford to shop there all the time, because they are very expensive.

It also competes with my favorite wood purveyor, though not really, since both sell different qualities and types of wood for different projects. Also, the wood purveyor is way the yell and back across town; I burn a lot of fuel driving there, whereas HD is, as I’ve said, just down the street. Sometimes I even bike there.

And yes, HD has materials shipped in from all over, thereby committing crimes against resources, but so do the mom and pop places.

There is also this: The mom and pop stores could never employ as many people who are looking for a job to help them through school, or bring home extra money, or that will let them have time off to tour with a band. Much has been made about the way Big Box stores put people out of business only to hire them, but really, would Clint and the many others working there have been those people?

This is not meant to be an apology for Home Depot. Instead, my point is to re-visit the idea of “local” and where individual businesses and practices fit into the concept of the common good.

There are very few things in life that are entirely good or entirely bad. This is probably true of Big Box stores and mom and pops, non-organic and organic pesticides, bluegrass lawns and no lawn at all, native plantings and tulips, farmers markets and chain supermarkets, Democrats and Republicans, Face Book and face-to-face, Kindle and good old fashioned books. So maybe we need to stop categorizing them that way.

Just throwin’ that out there to chew on.


  1. Great post! I shop at HD also, for all of the same reasons. I usually feel a twinge of guilt as I pass our small local hardware store, but they just don’t always carry what I need and the pricing is ridiculous.

    Life is rarely just black and white – thanks for reminding us of the many shades of gray!

  2. I have never had a good experience at home depot. It’s unbelievable the amount of things they’ve screwed up for me. I now shop at a different store because although they are slightly more expensive, they are also helpful, knowledgeable and they give us deals and free delivery because we shop there so often.

  3. Now that I am past the half century mark – I worry about losing my fun-but-low-pay job. The ONLY place I see hiring older workers is the two big box retailers Lowe’s and Home Depot.

    My neighborhood Home Depot stocks plants grown within 100 miles of here – that’s pretty local as far as nursery stock goes.

  4. What lovely propaganda.
    I have no blanket beef w/HD (I DO need a place to buy cement, wood, hardware, etc.), but I sure as hell will never buy plants there again after their tomatoes brought late blight to my grounds. Lowe’s, at least in Austin, has a better supply of gardening materials (ie. haven’t been able to find molasses or horticultural vinegar at HD).

    And you know, the only difference between a big company and a small company is… success.

    If by success you mean “profit by any means necessary” then I would agree.

  5. Joseph said: “The only difference between a big company and a small company is… success.”
    I say: Huh? I know you’re a smart guy so I must be reading this wrong. Say more!
    (Coz I’m thinking – does he mean small companies are by definition not successful? That their profits aren’t more likely to stay in the community? Etc.)

  6. I fail to see all the intended message. Tell Clint if he ever needs a foster home he is welcome to Puerto Rico USA. On the other hand I still do not see the crappy connection with Flora/Fauna and your perspective on reality…

  7. May the lordy, if there is one forgive moi. The more I read I this, the sillier it seems. As if in an lsd trip in the sixties, when one could find bumper stickers:

    What a piece of local MANURE.

  8. I manage a small independent garden center in Atlanta, and we currently have on staff a woman over 65, a woman over 50, a woman who travels with her band three-six weeks at a time during our off-seasons, and a guy who travels every other week for his primary employment. HD hasn’t cornered the market on hiring diverse staff and allowing for flexible scheduling. Small IGCs are really good at it, too.

    The difference is that because we’re small and independently owned, the diverse staff members we hire also have to really know their stuff and be able offer the in-depth expertise and one-on-one assistance that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at the big boxes.

  9. I thought it was a very good post. The Mom and Pop stores may hire these people as well, but let’s be honest, if you only have 3 employees and one wants to take 3 weeks off, there isn’t enough staff if another person wants a day off. I have also seen where many Olympians work at the big box stores because they will give them the flexibility to get their training in. I know that our local Ice Cream place hires alot of kids that are into baseball in the summer, or soccer, but if there is a tournament he has a heck of a time keeping the place open.

  10. I think the author of this post would be a good speaker at the “Rally to Restore Sanity.”
    Although I must respectfully disagree with one point she made about Facebook. It’s 95% evil, 5% good.

  11. I’m all for bringing some reason and sanity into the discussion. Pigeonholing and assigning moral values doesn’t help. The world is gray, life is gray. Gray is a lot more difficult to assess and evaluate than black and white, but it is what it is.

  12. I can think of two examples of local businesses that hire people with the explicit promise of being flexible to unusual schedules. One is a restaurant that has big signs saing “hey highschoolers, we have jobs for you!”. And the other is the company Harmonix, makers of the Rock Band series of games. Since so many of their employees are musicians, they make sure to factor in touring time.

  13. I like the ideas you threw out for us to “chew on”. It is always a good thing to try and look at any situation/issue from all angles and all perspectives. Most of the comments above are great; they are offering several different angles and perspectives in response to this post. There is seldom ever one single right answer to a problem.

    Thanks, Susan, for this posting.

  14. Shopping at independant stores retains some of the independance we as consumers cherish. But they must provide what is needed wanted by a select group or will not survive. The proliferation of native plant nurseries is testament to this truth.

    Big box must beware as well.Consider, Walmart supercenters are only some time away from the fate of Sears or worse. The bigger they are the harder the fall.

  15. Don’t think the indie garden centers have their work cut out for them? Check out this Best of Orange County 2010 winners. Third place after stalwarts like Armstrong Garden Center and Rogers Gardens, it’s Home Depot.

    Home Depot is going to be taking more and more business from independents as time goes on. Independents have to differentiate themselves quick from The Boxes if they are going to survive.

    Remember, Mc Donalds, Lowes, Wells Fargo, Taco Bell, Wal Mart, Costco, and others hire local people. It comes down to what you want your town to look like. These businesses all have a place in the grand scheme of things. The question is whether you want your town to have only these places to shop at. If that happens then Clint had better get use to mixing paint.

  16. Well, of course they hire locals. People are already the biggest cost to almost any business. You think the owners would spend more to have them trucked in daily ? I’d have more respect for the Depot if they lightened up on promoting the “this’ll kill everything” method of yard maintenance.

    This is not to say I won’t patronize them. I recently purchased materials for raised beds from them, as well as cement (in ‘lug-able’ sized bags), irrigation pipe and low-VOC paint. I generally can’t find those things for a competitive price – if at all – at my local IGC or hardware store. But for specialty items or items about which I am picky – plants, compost, replacement breaker for an ancient electrical box – I know I can find what I want at the locals. Never at the Big Boxes, though.

  17. I like this post. I try to spread the love between the hardware store down the street from me, HD a little further away, and IGC’s or even smaller online companies. A perfect example: the other day, I went out to get supplies to transform an old 55 gallon plastic barrel into a rain barrel. I started out at HD because their selection of spray paint colors is huge, and I wanted to get just the right shade. However, when I went to track down the hardware I needed for the rain barrel, their selection was…lacking. A couple of employees were trying to help me find a nut to secure my hose bib. What they came up with wasn’t satisfactory, and when I said that I knew they made a large hex nut that would fit on hose thread, they said ‘yeah we don’t carry that, I don’t know who would…’ I replied that my local hardware did, and I would get the paint at HD and the hardware at the local store. The right store for the right thing.

  18. It is cheaper to buy at Walmart – but I don’t shop there. Walmart also hires local people and older people but I don’t shop there. Why? If I actually care about sustainability and the Garden Rant manifesto, I steer clear of places that are part of the problem. What problem? Mega-businesses that make it difficult for small businesses to survive, because they cannot afford to buy in quantity.

    IGCs are far more likely to have local grown plants, unusual plants, native plants, knowledgeable staff.

    Doesn’t HD get enough advertising already without this post? What next – a paean to pesticides and chemical fertilizers?

  19. I live in a small town in which at least a dozen small mom and pop businesses went belly-up shortly after the arrival of a Wal-Mart (hardware store, pharmacies, toy store, sporting goods store, a couple of clothing stores). Since then, things have stabilized and some new stores have opened up–but they are very high-end and cater to the moneyed folks in town, or the tourists who visit. Another sad example of the income gap spreading wider in America.

    Our IGCs, though, are thriving, especially now that gardening is becoming more widespread. Why? Because of the quality of what they offer, and their knowledgeable staff, and because they offer plants that are right for our region. they’re a little more expensive, but in the end maybe not because you can rely on better success with what you purchase.

  20. My local Depot definitely would not work with your schedule.When I worked for them I almost never could get time off that I wanted. I wasn’t asking for a week at a time or anything just sometime specific days. No go. All depends on the store. Also I wasn’t a fan of working till midnight and then being expected back in at 5am.

  21. Well, you might have had a nice independent garden center down the street if Home Depot hadn’t negotiated the kind of major tax breaks and zoning exceptions that the little guys often don’t get.

    And although you might find cheaper stuff, it’s lower quality, too, from the pay-by-scan plants to the tools & materials that the big box stores require to be made of ever-cheaper materials, in ever-poorer countries, so as to shave a little off the price.

    It’s always possible to find one person who’s happily employed in any business. I guarantee you the four employees in my bookstore are better paid, given more flexibility, and in every way offered a better deal than they’d ever get at the chain store. Small business owners like me literally lose sleep (and cut our own paychecks) before we so much as shave a few hours off an employee’s schedule, much less lay them off. Your friend at Home Depot would be unemployed in a second if some bean-counter across the country decided it would be more profitable.

    I’d suggest that everybody read Stacy Mitchell’s wonderful book Big Box Swindle and then decide for yourself. It’s a fast, entertaining, well-written book, I promise.

    Yes, we all shop at chains some of the time. But I’d drive past three Home Depots to get to an independent garden center.

  22. I guess that Clint may sell some white paint, and also some black, but your interesting post reminds me that gray is likely the more common color in many areas.

  23. Thanks for weighing in, everyone. I threw it out there for some chewing on and that seems to have occurred.

    To clarify a few things: 1) This was not meant as an ad for Home Depot. It was meant to explore the concept of “local” means;

    2) Guest rants have a 500 word limit, and as it was, I went over by 100 words, so no, I didn’t go into what all the problems of Big Boxes are. Nor did I go into how hard it is to grow my own food in a semi-arid region, or how many local businesses I _do_ in fact support, in the main because I think it is a community-builder, etc. There simply wasn’t enough word space to cover all the issues associated with this. Fortunately, everyone else did a fine job of covering many of them.

    3) I did not in any way mean to imply that locally-owned businesses are not good to their employees. I only meant that _this_ particular Home Depot seemed to be good to its employees. And that is a neighborhood value that I’d support wherever I find it.

    4) And to all the small business owners out there: Blessings and success to you. I won’t stopped shopping at your stores.

  24. But, but, but – the great eraser. When we say we want to support local, BUT then it proves we put our pocketbook before our pocketbook. Which is it, keep the money on Main Street, or send it through Wall Street? The use of the word BUT proves we vote Main Street. I want to support local BUT HD has more paint color. The trouble with spreading our business out is that the local owned business portion is not enough to sell enough of the oddball colors and they can’t carry them. That is not their fault, it is their lot based on our choices to ERASE them by using our BUT. How about this; reverse the process, I want paint color choices BUT if I buy at HD I prevent local businesses from hiring more local people and paying more local taxes, and buying more local goods and services, etc. It’s all a choice in how we use our BUT. I’m speaking to myself as well here. Every time I go to the boxes and chains I’m choosing to support Wall Street, and undermine my own future and that of future generations. It is really not more complicated than that but we have to think our way through it and choose what we really want beyond that exact shade of spray paint.

  25. I find (like others) that there is a wide range of how well big box stores are managed and how customer friendly they are. I have been in some where it is near impossible to find any help and the plants always look pretty bad. I often go to another where it is easy to find help with my latest plumbing part question. I like to look there every once in awhile because unlike the small garden centers where I buy most plants, sometimes Lowes or HD get things in that are mis-labeled and priced much more cheaply than you can get anywhere else–they apparently don’t know what they have. They also have to get rid of a lot of plants at the end of the season, so sometimes I pick up some that would otherwise go to the dumpster for small change. So I don’t mind shopping at the big box store near me occasionally me that is actually well-run, as opposed to the majority which are not– in my opinion.

  26. I shop at local stores for specialty items that the big box stores don’t carry. But for every day items I hit the box stores because they are cheaper. Some of us don’t have the money to buy everything at local stores because the prices are higher. I price the materials for projects at both types of stores and buy from the cheapest. I really don’t understand why people get so mad about shopping local or not shopping local. Do you really think everything in a small shop came from the surrounding area – most of it comes from the same place that the box stores get their stuff. And while we who read this blog are gardeners, horticulturists, etc., a lot of people aren’t and could care less if the fertiler is organic or if the plants are natives. And after working in both types of places I can tell you they don’t want to learn about it on their Saturday off.

  27. BOOOOOOO!! Of course they hire locals. They hired my neighbor. He hated it and said management were jerks about scheduling. My husband worked a consulting job and was hired in to help them up in corporate with financial reporting software and said he has never seen a company so inefficient and bogged down by all the corporate barnacles that have managed to hang on by kissing up and kicking down through the years. Not to mention being uber-parsimonious towards their employees and consultants. They didn’t even provide him with a phone to use and he had to borrow someone’s chair every day.

    That, though, is mostly besides the point and was just an attempt to interrupt the bizarre warm fuzzy that you were attempting to give us for Home Depot, of all companies.

    Local companies hire more locals, spend more money locally, support more other local businesses and charities, and their owners spend a lot of their money locally.

    Not only that but local garden center’s often DO provide flexibility in scheduling. I completely question your statement that “The mom and pop stores could never employ as many people who are looking for a job to help them through school, or bring home extra money, or that will let them have time off to tour with a band.” Over half of people employed at local garden centers,and other “mom ‘n pops”, are people like you just described in that statement. Where do you get that information, or is that just your opinion?

    Sometimes we shop at Home Depot or Lowe’s for items that we can’t find elsewhere since the local hardware stores have all gone out of business (surprise), or we’d have to drive 45 minutes to get it. So, it’s not like I’m some angel of local-everything. I was just really put off by that whole gooey, feel-good rationalization for shopping there, though.

    I’m sure Monsanto has a nice Clint-type person working in the organization, too. This doesn’t really come as a huge epiphany, though! Somebody has to be out there building the Death Star while Darth Vader plans the takeovers. Sheesh.

  28. I have to say, I go to the big box sometimes for various reasons, cost, product availability, location, etc. but I usually feel bad about it. I prefer the local establishment but that brings up another question.

    What if your local establishment is just as crappy? I’m talking same crappy products and old school pushing of pesticides and pissy staff? And then the big box has some great guy like Clint? Which one is the lesser of two evils? I totally agree it’s a grey area….with the big box being a very dark stormy grey of course 🙂

  29. Home Depot in Illinois is a distributor for Hampshire Farm Perennials, a large growing in Hampshire, IL. So they are keeping the money in Illinois. But as far as other problems with HD…that’s for the reader to consider.

  30. They say the most intriguing demographic are the “hyperlocals”, counterintuitive to what you think, those are people who shop local and big box, a kind of more the merrier approach. I think it’s a complicated issue without any clear cut right or wrong.
    Now if only HD would water their plants!

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