Inside Home Depot, by Chris Roush
McGraw-Hill, 266 pages, $24.95

Finally, you've got the time to finish that home project you started months ago. But you need nails. Common or finishing? You're not quite sure. What do you do?

Check out the nearest Home Depot. The company's gigantic stores, stocked floor to ceiling with building supplies, are a bonanza for do-it-yourselfers. More important, HD's employees are well trained to help customers find what they want and often help them determine whether it's what they really need.

This training starts with a week of classes for new hires to steep them in company history and customer service techniques. Once on board, everyone, including managers, must undergo an hour of training each week -- an expensive commitment for Home Depot, given its 150,000 employees.

Training is such a critical value, in fact, that cofounder Arthur Blank spends a third of his time personally training employees. This, in an era when many CEOs only see their workforce on paper.

But this corporate paragon of customer service has a dark side. Competitors are treated like enemies; encroachment is an act of war. In 1997, for instance, when rival Lowe's opened a store in Atlanta, HD broadcast in house a mock newscast of the "battle" -- complete with a VP in camouflage, urging HD loyalists to "kick these cooters [ that is, Lowe's] back to Booger Holler where they belong."

You probably won't see this side of Home Depot when you go to the store. And despite these lapses into machismo, HD is popular as an employer. It's not unusual for several thousand people to vie for a few hundred jobs when new stores open.

That wasn't the case when founders Blank and Bernie Marcus opened the first Home Depot stores in 1979. The two are "not creative geniuses," notes author Roush, but they quickly learned and systematized the key to their success: Train and empower employees to make customers happy.

Inside Home Depot shows you how they do it -- warts and all.

Copyright 1999 Soundview Executive Book Summaries