The leading name in home improvement opens its doors to a bunch of media influencers, and exposes the nuts and bolts of its operation

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I am only allowed to tell you part of what I saw at The ProSpective, but what I can tell you may alter the way you look at Home Depot, and power tools. It did me.

For three days in April I participated in ProSpective, an invitation-only event sponsored by Home Depot in the company’s hometown of Atlanta, where 80 journalists, bloggers and influencers came together to get a look at the latest in tools for DYI and professional use. It was a first-ever opportunity for media to go behind the scenes and see how things work inside the home improvement retailer giant.

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On arrivals night, attendees had the option to tour the top-secret Husky lab, a place that is a chamber of horrors for tools, and a playground for kids who became adults who loved to blow up things. As one of Home Depot’s premier brands, Husky ensures its quality by constantly testing the limits on its products. While there were certain areas and tests at the lab that visitors are not allowed to photograph or write about, I will describe what happens there as a cross between YouTube’s Crushit and an episode of Jackass, but in this case engineers and technicians wearing ties and safety goggles are executing the torture tests.

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Here we saw machines shaking and dropping boxes from great heights, compressors exerting the weight of two Corvettes on top of tool chests, bolts being purposely rusted and weathered and then subjected to thousands of pounds of torque and force, flashlights frozen into buckets of water at 40°F, and straps and fasteners stretched to the extreme, until they snapped, to make sure they could all withstand superhuman abuse and still meet or exceeded the Husky quality standards, per their lifetime guarantee.

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I only wish I could post it all on online, to inspire all of those pyrotechnic-obsessed YouTubers, whose fascination with deconstruction might one day lead to a successful career.

This was our first peek under the hood of Home Depot.

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The Town of Home Depot

The official Day One of the event began with a tour of the tiny town that is Home Depot headquarters, though they don’t call it that. To avoid sounding overly corporate, the employees refer to the complex as the Store Support Center, or SSC for short.

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Being an iconic American company with over 7,000 people walking through its doors each day, the company realizes it could be a target for bad guys, so security is tight. After showing ID and getting barcoded passes, we went one by one through revolving doors to enter. Once inside, we were given a tour of Main Street, the central passageway through the complex, which includes an on-site CVS and Minute Clinic, Starbucks, a dry cleaner, an in-house fitness center and childcare facilities.

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There’s also a museum dedicated to all things Home Depot, with artifacts from its founding days when Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, two guys who got fired from competitor Handy Dan, came up with the concept of a warehouse type hardware store.

An American Dream Story

The founders’ story is a lesson in perseverance. At first they had a difficult time getting buy-in from investors and suppliers. In 1978, the DIY movement was just getting started, and most hardware stores were small neighborhood shops, like ACE Hardware, and customers and vendors were skeptical of the big-box store format. Home Depot couldn’t fill the shelves in the beginning and even resorted to staging racks with empty paint cans to make their inventory look fully stocked.  Eventually, the concept caught on, and the store became the behemoth brand Home Depot is today.

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Similar to Disney, there’s a corporate culture of happiness that within a few minutes any employee will tell you about, with complete sincerity and appreciation. They will tell you that Home Depot cares about its people, and that’s why from the top down, the organization has a reputation of being a community member, where local stores give back through contributions of all sorts, including in-kind donations and labor. The company often organizes Team Depot philanthropic projects, where team members join together to give aid to those in need, such as families displaced by natural disasters.

Through the Home Depot Foundation, one of the company’s largest charitable efforts is its support of US military veterans, who the company serves through numerous organizations across the nation and in their local communities at the store level. Home Depot also employs about 35,000 veterans across its 8,000 stores.

Hands-On

Day two of the event was at Atlanta’s Ambient + Studio, an artsy warehouse space, where the leading tool manufacturing brands were on display. Greeted by orange-aproned helpers who handed us bags with 3M earplugs, safety goggles and face masks, the participants were divided into groups so we could tour through the space, visiting demos, similar to a trade show. IMG_5967

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The room reverberated with the sound of saws, drills, and nail guns. Representatives from the companies demonstrated the tools, some with entertaining and showy stress tests and comparisons with the competition.

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The company representatives were well versed, rehearsed and ready for us. It was hard to choose where to go next, surrounded by so many whirling and buzzing demos.

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I tried to get to each of the displays, though I wound up spending a lot of time at the Milwaukee booth, thanks to their very engaging ambassador — a handsome beefy guy with a great laugh and tremendous enthusiasm for his job of showcasing their tools, by putting them through their paces with a number of dramatic demos.

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First, he took a competitor’s measuring tape dispenser to task by pounding it with an enormous robot hammer, smashing it to pieces. Then he did the same test with a Milwaukee tape, which didn’t seem to put even a crimp into it. Then he stretched out the tape to 60 feet, alongside a competitor’s measuring tape, with huge balloons attached to the ends of the tapes. He recoiled the tapes at the same time, whereby the Milwaukee tape retracted within seconds, leaving the other leading brand, which I held, trailing behind. As I slowly reeled in the competitor’s tape, he beamed with pride.

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What a tool

As I made the rounds, I was treated to previews of the newest, hottest goods making their way to Home Depot shelves. For the do-it-yourselfer, there were drool-worthy tools like the Bosch Daredevil drill bit that can punch through a cinderblock as well as hard steel; the line of Ridged tools for pro or DIY building, that come with free parts, service and battery replacement for life; the Dremel precision tools for engraving on just about anything; the DeWalt cordless air compressor that can go anywhere and double as a generator for your electrical needs for projects – or those outdoor parties; or the Makita pneumatic line-up with tools that can grind through stone, vacuum up the dust and absorb vibration, alleviating some of the worst, hardest, dirtiest and most dangerous aspects of construction jobs. There were also automotive products and accessories companies, such as Armor All, A/C Pro refrigerant, and Rain-x, touting a new long-lasting wiper blade.

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Besides demos and hands-on opportunities to try out the tools, attendees also got to talk to various Home Depot brand managers, who informed us about little-known services and departments of Home Depot, like the online Décor department, where customers can shop for everything from mattresses to wine glasses.

Work hard, play hard

After a full day of tooling around, it was dinner time, and game time, at Ponce City Market Skyline Park. This rooftop party space above a retail and restaurant complex, developed from the former crumbling and abandoned Sears, Roebuck & Company building, was a perfect venue for this crowd, who valued what vision, imagination, and industriousness and create.

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This place was a grown-up fantasyland: an open bar with craft beers, wine and champagne, delicious hors d’oeuvres of beef sliders, shrimp toasts and chicken skewers; and midway games, mini golf, and even a couple amusement park thrill rides. It was the perfect wind down, to relax in the warm late afternoon Atlanta sunshine, with a view of the city, sipping drinks and socializing in a laid-back atmosphere of literal fun and games.

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Winning Team

The next day we boarded the buses bright and early, at 7 AM, to head for a project site, where we were going to help build and repair homes of local senior veterans. The Home Depot crew had to switch gears quickly when the weather turned nasty though. Instead of the outdoor site, we were shuttled to the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta.

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This enormous warehouse and workshop recycles gently used home furnishings and builds furniture for thousands of families a year. The executive director showed us a video of some of the people who whose lives have been transformed thanks to the gift of beds for their families to sleep on, kitchen tables where they could have a meal, and furniture to sit on instead of the floor. Even among the hunky handyman with steely faces I saw some misty eyes, as we all realized the significance of our task at hand.

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We were divided into teams of four or five people per workstation, and from the racks of raw materials, we gathered lumber, bolts and nuts and the various pieces to put together basic furniture items. In a few hours, my team had constructed a kitchen table and three coffee tables. In all, our group of volunteers had put together 44 pieces of furniture, all of which the furniture bank executive director informed us would likely be delivered to families within the week. In fact, while we were working, the kitchen table we had made was claimed and on its way to a home in need.

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Our participation in this Team Depot project was the highlight of ProSpective for many of us, as we got to see the Home Depot giving spirit at work, and we individually were able to make a contribution and to learn about Team Depot projects, so that we can get involved in our own communities.

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Good work

Throughout the three days, the presentations were highly professional, and the event was well produced, which was even more impressive considering ProSpective was the first event of its type. Busses efficiently transported attendees place to place, and the itinerary was organized and thoughtful, hotel accommodations at Hyatt Atlanta Midtown were excellent, and even the food, including a delectable creamy kale salad to die for, by local caterer Avalon, was superb.

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Home Depot hit the nail on the head when the company figured out that inviting influencers in the DIY space and professional contracting world into their world would be the best way to make an impression, by allowing us to immerse ourselves in the inner and outer community that makes up Home Depot. The event left us energized not just about Home Depot, but about our next projects and the new tools we can get our hands on, leaving us looking forward to – as the company slogan says – a lot “more doing.”

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