Merchant Q&A: Sourcing Better Building Products
Many home improvement projects involve a trip to the lumber aisle. After all, building materials are the backbone of the home improvement industry.
For a lot of people, The Home Depot is synonymous with lumber. When they think of The Home Depot, they picture the big, orange, cantilevered racks stacked with wood products. After all, so many home improvement projects involve a trip to the lumber aisle. Recently, we sat down with Katie Hunt, Associate Merchant for Lumber and Building Materials at The Home Depot, to learn more about the industry that is the backbone of home improvement and find out how her department is approaching sustainability.
Can you tell us a bit about your role and your department? How does The Home Depot define the lumber department exactly?
I’m the Associate Merchant for Lumber and Building Materials at The Home Depot. Like any merchant at The Home Depot, I wear a lot of different hats. I work with stores to ensure we have the breadth and quality of products that consumers want and need. I also work with suppliers to secure product supply and improve product innovation. But my primary goal is to advocate for the consumer. Merchants are responsible for ensuring that our stores have the best products, at the best value. If a shopper comes to The Home Depot in search of something, my job is to make sure it’s there for them.
Merchants do a lot of listening and learning. For instance, I spend a lot of time in the stores talking with customers and associates. It’s the best way to keep up with consumers’ wants and concerns. I also spend a lot of time with suppliers, learning their processes and advocating for continuous improvement.
Compared to the technology-driven tools and gadgets elsewhere in The Home Depot, the lumber aisle looks a lot like it did 10 years ago. What can you tell us about what’s happening behind the scenes that we aren’t seeing?
The lumber industry does have a lot of continuity. There are a lot of brands that have been around for decades. But it’s by no means a static industry. It’s simply that much of the innovation in wood-based materials happens out of sight. While the 2×4 of today may look a lot like its predecessor, the technology and processes that go into making it have improved. Manufacturing has become more efficient and more precise. There’s a lot less waste involved.
When you think about materials that are engineered, like some decking and siding products, the improvements are more dramatic. Modern siding, for example, is not only manufactured more efficiently and with less waste, but also designed to last longer and deliver more value. For example, a lot of the siding we carry comes pre-primed or painted, which is an improvement that helps control labor costs and decreases project timelines.
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