Former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake on integrating online and in-store retail experiences – Atlanta Small Business Network

Recently, the Atlanta Small Business Network was on-location at TiECON Atlanta 2022 where anchor Jim Fitzpatrick spoke with Frank Blake, the Former Chairman and CEO of The Home Depot, and former United States Deputy Secretary of Energy under President George W. Bush.
Stay tuned for more coverage from TiECON Atlanta 2022!
Transcription:
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Mr. Blake, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule.
Frank Blake:
Thank you, Jim. It’s great to be here.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Great presentation that you gave and I know the audience got a lot out of it.
Frank Blake:
You’re very kind.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Let me ask you this, and I’ll jump into some of these questions. Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank started Home Depot in 1978, and they had a lot of headwinds back then, similar to what we’re seeing right now, high gas prices and inflation and interest rates and things of that nature. Could Home Depot be started today by a couple of entrepreneurs that said “Hey, let’s put some of our small funds together here and go start a huge international chain?”
Frank Blake:
It’s a great question, Jim, and I’ve heard Bernie being asked that question, and his answer is that it would be extraordinarily difficult now. Just… They raised money in the public markets pretty early in the company’s history, and I think that would be significantly more difficult now, just the regulatory structure and all the requirements. But having said that, there are an awful lot of… Witness this event here, there are an enormous number of entrepreneurs who are starting companies that I’m sure 20 years from now we’re going to be looking back saying “Oh my gosh, they started that in 2022. Look what they are now.” I think it can be done.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Now, there’s a lot of tech companies here today, as you know, and obviously, Home Depot really built their company on having brick-and-mortar worldwide. What’s the future of brick-and-mortar retail?
Frank Blake:
I think very strongly, and I know this is the view of the current management of Home Depot as well, is that the consumer is best served by both the brick-and-mortar physical store and a great online experience. The interconnected experience is really the future of retail.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yeah. You think we’ll see a resurgence of more stores and brick-and-mortar locations. We see so much that everything’s online now, between Amazon and all the other carriers, that-
Frank Blake:
There will always be new physical stores built, because new concepts come up, new ways of satisfying customer needs. Yeah, brick-and-mortar will continue to be with us.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Alive and well.
Frank Blake:
It will change, but it will still be with us.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. You talked about the importance of bringing the two together online experience, as well as in-store. Right? Got to have that.
Frank Blake:
You see some great online businesses that have stores now. Warby Parker is a great example, but there are many others. You talked about needing two factors in place and for success. I’m paraphrasing so I don’t get it exactly, but you talked about the importance of allocating capital, and the importance of allocating human capital. Talk to us a little bit about that.
Frank Blake:
Well, it’s really pretty straightforward. You need, and this goes back to Jim Collins and the Good to Great book, you need to have the right people on your team doing the right things. That’s your human capital allocation. Then you need to put your money to work on what actually drives the economic engine of your business. It’s… What’s interesting is it’s simple, and yet really difficult to do and very difficult to do consistently.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Yeah. You mentioned that if something happened later on, you’d look back and you said that those are the two areas that you said “Darn it. I wish I had done that differently.” Right?
Frank Blake:
You make mistakes on both parts.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yeah. There’s no question about it. If you had to pick, and I know this is a very loaded question, but if you had to pick three or four top things that have to go in. Elements, that’ve got to go in to building a great culture, and you have done that at Home Depot and Home Depot has done that as a company, what would they be?
Frank Blake:
I would start by every company needs to be taking care of its employees. Home Depot, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank had a great phrase, you see it elsewhere now, but “Take care of your customers, take care of your employees, and everything else takes care of itself.” Sometimes we forget that, take care of your employees. It starts with, are you telling the associates “This is the best place to work in the world?” If they’re putting in their blood, sweat and tears, this is the best place for them. That’s where it starts, and then obviously the obsessive customer focus, providing what the customer wants.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Which is challenging today, right? Because the customer is just one click away from 12 other retailers.
Frank Blake:
There are lots of different experiences, which is why you got to be all that much better.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. I know a lot of people are wondering what’s next for you. You’ve got so much under your belt, you’ve accomplished so much. Here you are at conferences talking, but what’s next? What’s in your mind that people should be saying “Hey, this guy’s a visionary, we need to follow him.”
Frank Blake:
Well, I’m not sure I’m a visionary, and they don’t need to follow me. I will tell you for myself, someone gave me a great framework for thinking of retired life, which is do a third personal time, things that you didn’t do when you were working. A third giving back, because I think that’s hugely important. Arthur and Bernie are great examples of that. Home Depot here in Atlanta, a great example of that. Then a third, I will continue to do business things, just because they’re exciting and fun.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Never give up, right?
Frank Blake:
Never give up.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
Never give up. Well, Frank Blake, thank you so much for joining us on the show.
Frank Blake:
Thank you, Jim.
Jim Fitzpatrick:
We very much appreciate it. Thanks.
Frank Blake:
Thanks.
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