Hello shoppers...




We've all heard it, sung it, cursed it for not leaving our skulls and considered turning it into a full-blown musical featuring dancing plywood.

(Click this sentence to watch a cockateil listening to the Menards jingle, and wonder why a) somebody filmed it, and b) 5,631 people watched it.)

"It" is the snappy jingle for the do-it-yourselfer's paradise known as Menards - the focus of this week's Secret Shopper review (and a place where you can save big money, in case you haven't heard).

Menards is the fourth-largest home improvement store chain in the U.S. behind Home Depot, Lowes and just borrowing your neighbor's tools ad nauseam till he calls the cops. The 12-state, 45,000 employee, 259 location chain generates over $8 billion in annual sales; that's a lot of roofing, remodeling and recutting cause you only measured once.

What's harder to measure - yet undeniably real - is the impact of customer service on Menards' bottom line.

Especially when your very strong marketing also includes pitchman (now retired) Ray Szmanda:

Yet regardless of the power of Menard's hype machine, the fundamental things (in retail) still apply, as Sam in Casablanca (probably not referencing a lumberyard, but okay) reminded us: Menards' employees should smile, greet, engage and thank and follow-up, five of my Six Pillars of Great Customer Service. (We'll forgive them for not handing out chocolate, Pillar #6just this once.)

Sooo do they - do all that other stuff?

That's what you friendly neighborhood stuff searching Unsecret Shopper wanted to find out, and did so by Secret Shopping the Menards (one of two in Des Moines) at 6000 S.E. 14th Street.

I secret shopped their airplane hanger-sized 150,000 square foot location twice on a recent Monday; dressed once like an atypical nail-pounder (which is authentic since I usually use the wrong end of the hammer) and once like your average Bob Villa (which is a total crock of shingles).



                    "Jonathan"                                     "Jonnie"    


They build 'em, we shop 'em, I rate 'em and here's how:


  Horrific - a customer service nuclear bomb that's every owner's worst nightmare. The kind of service you call your friends to complain about.       

   Weak - a lot of work to be done, but there's hope.       

   Forgettable - not great, not bad. This is where most businesses end up.       

   Strong - some very good things are going on. Just needs some tweaking.       

   Stellar - first-rate, exceptional, off the hizzle. The kind of exemplary service you call your friends to brag about.    


This isn't the first time I've Secret Shopped a home improvement crib; click here to read the April Secret Shopper review of Home Depot in West Des Moines, and see how they compare to the Menards review you're about to review.

Menards, like other big box home improvement stores, has a simple philosophy; load down their reinforced shelving with every tool ever invented by man (okay, they were out of proton accelerators) alongside enough paint, screws, two by fours and plywood to rebuild Cambridge (it's fine, just a metaphor) then get out of the ever-lovin way of the Saturday morning crush of inrushing do-it-yourselfers.

Is there any room for customer service in the middle of all of that?

Grab your bib overalls (please wear proper undergarments) cinch up your tool belt (Does this make me look "hip-ey?") and let us see if we get some big smiles, big greets, big engagement and big thank yous along with all that big money we'll save.


Staff interaction/Jonathan    



I passed between Menards' auto-sliding-open-like-Star Trek glass doors at 10:45am, walked through the old-school-cool turn-style, grabbed an even older-school shopping cart with a bad wheel, hung a right and headed towards Lighting.

After a few minutes of fixture browsing I came upon Ron, who fixed me up with a nice "hi" followed by an even better "What can I help you find?" Ron even tossed in a quick smile as he pointed me in the (W)right direction. Quick greeting, open-ended question, ended it with a smile, nice job, Ron!

The light counter dimmed a bit a few minutes later as I came back around and within just feet of Steve, who ignored me as he worked on a left-brain saw project. He started walking away, at which point I caught up with him and asked him the time.

"I get off at Noon and it's only about an hour away," he said with a slight smile, perhaps explaining why he was more focused on cutting and scraming then smiling and greeting.

You've got a lot of stuff to do, Steve, I dig that. Just make sure a customer isn't on your "to don't" list. It would have taken you just a few minutes to engage me, and you still would have been on the golf course (or wherever) by 12:30. :)

Mike, in the ceramic tile counter area, took Steve's lead and didn't acknowledge me for the four minutes I checked out some very nice crimson onyx tile within 10 feet and easy eyeshot of him.

It is as corny as an Elvis impersonator's joke at The Cambridge Retirement Home, Mike, but the most important thing you can build in a place built for it, is relationships with the patrons perusing the stuff you pimp. Tile, carpeting and flooring do a terrible job giving the Pillars of Great Customer Service, Mike, so don't leave it up to them!

A few minutes later, Curt, at the same counter, did verbally but closed-endedly engage me, from a bit of a distance: "Finding everything okay?"

Take three steps closer and roll with an open-ended and much more engaging "What can I help you with?" and I will have found everything I needed, Curt.

I moved onto the paint section, where Lori went closed-ended, too, asking me, without a smile, "Getting everything okay?" Later Lori did a nice job explaining the attributes of some odor-absorbing paint for my cat room and even offered suggestions that wouldn't have netted her or Menards a (s)cent.  

But you've got to do it with a smile, Lori. I'm a happy cat trying to make me and my puddies happier, so plug and play into my critter joy with some of your own. Plus, after our convo was ovo I said, "Thank you," to which she replied, "No problem."

That may be slang for "You're welcome," but as a conversation ender between two adults who aren't at a Justin Bieber concert it, frankly, blows. Give it a bit more polish with a nice "You're welcome - thank you for shopping with us!"

I hit three closed-ended questions in a row (Menards has a long way to go for the retail record - read the Secret Shopper reviews of American TV and Appliance, Walmart and raTget) in Appliances, where Deb, pleasantly enough, used the not so much "Need some help, sir?"  

"Sir" is for and Elton John, Sting and a drill sergeant, Deb. Instead - and this is going to sound revolutionary, and just plain nuts - ask the person what their name is, then use it. Your customers are people, too, Deb, all Unsecret Shopper appearances to the contrary. Treat them as such by engaging them as such and they'll love your suchness so much so that they'll come back and back and back.

Anthony, also at the appliances counter, had this exchange with me.

"I'm looking for a washer that I can schedule to wash at different times and days, automatically." (That's me talking - you probably knew that.)

"That's pretty top of the line - it's pretty expensive," he replied. "We could probably order it - but it's pretty expensive."

Why that's not probably not the optimum response not:

1. You don't know how much money I make, Anthony; you're assuming that what you think is expensive is what I think is expensive, and any time we think that the world we're living in is the world someone else is living in, our girlfriend tells us "no, I DON'T think it's reasonable to drop a grand on a Big Bertha Driver" and reminds us how wrong we are.

2. You never ever EV-uh talk smack about the stuff you sell, Anthony, not for any reason. If an employee expresses a belief that something they sell is expensive, the customer will logically begin to think that, hey, maybe everything else in this store is overpriced, too so maybe I CAN'T save big money at Menards and that jingle is a bunch of hooey. Then they're hoorreying out of your parking lot and heading over to Lowes.

Retail longevity, customer loyalty and revenue are all based upon trust: trust the employee, trust the things you sell, trust the company you sell them for.

Trust me, Anthony didn't help himself by what he said next:

"Best Buy makes a timer - I don't know why we don't sell it but they do. It sits right on top of the washer and times it to wash at the same time every time."

Somewhere, a Menards manager just thrown up.

You're trying to help a customer, Anthony, I get that. But not to the detriment of the place that signs your checks. Tossing your own company under the bus AND pimping your competition hurts you, your co-workers, your customers, everybody.

Enough said.

Okay, one more comment. Anthony frequently addressed me as "partner" and "bud." While those handles would be great if a) we were at an 1856 Wild West Roundup, or b) my name was actually Partner or Bud, they fall a bit short of respectful otherwise and should be replaced with a) not calling the customer by any name, or b) (the unimaginable) asking the customer what their name is, then using it.

Okay, partner?

Jon - who spells his name the cool way - was a little too cool as he walked past me, without looking my way or acknowledging the fact that I was an object taking up space inside his store.

Kyle Wilson kept the "denial of customer reality" going as I approached him while he worked on a display for Larsen Doors ("America's #1 Selling Storm Door!"). 

For 7 minutes I stood within 3-5 feet of Kyle, looking through Larsen Doors literature, reading Larsen Doors signage, admiring Larsen Doors craftsmanship, wondering why a Larsen Doors rep (as so noted on Kyle's name tag) would look through me like a screen door.

You can put up all the Larsen displays you want, Kyle (and I'm sure you do quite a few, and quite well); but if nobody is there to buy them, then you're just killing time and there's funner ways to do that.

Brian, at the door selling counter, made up for Kyle and Jon by saying "hi" to me as I walked past, even as he was engaging another customer. It's simple, it's small and it rocks. Nice job, Brian!

I decided to head to the Design Center, where I began checking out those large buckets of glop that you pay someone else to put on your leaky roof.

It took a few minutes because the guys in the area were busy, but soon enough Andy approached, opening with a clunky closed-ended "Need anything over here?" but doing a very nice job after of asking me questions, answering mine and maintaining eye contact the whole time, with the occasional grin tossed in. I almost bought a tub of glop for my leakin-like-a-siv roof above my son's bedroom, even though I live in what appears to be a water-proof apartment, sans kids. Nice job, Andy!

Anthony - for all my picking on him - did a great job as he approached, with a huge grin on his face. 

"Still doing okay, buddy?"

Rome wasn't built in a day.

On Anthony's happy heels was the forlorn Bob, who looked like someone had just told him he had been hired as Chet Culver's personal trainer.

Look, dude (Bob, not Chet): whatever it is, it CAN'T be as bad as you looked like it was. Just think, you could be working at (insert company with poor Secret Shopping review here)!

Customers look to employees for cues about how to feel about shopping inside their stores. If an employee is smiling and happy, the customer will be, too. And if you can't smile, Bob, then you are working yourself out of a job, because someone else who can do what you do will smile and do it as well. It's not a threat, just a reality.

So smile, Bob! Like this! :)

Jared looked nearly as depressed as Bob as he walked past, looking down at the floor as he did so.

Hey Jared, at least Bob has the excuse that he's been working at Menards since before the advent of nails. You're a young whipper-snapper who hasn't put in enough time to develop a 10,000 yard stare. Be young, be happy and share it with your customers - they'll love it!

Samantha flashed a quick grin as she walked past, even though there was no reason for her to do so, other than she was being nice; VERY nice, Samantha!

Paul took it up a notch, smiling and offering a nice "hi" as we passed each other - in the bathroom. Someone who follows the Pillars of Great Customer Service in the potty is someone I want to hire. Great job, Paul!

I moved onto the checkout counter, where Menards has put the cashiers in the challenging position of having their backs to patrons while they ring up their items. Sue did the best she could but it wasn't until I'd begun to run my debit card through the slot that Sue finally had a chance to fully turn towards me and flash her incredible smile and Hi Can I help? button pinned to her smock. She also thanked me (the only person who did during both visits) and wished me a wonderful day. Wonderful job, Sue!

At 12:05pm, an hour and 20 minutes after I'd entered Menards, I walked back out and to my awaiting car (which is what cars usually do).


Staff interaction/Jonnie  



At straight up 8pm, eight hours after Jonathan split the premises, Jonnie split the entrance doors apart and entered Menards huge, beautiful and daunting (to us newbies) confines.

Erika, who was working very nearby at the Customer Service counter, could have and should have given a quick greeting as she watched me enter. You're doing some left-brain tasks, plus greeting is not something you have to do, I get that, Erika. That's why doing it would give it even more impact, because customers know you're not a hired (greeter) gun, you're just greeting because it's the right thing to do, and you feel like doing it.

Like my grandma used to say, act like you're name is on it, kid i.e. take ownership, of tasks and people. Make them yours to deal with, not someone else. Back then I thought she'd been sniffing Polident. Today? Turns out Grandma was a customer service genius. :)

I entered Lighting and browsed the aisles unattended until Billy, impressively, saw me pass between an aisle opening and was on me like Vaseline Intensive Care on cracked skin. True, he may have missed a crack with his "Finding everything alright?" question, but I still like the fact that he spotted me and hustled to catch up. Also, don't forget to say "thank you!"

Onto Laminate Flooring I stepped, where I was greeted by Cynthia with a tepid/closed-ended, "Need help with anything?" It's hard to say that question and sound like you mean it, Cynthia. Instead, try "What can I help you with?" It tends to sound genuine, even if you don't give a rat's patooty - which I know you do. :)

I left and came back to find Tyrone, a 10-year Menards veteran, working in the same flooring area. I checked out huge long hanging sample blocks of tile no more than 15 feet away; there was no response from Tyrone, no engagement, no nutin, honey. I moved my cart closer, puttering it down his aisle, making more noise than a skelaton throwing a fit on a hot tin roof (Foghorn Leghorn, 1953) but again, nutin, nada, zipadeedoodah.

Tyrone, you seemed like a nice enough after I engaged you (about the time). But you can't let me darn near run you over with my cart before that and not say something. Plus, I understand that you were the Manager on duty that night, as Cameron, the main cat at the top, wasn't around. That means you're head kitty, kat; so set a customer service example that all your underlings can follow, for the greater good of us all.

Things got less greater in Paints.

For 15 loooong minutes I looked at, examined, read, shook and clanked together gallons of enamel while Dave worked at the counter and ignored me by himself, then was soon joined by Colby who, along with Dave, blew me off in stereo.

It wasn't like I was standing quietly across from them like paint drying; I had a cart with a bad wheel that sounded like pennies being poured down a drain spout. I even picked up the cart by the handle at one point and let 'er drop, making a CLANG! sound like an approaching San Francisco trolley (yet still not curing the bad wheel issue - curses!). But it didn't matter; whatever conversation you were having, fellas, it was clearly more important than some silly ole' customer shopping for some nutty ole' can of paint.

I finally approached them, pushing my cart (now nearly destroyed). Dave stopped talking to Colby long enough to turn towards me and ask, "Need anything?"

Nothing a salesperson wouldn't solve!

"No," came my reply to which Dave responded by simply turning back towards Colby and picking up their chit-chat where they'd left off.

This is, as I say in training, somewhat less than the optimum response we might consider for a patron inside our establishment.

I.e. what you said was poopy.

Unpoop it, dudes. Get your heads on swivels, look/listen for customers and go glad-handle them. They deserve it. Otherwise, by not doing so, you're making it much easier for consumers to decide to do their home improvement shopping online, where they expect to be ignored.

Over in Appliances, Chris, having spent too much time around Anthony, looked my way and asked, "You alright, buddy?"

Not terribly.

I then moved over to the door displays, where Brooke ignored me by herself for a minute, then at least had an excuse to do so as someone she clearly hadn't seen in a while suddenly appeared. There the two yakked it up for nearly 10 minutes while I stood browsing very nearby, which made that one-sixth of an hour feel like six.

I get it that she's a long-lost friend, Brooke, but friends are friends forever; it's customers who are fickle. We're looking for any dumb reason to pick up our toys (money) and go play in another sandbox (store).  Don't make it so easy for us to do so.

Some of the best engagement of the night came from a guy hooking nut on a forklift; Steve, who said, "Hi, how you doing tonight?" as he passed, and even with a slight smile, as much as the G forces would allow. Great job, Steve!

Over by Christmas decorations, Joe was apparently in a bah, humbug mood, totally ignoring me as he approached, and walked past.

Joe? The store has a talking animatronic deer that was more inviting than you. You can't get your tail waxed by styrofoam and wires, dude, otherwise the six-foot tall dancing Santa will start laughing, and he's only programmed to sing. (I took a pic of this but the pic doesn't do it justice so just go look at it; you'll laugh till you snort.)

Remember; smile, greet, engage and thank, every one, every time. Do that, and you'll put the faux fawn to shame. :)

In the Design Center, John approached with the dreaded closed-ended "Anything I can help you with?" but afterwards did a very nice job of selling fencing features, explaining the bennies of copper vs. wood vs PVC vs. metal vs. just letting my cows roam the acreage free-range.

I needed a nail gun as mine was worn out from my years of carpentry. So I started picking them up and checking them out at a display area until Jason, with a super-nice smile, said, "Find anything?" The question stunk but his engaging face and friendly manner filled the area with the aroma of pleasantness. Jason, with that amazing smile of yours and your very engaging demeanor, you are probably selling a lot of stuff for Menards. Now start things out with a nice open-ended question, get the customer's name, use it in conversation, welcome them back to the store and you'll sell twice as much. Promise! :)

Back in floor tile, Zac was focused on a left-brain task but also had his head on a swivel and so spotted me, quickly greeting with, "Hi! Help you find anything?"  Nice salutation, not so hot closed-ended question plus you forgot to thank me at the end. But your smile and demeanor were pleasant, Zac, so good job. Uh, one more favor; skip the "no problem" at the end, after I thanked you. Instead, try that oldie but goodie, "you're welcome."

Works every time, kid. :)

It was checkout time. I slid my stuff onto a conveyor belt manned by Seth, who was far too busy engaging another employee to bother engaging me, other than telling me the price, and "here's your receipt." In-between those two deep, rich conversation starters, Seth did manage to find time and energy to yell out, "Just 58 minutes left, Cathy" to another employee who, I'm guessing (just a hunch) was Cathy, and was excited to be so close to walking out the door.

I beat them both by an hour - about an hour after I'd entered.



Menards has some good solid customer service standouts, including Glop Andy and Backwards Sue from visit #1 and Forklift Steve from visit #2.  (Not their real names)

There is also room for much (home) improvement, particularly in the area of acknowledging every customer, smiling, using open-ended questions and always always ALWAYS thanking people for coming into the store.

After all, if you're going to brag about how you can help people improve their own homes, you probably better start with your own.

Now, where were we...oh yeah....



Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and host of The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show, Saturday mornings 8-9am, on 1350, KRNT.       


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Click to email Jonnie (jonnie@thebuyosphere.com)    

Phone: 515-480-4190



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